December 13, 2005
There's a dark note mixed in with the happy buzz about blogging these days. Bloggers have been fired from their jobs for what they thought were innocuous posts. Investor relations departments are having legal nightmares over an innocently-meant blog revealing critical info to the world before it's sent to investors. PR departments are finding themselves side-stepped by the media who go direct to blogging staffers, instead of carefully prepped official spokespeople. The genie is out of the box. Now, how do you cope? Here are five pre-launch steps for any corporation considering blogs:
When a big corporation decides to launch a blog or blogs -- as they have been doing increasingly in recent days -- they can't just leap into the process the way an individual or even a small company can.
"It's a big deal," says Lisa Poulson, managing director for Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations and public affairs firm. For example, she says, "If you allow employees to blog and then fire someone for blogging, you're creating a PR disaster that didn't need to exist."
Poulson has helped dozens of companies create a corporate blogging policy. Here, she shares her strategy for coming up with a policy that works.
Step 1. Set Goals for Blogging
Before you get in a room with stakeholders to discuss the blogging issue, you must understand what you hope to gain from blogging -- because the direction of that discussion will depend upon your answer.
For example, your lawyers will have different legal advice, depending on whether you want your sales people to blog externally about products, or employees blogging internally about their children and pets.
Look at your brand identity and messaging, and ask: How can blogging augment those things? "Augment" is a key word here, because having corporate blogs should mean *more*, not *different.*
In other words, the company's communications strategy should be mirrored throughout the company's blogs -- but they can show more of a person's or company's personality. If the head of a giant automotive manufacturer came out in his blog with a different stance than the PR team on the topic of, say, corporate layoffs, that would mean bad news for the company.
So ask yourself: do you hope to reach more people? Give your company a more personal voice? Allow employees to have their own external voice? Become seen as a thought leader?
Step 2. Assemble stakeholders
Once you have your objectives in mind, you can get stakeholders in a room together to hammer out the policy. Identify the people who might have a reason to be involved. Ask yourself: If something major were to happen in the company, who would need to know? Anyone on that list should attend.
They might include: --legal --HR --a union person (if applicable) --marketing/PR executives
Step 3. Decide who can blog
The single most important thing, says Poulson, is that whoever is blogging has a strong and compelling reason to write. "There are so many voices out in the blogosphere that if you want to have it read, it has to be interesting and well-written," she says.
The bloggers should also:
o. be the people who want to blog You may already know who these people are, because they've probably been asking you to a blogging policy in place.
o be willing to keep up a blog If the blog is to be a valid communications tool, it has to be always up to date. The Web is strewn with literally millions of blogs that were launched, then petered out, and ultimately abandoned. In fact the average lifetime for a blog is roughly six months.
o have a unique voice A corporate blogger can be anyone from a product development team to a top executive, but they should be able to express themselves in a unique way.
o be willing to abide by the corporate blogging policy.
Step 4. Write a formal corporate blogging policy
The length and technicality of the policy will depend on your company and what you're trying to accomplish with the blog, but there will be some common elements you should consider:
-> Legal considerations
This is perhaps the most important area. There are laws on disclosing material information, laws on how you talk about competitive information, and, of course, intellectual property laws -- and all of these affect your corporate blogging policy in ways you might not consider.
For example, if a blogger from product development writes even briefly about a product he's developing, you may no longer be able to patent it, because it has been publicly discussed.
Your company could also get into trouble if one of your bloggers uses intellectual property from somewhere without properly citing it, or discloses the company's intellectual property that wasn't meant to be shared.
-> HR considerations
"Every company has different employee issues," says Poulson. "Blogging for factory workers at Hyundai would be different than blogging at Merrill Lynch and different from McDonald's."
But you must be clear from an HR perspective on what employees are and are not allowed to discuss and the ways in which they are allowed to discuss it: language, topics, sticking to company HR policies, etc.
-> Client confidentiality considerations
Confidentiality agreements with customers must be respected, and anyone planning to blog must be made aware of them.
-> PR/communications considerations
Employees who plan to blog must be very clear on the company's PR and communications stand, and should be instructed not to "take a radical left or right turn from the corporate message," says Poulson.
Step 5. Announce the policy
You can simply hand out the policy to your marketing director to share with the appropriate people, or have a big kickoff party, hand off the policy, and invite everyone to blog, or post it on an intranet.
But be certain that everyone who is going to blog has a copy of the policy and understands it backwards and forwards in order to avoid blogging disasters.
Useful links related to this story:
Business Blogs: How Successful Companies Get Real Results With Weblogs http://www.sherpastore.com/Business-Blogs-Companies-Get-Results.html