Friday, December 01, 2006

More thoughts on Blogging Guidelines for Employees (or, "what might make a good Corporate Blogging Guideline?")

Reading this post from WebSG, where it cited the Prime Minister of Singapore suggestion for government agencies to try out "new mediums", I decided to revisit this topic (see earlier related posts here, here, and here ).

"The paradox, as any supermarket tabloid scribe will attest, is that the best way to drive up traffic is to break all the rules: Don't respect people, don't respect privacy, leak secrets. Fortunately for Intel, bloggers there appear to be far more interested in their jobs and their company than in creating a stir." (Blogspotting, 17 Aug 2005)
Needless to say, government agencies will not be controversial if they can help it. The need for guidelines is clear, if you believe Elderman [dated July 2005 - PDF]:
"Without a set of guiding principles in place, bloggers may interpret what is proper according to their own set of values and HR departments may apply different standards to different bloggers and thereby open the company to potential discrimination issues.

Each company should develop policies or guidelines that are specific to its mission, its employee base and its company goals, but some commonsense rules should apply...
"

I tend to agree with that premise. You don't need a lawsuit or negative publicity in order to do things right. Basically, the guidelines are to manage employees but not in an insidious way. I prefer to think that it's about managing employees by managing their expectations where blogging is concerned.

I asked myself, "If a government agency were to draft a Blogging Guideline for Employees", what would it say? Rather than start from scratch, I decided to review what is already out there, for a pointer or two.

Here's a sample (they are by no means exhaustive):

====================
IBM Blogging Guidelines
  • I like how their introduction succinctly explains the broad purpose of the guidelines, i.e. "Responsible engagement in innovation and dialogue"; and how blogging fits into the organisation philosophy and culture -- see "To Learn" and "To Contribute".
  • There's a 12-point executive summary (not too long, so people won't fall asleep while reading the guidelines), followed by lengthier explanations for each of the points (so that there is no ambiguity in interpretation of the points).
  • A good practice -- their guidelines are open to non-IBM employees, which means there is transparency in practice and clarity to IBM's stakeholders (not to mention that non-IBMers potentially can help IBM monitor and feedback on errant blogging employees).
  • Good mix of guidelines, in terms of what employees can and cannot do.
  • Employees' inputs were involved in drafting the guidelines.
  • Overall I sense that the guidelines are really guidelines rather than policy statements (i.e. rules).

Yahoo! Employee Blog Guidelines (PDF) [via Jeremy Zawodny]
  • Concise introduction that spells out purpose of the guidelines and intended users.
  • Total of seven points (which isn't too long to read), written in plain language.
  • A header precedes the points (which is a good way of presenting the information; an alternative to the IBM's style of Executive Summary with the details).
  • The guidelines clearly defines what can and cannot be done.
  • There's essentially two parts to the Yahoo! guidelines -- "Legal Parameters" (which clearly addresses the organisation's concerns) and "Best Practice Guidelines" (which is more for the employee's benefit). That's what a Blogging Guideline is about, isn't it?
  • Employees' inputs were involved in drafting the guidelines.
  • There seems to be a mix of policy statements (under "Legal Parameters") and guidelines. Might as well call the document "Rules and Guidelines".
  • Incidentally, the Yahoo! guidelines , as well as presentation and layout, are similar to this one from Adobe Acrobat User Community (or was it the other way around?)

Cetaphil Blogging Guidelines
  • Not too sure if the guidelines are for employees or for customers (I only had patience to scan the page twice and couldn't find any "About" information on how blogging is related to the company).
  • I would have preferred more context on what is the company's business and how blogging fits in. However, the saving grace is that the text reside on a page that is part of the corporate website, with links to more information about the company (but still, I'm again asking myself how blogging, and hence the guidelines, fit with the company's business).
  • The header says "Guidelines" but from the second paragraph onwards, I felt much of the statements sounded like rules and policies.
  • The statements are clear and direct, so that's good. But presentation of the information can be improved (e.g. separate the "rules" and "guidelines"; use numbering or bullet points).
  • I counted about 14 points (they might be better off keeping to 10 and below, or number the items).
  • The last statement "Above all else, have fun, be creative and let inspiration take you to new zones!" runs the risk of being viewed cynically. I mean, the tone of the preceding statements sound very serious and contradicts the call for "fun" at the end. I think the points listed there are sound, just that the tone can be less intimidating.

