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Blog Rules

Employers who are committed to complying with government regulations, preventing accidental misuse and intentional abuse and reducing the risk of litigation and other blog-related disasters are advised to put best practices to work by focusing on the three Es of blog risk management:

1. Establish policy.
2. Educate employees.
3. Enforce policy with discipline, coupled with blog content management
    and the monitoring of technology.

Establish policy
Establish comprehensive, clearly written blog rules, policies and procedures to govern employees’ business and personal blog usage, content and retention. Develop written blog policies with regulatory compliance, litigation concerns, security challenges, productivity issues and overall business needs clearly in mind. Assign your blog management team to ensure that your company’s blog policy addresses all the risks, rules and regulations facing your business and industry.

Blog policies should be clearly written and easy for employees to access, understand and adhere to. Avoid vague language that may leave the organization’s blog policy open to interpretation. Update written blog policies annually to ensure that your organization has rules, policies and procedures in place to maximize compliance with any new regulations that may arise.

Distribute a hard copy of the organization’s written blog policy to all employee-bloggers, including the CEO and other senior executives who may be blogging. Insist that every employee sign and date a hard copy of the policy acknowledging that they have read the policy, understand it and agree to comply with all the organization’s blog-related rules and policies or accept disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Remember, employers are responsible for maintaining a lawful and compliant business environment that is harassment-free, discrimination-free, crime-free and based on civil business behavior. Developing, implementing and enforcing a comprehensive blog policy are steps toward accomplishing that goal.

Educate employees
Support written blog rules and policies with companywide employee training conducted on-site by an in-person trainer or via online webinar or video. If your organization’s CEO or members of senior management are blogging, make sure they participate in blog risks and rules training, too. Make sure employees understand that blog policy compliance is mandatory, not optional. Thanks to blog policy training, employees will better understand the risks, rules and responsibilities of blogging. Consequently, employee-bloggers will be more likely to comply with policy, and the courts may be more accepting of the fact that your organization has made a reasonable effort to remain free from discrimination, harassment, hostility and other objectionable behavior.

Based on the legal principle known as vicarious liability, an employer may be held responsible for the accidental or intentional misconduct of employees. That should serve as a wake-up call to employers who do not educate employees about e-mail risks, rules and regulations, much less blogging. The courts tend to look favorably on organizations that establish written policies supported by formal training that addresses risks, rules, regulations and responsibilities. A strategic blog policy and formal employee training program may one day help your organization defend itself against a sexual harassment claim, hostile work environment lawsuit or other blog-related litigation.

Enforce policy
Enforce your organization’s written blog rules and policies with a combination of disciplinary action, content management tools and monitoring technology. If your have any doubt about your employee’s willingness to adhere to the organization’s blog usage and content rules, consider applying a technological solution to what essentially is a people problem. Consider utilizing a blog content management tool to review and aggregate employee posts, block banned or inappropriate content and stay on top of employees’ overall blogging activity.

Be sure to take advantage of technology tools that automatically monitor the blogosphere, including employees’ business and personal blogs. Subscribe to blog search engines such as Google News Alerts, PubSub, DayPop, Technorati, Feedster, IceRocket or BlogPulse to find out just what your employee-bloggers have to say about your organization, executives, products, trade secrets, business partners, suppliers, blog program, competitors and just about any other topic.

If monitoring reveals that an employee is violating the organization’s blog policy, then it is essential for management to take immediate disciplinary action. Consistently apply discipline to show employees that management is serious about blog policy compliance. Failure to discipline one employee for blog-related misconduct may encourage other employees to violate the organization’s written rules and policies and could create liability concerns for the organization.

Employers are getting tougher about electronic policy compliance, with 25 percent reporting that they have fired employees for misusing the organization’s e-mail system, and another 26 percent terminating employees for Internet policy violations, according to the 2005 Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance Survey from American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute. Although the Society for Human Resource Management reports that only 3 percent of employers have disciplined employees for blogging, that number is certain to grow as workplace blogging becomes more prevalent.

Adapted with permission of the publisher from Blog Rules by Nancy Flynn. Copyright 2006, Nancy Flynn. Published by AMACOM, AMA’s book division. Click here for more information about this title. For information about other AMA books, visit www.amanet.org/books.