The Dark Side of Blogging

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (02-Jan-2007)

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My boss is a total oddball. He has a tendency to howl at the moon, talks to a toy monkey while working, and has an irrational fear of clowns. I can say these things about my boss because I work for myself.

But if you're an employee of an organization, think twice about writing these kinds of things about your employer on a company blog—or even on a personal blog.

Corporate blogging is not a right, it's a responsibility. As fun as blogging may be to wannabe writers, breaking blog etiquette in a corporate environment—whether implicitly or explicitly—can be cause for dismissal or legal action.

The Consequences of Blogging

Blogging is an effective way of providing personality to companies that are increasingly seen as faceless corporate entities. Blogs, unlike most other forms of corporate communications, take on the voice of the blogger and is less likely to contain overly polished business speak churned out by a communications department. But blogging is susceptible to those innocent (and sometimes not so innocent) slips of the tongue because many bloggers approach it far too casually.

The case of Mark Jen—a former Google employee who was fired for blogging about internal company information—is a perfect example of the consequences of careless blogging. And this isn't an isolated case either. The rise in popularity of blogging has brought about numerous cases of corporate employees and politicians who have been dismissed for what their employers viewed as improper blog content.

Ellen Simonetti, also known as "Queen of Sky," was fired from her job as a flight attendant of Delta Air Lines (a position she held for 8 years) for posting what the company deemed inappropriate pictures of herself in uniform on her blog. And, in my neck of the woods, Canadian Conservative Member of Parliament, Garth Turner, was recently dismissed by his party for being critical of his government's policies on his blog. Turner later renounced his party membership and now sits as an independent in the House of Commons.

Whether or not what the bloggers and employers did in these cases was the right thing is up for debate; but corporate bloggers and their employers must be conscious of the dangers of a loose tongue and other inappropriate behaviors:

The Responsibility of Corporate Bloggers

Corporate blogging is a lot different than personal blogging. If you're a hobby blogger or a sole proprietor, you can say just about anything you want because you'll be the only person who suffers from the consequences of inappropriate content. You'll be damaging your own reputation and image. But when you're a corporate blogger, or when you're blogging about your company on a personal blog, you're representing (or misrepresenting) your company. And some readers may view a blog written by a company employee as tantamount to a company-sponsored blog. This is guilt by association.

Employers can't, and shouldn't, restrict the activities of its bloggers by creating a hostile police state, eliminating personal expression, or censoring blog content with the proverbial black marker. Doing so will simply provide blog fodder for the employee. Limiting personal expression can reduce employee morale. But if employees want to blog they need to follow an etiquette. Employers must make it known to all employees that, as representatives of the company, they must blog responsibly and not write anything that will devalue or impair the worth of the company's brand identity and reputation.

Bloggers, for their part, must understand their responsibilities as members of an organization. They can't bite the hand that feeds them without expecting consequences (bloggers, however, may be protected by whistleblower statutes under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act—but this is a completely different issue). While every company will have a different response to employees who are critical of their employers, bloggers must be aware of the differences between professional discord and just plain dissing.

The Dos and Don'ts

Closing Thoughts

Bloggers need to realize that they're employees first and bloggers second. They shouldn't allow their enthusiasm for the latter be a detriment to the former. Bloggers must conduct themselves in the same manner as they would when performing their primary job. Using a blog as a brain dump and posting something haphazardly can jeopardize both their career and their company. Do you remember that saying about the pen being mightier than the sword? Well, if you're not careful, you might end up stabbing yourself with it.

Copyright © 2007 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.