Corporate Blogging Ethics

Corporate blogging has become more popular because it incorporates some of the elements of social networking, such as contributing information, creating a direct communication to readers and has the potential to build a community.  There are many types of corporate blogs, such as an internal blog, and an external blog and many of the Fortune 500 have jumped on the blogging trend to provide an informal area to discuss their company and it’s .  An internal blog is typically a way for a corporation to share information to its employees and allow employees to participate in discussions that span across the company.  The information in an internal blog usually stays in-house and typically falls under the employee’s non-disclosure agreement clause in his or her hiring contract.  An external blog is a blog that the public sees on the company’s public website, and usually shares information about upcoming product launches, extra information about the company from a personal standpoint and also used as a way to relate to the public.  The best external corporate  blogs are updated regularly, share the company’s views and improve the credibility of the company by giving a more personal communication about the company and who works there.

The problem with corporate blogging is that it has its limits, unlike personal blogs.  Since personal blogs are made to show a person’s perspective, a reader expects an opinion, where a corporate blog is expected to follow a code of conduct.  Another question is whether this type of blogging is biased and whether  corporate blogging is just timely advertising labeled as a blog post? There is also the issue of how much control a company has over its employees, and whether a company has a right to fire you if your blogging activities become an issue for the company (Eff.org).

Although corporate blogging has become a normal addition to company websites, there is a big difference between personal and corporate blogging.  The biggest differences include the review process, product bias and restricted blogging practices.   Most corporate blogs are checked in order to make sure that they don’t share internal information or cause a public relations incident, but beyond that, readers don’t know what kind of restrictions are put on blog posts.  I would expect that those restrictions are based off of the rules and restrictions that come with working at a company, such as treating your employees and coworkers with respect, not sharing trade secrets and criticizing negative feedback from readers and the public.  Most corporate blogs are treated as a public relations tool, so don’t expect unbiased opinions about their products, they are there to help develop a relationship between a customer and their company.  At this point, there isn’t any one way to measure a company’s ethics about blogging, but showing transparency, adding disclosure notices and maintaining (and displaying) a code of ethics for readers to see might be one way to reassure readers that a corporation is willing to build a trust with them.

Corporate blogging ethics are also important to people who blog and work, because there is a potential overlap between a blogger’s personal life and work life.  Many corporations are creating blogging policies in order to hold employees responsible for leaking proprietary information, to keep the company from being liable for an employee’s statements,  and to discourage employees (in some cases) from personal blogging while at work.  These types of policies are now integrated into a hiring contract, so it is important to understand your company’s policy on blogging, or risk being fired for writing about your work, your personal life or posting pictures at work (Popemark).

Many of the blogging issues seem common sense, such as not working on your personal blog while at work, or taking photos of your workplace without permission, or even complaining about your annoying coworkers.   IBM has a public page about their blogging policy and the guidelines they use for their employees, which  makes their ethics more transparent to their readers (IBM).

There are cases that are more difficult to judge, such as whistle blowing through a blog, (and leaving yourself open to threats ) and how companies can threaten to fire people when blogging about issues in the workplace.  I found this example of people trying to work as an anonymous group to fix some of the issues in their company, and are being told not to participate in the blog.    Although there isn’t any scans, or e-mails posted on the site (which is probably why the blog hasn’t been taken down for posting proprietry information), there is a vigorous discussion about what is going on at their workplace and what they want their union president to do.  When it comes down to it, if you are working for a non-government company, the rules of free speech do not apply to you, although you can write about protected topics such as political opinions, unionizing, whistleblowing, and legal off-duty activities (Eff).

It is has gotten to the point that organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reporters without Borders created legal guides and blogging handbooks to help bloggers maintain their privacy and stay out of legal problems with their employers.  The key to blogging while working is to stay anonymous, use web-based tools to protect your privacy and read your company’s blogging policy (Rsf).

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