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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Employee Blogging

May 4, 2009

A blogger's dilemma Cisco Systems, a supplier of networking equipment and network management for the Internet, was sued in March 2008 over one of its employee’s personal blogs. Cisco’s Director of Intellectual Property Richard Frenkel writes the blog, called Patent Troll Tracker, and its content focuses on patents and patent litigation and other matters related to Cisco. On the blog, Frenkel openly criticizes specific patent lawyers and their practices, which has now landed Frenkel and Cisco in a lawsuit by two patent lawyers in Texas who say that the blog tarnished their good names and reputation. 

A statement was made by Cisco that the blog by their Director of Intellectual Property was in no way affiliated with their company, but Cisco will still also be sued because the President Cisco knew about the blog and its contents and never put a stop to it.

Anne Broache says in her news blog here that “thousands of companies have embraced the idea of giving employees an unfiltered voice as a means to keep in touch with customers, suppliers, and the media.” Many companies, such as Microsoft , Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo! have found success with “spokesbloggers” who are able to put names and faces to products and brands. However, lawsuits against companies such as Cisco Systems have many businesses rethinking their employee blogging purposes and have now found reasons to start developing policies.

Sun Microsystems has had a blogging policy in use since 2004 which says that posts about non-public information, such as financial data, code and personal information about other individuals, are strictly prohibited. However, the company does not require the bloggers to say that they work for Sun Microsystems, an issue that raises questions about the authenticity of these company bloggers with their audiences.

 Jenni Wyatt reports in the Puget Sound Business Journal about some basic policies and practices that all companies should follow if allowing employees to blog:

1)    Employees should not be allowed to blog about confidential company information, or use copyrighted materials.

2)    Employees should absolutely be prohibited from criticizing competitors, customers, or fellow employees. (source, source, source).

3)    Train and educate employees on blogging rules and policies before enforcing it. However once policies are in place, Wyatt says “do not turn a blind eye when it is violated.”

4)    Lead by example. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey got in trouble after it was revealed that he wrote several anonymous posts saying terrible things about competitor Wild Oats. See the story here. The Securities and Exchange Commission is still investigating the influence of those postings on the financial profits of Wild Oats. Be authentic as an employer and your employees will follow your lead.

Samantha Marsden

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