Corporate Blogging at TAFE?

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:

Of course you can find these and more with a simple Google search for Blogging Guidelines or Blogging Policies, or even a del.icio.us search for blogging guidelines (or blogging policy).

Some other sites that might be useful to consider:

So, where to from here?

7 comments to Corporate Blogging at TAFE?

  • Michael that’s a great post with some really helpful links. As Jude articulated in her post to the TALO eGroup though,

    “We do need to be careful of developing policies and procedures for blogging with in our organisations. The lack of organisational policies and procedures is the reason that may of us turn to them. It is what makes them so accessible”

    I think the key to Jude’s point is the reference to ‘our’ organisations, which aren’t actually ours at all! By this I mean, ask any employee of and large TAFE, School, Uni… in Australia if they feel they have any influence on the direction of their organisation, and most would say emphatically ‘no’.

    So as always, pushing for a policy for blogging might likely encroach on the (risky) personal freedoms we exercise without such a policy. The introduction of CMS’s in educational organisations for example… was it an effort to improve online education, or control the independent teachers out there setting up their own course websites in the absence of anything organisational? Did the CMS/LMS improve grassroots/coal face control of the online delivery method?

    But there realy is no avoiding what you are proposing here, and we can only hope that our managers and directors will make the time to carefully consider articles like yours, and the discussion around it. More likely though, they will set up their own discussion mechanism and expect us to repeat ourselves there…

  • Yeah, I guess I’m a bit of a newbie to large organisations (I’m sure Jude will agree that I’m a bit naive about some things at TAFE!), and I’ve probably not been around long enough to understand the danger – but I trust you guys that it’s there.

    I guess my thoughts are:
    1) Policies suck, guidelines _can_ be helpful and encouraging (depending how they’re constructed). I think the emphasis in most of the guidelines linked in the post seem really good – they’re really just helping people to be confident in their blogging. Just giving people the go-ahead while being aware of some good practise.

    2) Like you said Leigh, it seems inevitable to me that we think about this. We’ve got two options, we can (a) wait until someone else develops guidelines (or even scarier, reactionary policies) that aren’t helpful to innovation and learning, or (b) start encouraging/developing some helpful guidelines for blogging now to help others get started with confidence in what they do and help the upper echelons of our organisations see the benefits for themselves… am I exposing my naivity again?

  • Jude

    Never naive – perhaps not jaded!
    I think guidelines are great, I especially liked Microsoft’s Robert Scoble. The resources set up by you and Leigh have been brilliant in walking the talk and demonstrating what can be done.

  • Good to see some more local discussion on the topic, thanks for the good links.

    A couple of points to note. Not all organisations apply policy the same across the global, look at Cameron Reilly’s experience last year at Microsoft, http://radar.smh.com.au/archives/2005/06/post_4.html. The legal environment here in Australia is very different to the US and this will impact what happens here.

  • Thanks Michael… it’d be great to hear more from someone in your area (HR) about this… is it something that you think would benefit a company, or do you see the risk of encouraging it (like the big US companies are) as too great? Let me know if you write something up!

    Interesting comment from Reilley in that article:

    Although Microsoft hosts a website for its employees to blog (blogs.msdn.com), Reilly says the technology giant lacked policies for its bloggers. “If there are no formal guidelines, then there are inconsistent approaches [by managers] and your employees don’t know what they can and what they can’t do.”

    Strange, I thought MS had great guidelines (perhaps not formal?) by Scoble in the post above? Why didn’t Reilly make his managers aware of it? Or were they aware of it? Hmm… I see, this is what you’re saying Michael, that the guidelines are not applied the same around the globe… Why would that be? I mean, it sounds to me more like a manager who doesn’t understand the benefit of such transparency and doesn’t like MS’s own guidelines? Not sure I understand the situation well enough! (Maybe Cameron can help us out?)

    Seems like a good reason to try to get blogging guidelines supported by management… but I guess the other side of that is if the formal guidelines go beyond being responsible and are more like a list of don’ts, people will either not blog (and IMO the organisation will miss a huge learning benefit) or people will blog anonymously.

  • Maria T

    There are a number of stages for geting a set of guidelines together.

    1. identifying the stakeholders:
    Students, Students under 18years and Under 16 years, Teachers, Managers, ICT Services, Legal Branch,
    Others?

    2.Defining the purpose of BLOGs and the purpose of the guidelines

    3. Defining the scope of the guidelines – for this institute? for all teachers involved in the trial? for all teachers and students using Bogs or other spaces

    4. Duration of the guidelines

    5. any procedures or guidelines

    I have had a look at the IBM guidelines and I thhik there is appicabnility ot TAFE especially as the guidelines are to inform managers as well as users.

    I also like the simple easy to follow guidelines for users from the Sun etc

    So maybe we develope two sets. One for users teachers and students and one for managers.

  • [...] Over the past year, a few of us on the TALO email group have been thinking about how Blogging might help governments – and specifically educational institutions – to connect more directly with the public… “talking with your customer”. Back in June last year, we considered Corporate Blogging at TAFE, then later in the year looked at Blogging in the Public Sector (with a followup on Government Blogging). All this was based on the way some American companies are successfully using Blogs to interact and learn from their clients/customers. [...]

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