Wednesday, 9 March 2005

Blogging - and your job

Bloggers have lost their jobs or got into trouble with their employers in the past, because of what they've said in their personal blogs.

The most recent kerfuffle involved a company I've been keeping an eye on because of my interest in their service: Technorati. But unlike in previous situations (which I haven't time to go into now, and they're well known - Apple etc), it seems to me that those involved have come out of this one smelling, if not exactly of roses, much better than anyone else has who's been in a similar situation before.

To paraphrase a comment I just left on David Sifry's blog post on what happened, it seems to me that all concerned have tried to deal with the situation promptly, with sensitivity and tact, the desire to explain fully the background, intentions and feelings of those involved, and the objective of trying to recognise and address the implications, understand all points of view and to strike a fair balance - which makes it much more likely that everyone will come out of this relatively intact, and certainly wiser and more aware.

That attitude, that approach, is all too rare in this world and, in my view anyway, almost unheard of in the world of work. It's a great example of how mistakes should be dealt with, all round (and I'm not just saying this out of some bias in favour of Technorati, in fact they still haven't responded to most of my questions about the original problems I had with tagging my posts ). If only more employers and employees behaved like that. If only more people behaved like that generally, period.

I think that the way that this situation has been tackled makes it much more likely that, with Technorati, the rest of the world will be able to move on, too. But having said I think others will be able to learn from it, I'm a little cynical about that - I think on reflection that most companies have their own particular culture, and if it isn't open and sympathetic and flexible, hearing that such an attitude has helped Technorati isn't going to make certain companies change the way they behave towards their employees. Sadly.

I do feel though that the incident, while handled as well as it could have been, does illustrate something I've always felt about blogging, indeed about any public activity. What you say in your blog reflects on you, and, whether you like it or not, can reflect on your employers, particularly if what you say is relevant to your work or to your position with your employers.

That's why I don't use my real name here (nor do I intend to). That's why, even when I don't use my real name, I am never ever going to talk about my job, my workplace, or my employers. And I intend to stick to those cardinal rules, which I think are the bare minimum for any personal blogger. I think it's entirely reasonable for companies to consider that what their employees do and say in their personal life can affect them, depending on the employee's role in the company. Look at the recent resignation of Harry Stonecipher the Boeing CEO, for instance. He had an affair with an executive. Maybe that's no big deal, these days - except that that had violated the company's code of conduct, of which he'd been the "staunchest supporter" and in relation to which he'd drawn a "bright line" that not even minor violations would be tolerated.

I've seen an interesting list of do's and don'ts about "corporate blogging" (though I don't agree with that term - in Technorati's case it wasn't a corporate blog, it was a personal one) and about dealing with the situation after the personal space has crossed over into the work space. I have to say I don't agree with the suggestion about getting into "real space" and doing an audio or video podcast. Written words if used well can be just as effective a means of communication as speech (and, not wanting to sound old fogeyish, but Shakespeare never needed a podcast did he?). Plus, good actors can convey fake sincerity probably better than I can convey real sincerity! I'm also uncertain about the value of "overcommunication", I think that saying too much too often can risk a "they doth protest too much" reaction plus communication fatigue if it's not carefully managed and well expressed.

Personally I just think, as I've said before, that rather than try to rescue things after the event, prevention is far better than cure. I feel it's risky to blog about your job or your employers in the first place, particularly if they're identifiable. That may take the fun out of it for some, but hey, that's me, better safe than sorry is my motto. I like this pithy statement of the point in Tony Pierce's blogging advice (much of which I agree with generally, too):
"25. dont use your real name. dont write about your work unless you dont care about getting fired."

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