Some companies have recently been scrambling to get their employees blogging in a bid to unleash armies of evangelists out into the community. On the 16th of May James Snell of IBM writes:
IBM today is publishing an announcement on its Intranet site encouraging all 320,000+ employees world wide to consider engaging actively in the practice of “blogging”
Other companies such as Microsoft have been working on their blog strategy for some time now and already has over 1200 employee bloggers. Robert Scoble (a.k.a Scobleizer of Microsoft) wrote up his influential Corporate Weblog Manifesto back in February 2003. You only need to look at the number and scope of the public blogs on http://blogs.msdn.com/ to get an idea of how this openness is benefiting Microsoft (I counted 26 uses of the word Evangelist or Evangelism – not that MS employees are forced to write about technical evangelism).
But why would companies want to risk their employees blogging their own thoughts and opinions? Sun’s policy is pretty straight forward about this:
By speaking directly to the world, without benefit of management approval, we are accepting higher risks in the interest of higher rewards.
Sun’s dedicated blog site (with over 1000 employee blogs) uses the catch phrase “Welcome to Blogs.sun.com! This space is accessible to any Sun employee to write about anything”. IBM’s policy is similarly straightforward, to learn and to contribute:
As an innovation-based company, we believe in the importance of open exchange and learning — between IBM and its clients, and among the many constituents of our emerging business and societal ecosystem. The rapidly growing phenomenon of blogging and online dialogue are emerging important arenas for that kind of engagement and learning. [...] it becomes increasingly important for IBM and IBMers to share with the world the exciting things we’re doing learning and doing, and to learn from others.
Will educational institutions such as TAFE take similar risks for these higher rewards? The risk is that employees might not always write things of which the PR team would approve, but the benefits seem to be worth the risk to the big technology companies and I for one see no reason why they wouldn’t also be worthwhile risks for TAFE (although a friend’s experience in a different educational institution here in Australia seems to suggest that freedom of opinion is still viewed as dangerous and too risky for some.).
Whichever road educational institutions in Australia end up travelling down, one thing is certain: we’ll need to develop or adopt guidelines for employee public contributions (i.e. blogging and wikis). Nearly all the guidelines and policies that I found are not so much set of rules, but rather just guidelines for being a successful and responsible blogger. In fact, the one set of Blogging ‘Rules’ that I did find was then updated 9 days later as Guidelines with the comment from the company director that “after all, we are trying to promote blogging within our company not stifle it”. IBM’s Vice President Jim Finn echos similar thoughts:
We do not tell people to blog or not to blog or what to say. We don’t control them. … It’s more like, ‘Go explore.’
So how can we at TAFE develop our own guidelines for public discourse? IBM developed their own guidelines over a period of ten days using an internal wiki, drawing on their own experience as well as the previous work done by Sun, Microsoft and other companies in the same area. So the obvious next step for any educational institution would be to learn from those who have gone before us, since they’ve made it all available:
- IBM’s blogging policy and guidelines titled “Responsible Engagement in Innovation and Dialogue”
- Sun’s policy on public discourse – straight forward and easy to read
- Microsoft’s guidelines for successful blogging – straight-forward and also easy to read. Also from Microsoft’s Robert Scoble is the Corporate Blogging Manifesto (or as a pdf).
- Jeremy Zawodny’s Yahoo! Employee Blog Guidelines: The official version and my own advice – an interesting read from someone who likes to bend the rules…
Some other sites that might be useful to consider:
- Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Legal guide for bloggers – straight-forward advice for a variety of situations that Bloggers might find themselves in (US-based).
- A Brief History of Corporate Blogging at Microsoft
So, where to from here?