Thomas Nelson Blogging Guidelines
  • Right... who or what is "Thomas Nelson"? The page ought to have a corporate logo and a link back to the main corporate website.
  • The intent of the document is quite clear; it says "At Thomas Nelson, we want to encourage you to blog about our company, our products, and your work." That's a positive statement and sets the tone for the guidelines.
  • The purpose of the document is also clear, i.e. the three main goals for the guidelines.
  • I like how (at the 3rd and 4th para) they openly mention that they will aggregate the RSS feeds of employees' blogs, and the existence and role of a "Blog Oversight Committee" (good idea to have a committee like that).
  • Right after that, it says "If you would like to have us link to your blog, you must submit it to the BOC... ... In order to participate in this program, you must abide by the following guidelines (Please keep in mind that review by the BOC and participation in this program does not absolve you of responsibility for everything you post.)" -- all that tells me their employees can choose to blog but not adopt the guidelines, i.e. it really is a guideline. At the same time, "non-participation" does not mean the blogging employee is not subject to the purview of the company policies (which is fair, if you ask me).
  • There are 10 points in total (that's the magic number).
  • I like the fact that they addressed the issue of advertisements in employees' blogs (see Point 5 - "Advertise if you wish... ... he only thing we ask is that, to the extent you have control, you run ads or recommend products that are congruent with our core values as a Company.")
  • As far as I can tell, the statements are expressed as guidelines and not policies.
  • Clearly, the page layout can be improved to increase readability, but what's more important is to have clear and fair guidelines (which they've achieved).

BBC Guidelines [via Jem Stone]
  • Interesting that BBC calls it "Editorial Guidelines". I think that's smart, because it acknowledges that blogs are publishing mediums, and the same guidelines apply to websites.
  • There are guidelines for employees AND managers. That's a balanced approach. I think even though the guidelines are articulated for managers, it's really meant for the employees, i.e. what would be the consequences or implications from their manager's point of view.
  • There's a related section on "Conflicts of Interest Guidelines". BBC has even gone one step further from a guideline on blogging, to address situations that the guidelines may not adequately cover.
  • They seem to have broken the "no more than 10 statements" rule. But clearly they recognise that the site has quite a bit of information, which is why they have this "How to Use" section.

More links to Corporate Guidelines and Suggestions from Diva Marketing Blog (compiled in Mar 2005).
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In summary, what appears to make a good set of blogging guidelines are as follows:
  1. Show how the guidelines relate to the organisation's mission and values (this includes how the guidelines are presented on a webpage, if it's accessible to the public).
  2. It addresses the needs and concerns of the organisation, as well as those of the employees. In short, the guidelines should protect the employee and employer.
  3. It clearly articulates behaviours that are allowed AND those that are not.
  4. Express guidelines in an affirmative manner where possible (here's one example).
  5. If it's a policy or rule, then state it as such. Don't disguise it as a "guideline" (see point 3).
  6. Have no more than 10 guidelines/ policy statements (that seems to be the magic number; any more seems rather oppressive and counter-productive).
  7. Employee involvement in drafting the guidelines seem critical in increasing acceptance of the guidelines (I'm not advocating employee involvement for the sake of it, but I favour it -- after all, what's the use of producing guidelines if you don't want employees to take it up? You might as well just stick to rules that say what cannot be done).
  8. Not only should the guidelines be articulated for employees, but it should preferably cover what is expected supervisors/ managers (their position can be said to be unique, in that they are employees and custodians/ enforcers for the organisation -- something like that).
  9. Make the blogging guidelines available to public (I mean, if you allow employees to blog, why not make your guidelines transparent to a wider audience too?)
  10. The Blogosphere may be neutral but bloggers, as a rule, are not. Prepare the employees in receiving and handling feedback and especially criticisms, e.g. when and how to escalate to official channels, and when to just leave nasty comments alone. [This is related to point 2, where I suggested that the guidelines should also protect the employee. I also realise that guidelines cannot adequately prepare anyone, so the smart employer will also develop suitable training/ awareness programmes along with the guidelines].
Hmm... have I just developed a "Guidelines for drafting Blogging Guidelines"? Heh.

Oh, I have a nagging question though -- discussion forums precede blogs, so why is it that we have blogging guidelines and not "guidelines for discussion forums"?

Perhaps the longer term solution is not to develop guidelines for blogging only, but for "social media". Granted that the term "social media" could be too broad and negate the effectiveness of any guidelines. However a workaround might be to briefly explain the characteristics of a "social medium" WITH actual examples (e.g. Discussion Forums, blogs -- or even citing actual services like Blogger.com, Wordpress.com).

Ah, but one thing at a time. I think we should draft a Blogging Guideline and then keep a longer view in mind, and see if the approved guidelines ought to be extended.

UPDATE (7 Jan '07): Apparently, NTUC Income has its own set of Blogging Guidelines, as share by one of its employees, Dharmendra Yadav. I like how they have considered items 2, 4, 6, 7 and 10.

Technorati Tag: blogging, blogging guidelines