Developing an acceptable use policy for blogging is one of the more difficult tasks for a company’s human resources and internal security departments. Blogging is a fast-growing mode of communication that gives readers access to everything from daily comments from authors, movie stars, and soap opera characters to hard-hitting news articles and columns. The rise of blogging has resulted in a plethora of programmes and tools aimed at assisting everyone from the casual blogger to corporate users.
But what impact does blogging have on a company’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)? In order to properly address blogging in an AUP, you must first define what a blog is. The term “blog” is a shortened version of “web log,” and it functions similarly to a message board in that it allows users to post their thoughts and opinions for others to read. Depending on how the owners have set it up, a blog can be open to the public or only accessible by password. Blogs can provide in-depth information on specific topics or serve as a platform for writers to express themselves, but their ultimate goal is to bring readers together and encourage interaction.
Blogging can be a fun and safe way to communicate with others who share your interests, but as with any unmanaged activity, there is always the possibility of abuse. If an organization’s AUP covers Instant Messaging, Peer-to-Peer, email, and other Web-based communications, blogging should be included as a critical technology. As part of an overall communications policy, companies should decide whether or not their employees should be able to read blogs or contribute to them.
What are the consequences of not having an AUP in the case of blogs? Because of the country’s rapid growth of blogs, entire services like MyFamily.com and MyPlace.com now host communities of bloggers. Personal information from some blogs was used by a criminal to stalk and attack young high-school girls.
Employees who reveal their identities and information in a blog response can sway decisions. For example, if a major computer corporation employee responds to a technical blog with advice about avoiding a new product line because of a large number of known “bugs,” the company risks legal liability. Employees are required to sign non-disclosure agreements for a reason: the risk of exposing confidential company information and intellectual property could have disastrous financial consequences.
This is just one example; there are plenty more. If a person strongly disagrees with the content of a blog and engages in a ‘flame’ war with the blogger in the comments section, the company may be held liable for the harassment if the employee is using the company’s computers to post the responses. The company is responsible for what happens on company computers, whether it is permissible or not. They are held accountable in the eyes of the law.
There are legal and financial reasons for making blogging very clear in the AUP. Although only a small percentage of businesses do so, some do use software to monitor where and how employees browse the internet. Filters that prevent an employee from viewing a pornographic website may also prevent an employee from viewing political or day trading blogs. Financial and business-related blogs are becoming more popular by the day. These blogs may provide entertainment and information, but it is up to the company to determine the extent to which an employee participates.
It’s worth noting that anonymous visitors can read most blogs, but they won’t be able to comment or respond. For students, educators, and other individuals, blogs can be invaluable resources for discussion, debate, and sharing of experiences. They must, however, be managed and monitored. Blogs are an excellent marketing tool because they draw visitors in by offering financial advice or credit-building advice, for example. A blog’s marketing can result in tens of thousands of hits per day for a website. Some businesses need to get their message out there, and blogs can help them do so. Blogs can give a human face to a company that otherwise appears to be purely corporate. That human face can improve customer relations, encourage consumer interaction, and raise brand awareness. Employees, on the other hand, should be informed about the types of information they are permitted to post if they are permitted to respond.
Companies that run their own blogs should pay close attention to the feedback they receive. Blogging is a new frontier for the corporate world, but it, like so many other innovations, is being quickly embraced. Companies, employees, and even their families will benefit from security, awareness, and education to avoid having negative experiences while blogging, reading blogs, or responding to a blog on the Internet.