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The Challenge of Blogging and Employees

Aug 17, 2007
Blogs and blogging is a fascinating social phenomenon. Blogs are similar to on-line bulletin boards. People use blogs as a way of self expression, saying what they think or feel about a topic or an issue, or in response to someone else's thoughts. Many people have their own personal blog to journal their day or their lives.

It is also an interesting phenomenon that people feel more open when communicating via email, text or a blog. By this I mean many people use the process of writing as a form of "dear diary" or therapy. They put their deepest thoughts and feelings down without pausing to think or reflect on the impact their words may have on others. They respond instantly, without many of the usual social niceties coming into play.

I have a theory that as this technology is still so new, we haven't yet developed the generations of social rules to govern its use. This means that at times we have people being too honest and too open. Just like a diary isn't generally meant to be read out aloud, many people's blog entries, texts or emails also aren't meant to be read out aloud.

Blogs are like knives - very useful tools, but use them the wrong way and they can cut.

If you are managing staff this can be a real problem. One of the first things I do when I take on a new client is to do a Google search on the company name + blog. It is often surprising to find how many people are blogging about a company. It is more surprising to see what they are saying. Blogs are generally public records. Once a posting is made, it is hard to have it removed.

In the USA employers have found commercial in confidence secrets posted in blogs for all to see. You can discover allegations of sexual harassment and bullying, as well as genuine whistle blowing or malicious gossip posted in blogs, with names and details of the alleged perpetrators listed.

Through emails a number of people have been caught emailing private files to the opposition, as well as walking out the door with significant amounts of intellectual property. Usually this is only discovered once a person has left and someone takes the time to look through the "sent" box.

Emails have been used to bully other staff and to get other employees in trouble by sending inappropriate emails from their computer if they forget to lock their computer screen.

Emails have also been sent in anger and frustration and have rapidly escalated out of control, like the case in a law firm in Sydney where 2 girls started a fight over a sandwich in a fridge that rapidly escalated to the entire firm as well as some outside contacts being cc'd into each others vitriol.

Instant messaging is another challenge. When used for work purposes, in work time it can facilitate communication and sharing of information on projects. When used the wrong way it degenerates into massive time wasting, inappropriate gossip and leaking of material.

The trouble is that these blogs, messaging and emails are creating images about your company in the minds of your potential customers. One bad blog or email can undo years of careful branding of your business. One blog or email leak of confidential information can set your business back years financially.

As a manager, you need to consider the modern technologies that are available to your staff and put in place some basic operating rules (until societies rules catch up).

Any rules or policies need to cover off:

* when it is appropriate to blog or use instant messaging. Should they be used only in break times or not at all at work

* what information can be shared with others (you need to explain what information is confidential and what isn't)

* what searches (if any) you will conduct on business emails, wikis or blogs

* what will be the consequences for breaking the rules including posting or sharing information inappropriately

The trick is to have a conversation about the boundaries with all new staff on their first day of employment as well as ensuring you have discussed the matter with existing staff.

The earlier staff know the boundaries and have them periodically reinforced, the more likely you will be to have productive and happy employees that use modern technology for the purpose it was designed for and not for bringing down your business.
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small and Medium Businesses. Ingrid has just published Instant HR Policies and Procedures for Small and Medium Businesses www.heartharmony.com.au
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