Does your company have an official blog policy?

* Blogging without losing your job

I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but if you create or enforce company policies, I have some advice for you to take under consideration. Now is the time to establish an e-policy on blogging if you haven't already done so. That doesn't mean that you should necessarily outlaw the practice; just set down some rules about acceptable blogging behavior. Once you've done that, get everyone to sign on the dotted line verifying that they have read and understood those rules and the ramifications of violating them.

The practice of blogging - keeping a journal of your activities or interests on the Internet - is growing in popularity. According to Technorati, there are more than 10 million blogs in existence today. Most of them tend to be fairly mundane and harmless, documenting the daily life of an individual, but occasionally you find one that is offensive or harmful to a company's reputation or business. When an employee enters the blogosphere with information about your company that you'd rather keep private, it's good to have a published policy handy to back up any actions you may need to take.

If you have found that one of your employees has already begun writing about your company in a blog and you're not happy with his take on corporate life, you may well be within your right to pull the plug. Few states have laws that prevent an employee from an "at will" dismissal if he acts against his employer's interests. But if you are going to release or discipline an employee over a blog, be gentle. You don't want to irritate this person to the point that he conceals his true identity and uses your "tightening of the reins" as food for fight. You might be surprised how easy it is to conceal your identity and blog safely as an employee. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has several tips on how to do that on its "How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else)" page (http://www.eff.org/Privacy/Anonymity/blog-anonymously.php).

You also might consider the reason that an employee would feel the need to vent on a personal blog. Is your company's culture such that employees have no way of suggesting change? If an employee is unhappy for one reason or another, does he have a means to voice the reasons behind his unhappiness at work without fear of losing his job?

Blogs aren't necessarily a bad thing, if you have the proper precautions in place. The legendary group software developer, Ray Ozzie, has a great page on how he and his counsel, Jeff Seul, crafted a blogging policy for employees of their company, Groove Networks. It doesn't discourage employees from blogging, but encourages it, while at the same time sets some limits for what is acceptable behavior when authoring a blog.

Here is a summary of what Ozzie and Seul came up with as guidelines for personal Weblogs contributed to or maintained by their employees:

* Make it clear to readers of your personal Weblog that the views expressed are yours and yours alone and that you are not a mouthpiece for the company.

* Be careful to abide by your company's non-disclosure agreements with third parties and never disclose any confidential or proprietary information you are privy to. Check your company's guidelines as to what constitutes confidential information.

* Your company has certain rights to your creations and concepts developed during your employment. Check with your manager before disclosing those types of ideas.

* Since your site is publicly viewable, respect the rights and privacy of fellow employees, affiliate companies, customers and anyone else you do business with.

* If you are going to acknowledge the company you work for, check with your company's IT department about providing a link to your company's Web site and the appropriateness of including trademarked or copyrighted logos or materials.

Borland International is another company that encourages its employees to use Weblogs to communicate informally with customers.  The company has set limits on how the blogs should be run in order to keep them professional and make them beneficial to Borland.  Read the company's policy on blogs at http://blogs.borland.com/johnk/archive/2005/05/03/4148.aspx.

Make sure you consult with your legal counsel before initiating any policy concerning blogging. If you haven't developed a policy yet, do it now and educate your employees on it - it would be a shame to have to fire an otherwise excellent employee because of a miscommunication about what is acceptable personal Weblog conduct. Just ask Justin Winokur, formerly of Apple, or Michael Hanscom, a fired Microsoft employee, or any of the many others recently released because of their personal blogs that seemingly went astray of corporate policy.

Blogs are now a fact of our Internet lives, so embrace them and nurture them; they can become a positive marketing tool. However, if you ignore personal Weblogs, they will eventually let their presence be known, and by the time you find out, the damage may be irreparable.

Michael Day is CTO for Currid & Company. You can write to him at mailto:michael.day@currid.com

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