Blogging outside the firewall #2

22 06 2008

In his comments on my first post about this, Dane raises some interesting points. I got where I am through an eclectic route – from law (university) to journalism (not enough money) to PR and onto social media. Those facets of me often argue. The law student says my employer is entitled to set policies and I accept its money so must follow them; the social media person says corporate messaging command-and-control is dead; and the PR consultant in me doesn’t like that, accepts there’s some truth in it, but still thinks we can spin the message on its way out the door.

Am I nothing more than a freelance journalist who happens to have an excellent inside source (myself)? How does this differ to talking to my friends in the pub after work?

The bare fact is an employee isn’t a journalist — an observation I will expand on in a later post because I’ve learned a lot about myself in this regard. Certainly an employee can be excellent inside source but in my company (as in most large companies) employees are obliged to refer media enquiries to the public affairs team. By granting himself an interview, Dane could be breaching his employment conditions.

Some would argue that it is dependent on how the media is marketed. If you link to or promote your external blog from posts within the firewall then you are drawing a direct link between your corporate identity and your personal identity. Thus the ‘behind the firewall’ rules apply. Just like if you stood up at work and announced ‘lets go to the pub to complain about policy x or y’. Not a wise idea.

But it’s increasingly hard to keep our online personae away from work. If you’re savvy enough to blog, you’re most likely to have Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. You might not link your internal blog to your external one but you might have it show up in Facebook, for instance, where colleagues can see it. To say you don’t promote it internally will not be much of a defence when someone in authority has found it through Google, doesn’t like it, and is looking for your head.

Also, how easy is it to separate corporate you from home you? In financial services an employee can bring liability on their employer if a BBQ conversation turns to what might be considered “financial advice” (guess who’s just got up-to-date on his compliance training). Could Kevin Rudd blog in his personal life? What about the chairman of the Reserve Bank? Could he knock out a few thoughts about the economy provided he didn’t say explicitly that he worked for the Reserve Bank?

What if I work under an alias, publishing scathing comments on the practices of my employer. Similar to having one to many drinks and complaining about policy x or y in a pub where another employee can hear.

There are two things here. Working under an alias simply makes you harder to identify if you are breaching any of the policies you’re accepting payment in return for observing: it doesn’t affect whether it’s right or wrong for you to be doing so. Also there is perhaps the ethical question: if you’re employer is that rubbish and you’ve got the high ground, don’t you lose it by continuing to take its money?

More pertinently, it’s a red herring to make comparisons with the offline world. There isn’t a valid comparison between a remark that passes in a moment in a specific location and what can be found in Google in perpetuity from any wired device anywhere in the world.

This is the gray area that makes people a bit uncomfortable and really stagnates innovation. We want to share our knowledge using new media. We want to collaborate. We know it works because we do it on our own time. We want to bring this culture of freedom and collaboration behind the firewall but does the firewall want to let us in?

Indeed, here is the rub: we’re asked to bring best practice to our workplaces but how do we find out what it is if we don’t share and discuss with our peers? There are some great case studies where I am now, some of them have been discussed outside the firewall and I’m sure no one would mind if I swapped a few with a peer in return for hearing some of his or hers. They might be discussed at conferences (I’ve presented at one, myself) but if I put them in my blog that’s a no-no. There must be a balance somewhere.

Increasingly I believe it’s time that will solve this one. The doubters are always looking for case studies (ironically – where will they find them if no one can publish?) either to use to affirm their position or to justify moving it: if others in the herd are headed that way and haven’t been eaten by lions…

But, on the other hand, the lawyer and PR person in me does have a problem with the idea of a thousand employees writing criticism of their employer in the blogosphere because I really do think (1) there’s a obligation that comes from accepting a company’s money; and (2) as an employee you learn things in confidence, there’s an implication of “off the record” in much of what we learn (or, as I say, it’s expressed in policy).

This is a journey. What do you think?




One response

22 06 2008
Dane Glerum

Thanks for that Steven. You’ve taken my random mutterings and created something meaningful 🙂

I completely agree with you that this is a journey, an exciting one too. With that in mind it is important for policy makers, users and readers to keep an open mind. Perhaps in some cases the old rules don’t apply, whereas in others they do. As Ryan correctly points out common sense plays a large part.

Finally, lets hope that companies continue to give employees positive things to talk about inside and outside the firewall. That’s something that everyone can enjoy.

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