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How to Blog professionally--and prudently

If you're a blogger and want to hold down a steady job, tread lightly. (More after the jump.)

Last week, Law.com posted an interesting article that presented some of the potential liability issues that arise when employees of a company choose to publish content on the Internet.

One of the great advantages to the user-friendly services collectively known as "Web 2.0 technology" is that it allows average people, with little understanding or inclination to understand computer code, to post content to the web easily, whether it's a blog post, a collection of photographs, or a video.

However, First Amendment rights do not always apply when it comes to disclosing sensitive information about the company you work for. The article advises:

Whether an employer decides to sanction blogs or not, it should develop and implement a blogging policy outlining the company's position. The policy should advise employees of the risks while outlining things to avoid, e.g., violating securities laws, disclosing the company's intellectual property, disclosing any other employee's personal information, disclosing confidential information, discussing work-related legal procedures and controversies, using other companies' copyrighted materials, making false statements about competitors and protecting the professional image of the corporation.

IBM has been an early leader in developing such a blogging policy. The company understands the public-relations benefit of having employers who blog about IBM services and products. However, it also wants to protect its reputation and trade secrets. Here's a sampling of some of their guidelines:

Be who you are. Some bloggers work anonymously, using pseudonyms or false screen names. IBM discourages that in blogs, wikis or other forms of online participation that relate to IBM, our business or issues with which the company is engaged. We believe in transparency and honesty. If you are blogging about your work for IBM, we encourage you to use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work for IBM. Nothing gains you notice in the “blogosphere” more than honesty — or dishonesty. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out. But also be smart about protecting yourself and your privacy. What you publish will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully and also be judicious in disclosing personal details.

Speak in the first person. Use your own voice; bring your own personality to the forefront; say what is on your mind.

Add value.
Blogs that are hosted on IBM-owned domains should be used in a way that adds value to IBM's business. If it helps you, your coworkers, our clients or our partners to do their jobs and solve problems; if it helps to improve knowledge or skills; if it contributes directly or indirectly to the improvement of IBM's products, processes and policies; or if it helps to promote IBM's Values, then it is adding value. Though not directly business-related, background information you choose to share about yourself, such as information about your family or personal interests, may be useful in helping establish a relationship between you and your readers, but it is entirely your choice whether to share this information.

Know your fellow bloggers. The most successful bloggers are those who pay attention to what others are saying about the topic they want to write about, and generously reference and link to them. Who’s blogging on the topics that most interest you? On the Internet, a quick way to find out who’s saying what is to use the search tools on Technorati, DayPop or Blogdigger. Drop your fellow bloggers a note to introduce yourself and your blog. There is also an informal community of IBM bloggers, so you can quickly find out which of your peers are part of the conversation.

These are actually good suggestions for any blogger, let alone one who publicly associates himself or herself with an employer.

The Web 2.0 phenomenon is breaking down the barriers between work and play, creating new opportunities for discussion, self-expression, and networking. The lesson to be learned is that if, in the interest of transparency and self-promotion, you choose to make your identity publicly known, you should always balance personality with professionalism.