News yesterday that Mark Jen, a Google employee, had been fired for blogging serves to add yet more focus to a matter that has become increasingly important to companies and employees alike – establishing clear guidelines on blogging in the workplace.
This subject is beginning to sound like an auto-repeat CD (yes, I have moved on from the ‘stuck record’ analogy), but it is a subject on which many people have commented in past months, me included, and continue to comment.
For opinions about Jen’s doocing, take a look at the volume of posts that Technorati is listing. The trouble is, most of these blog posts are emotional and hardly balanced or factual, with wildy differing accounts of what happened, and many decrying Google for stopping an employee’s "right to blog."
Then look at Jen’s blog and see for yourself what he has posted since he started working for Google last month. The blog was last updated on 27 January. Look at his brief post the previous day entitled Oops – a sure sign that he must have known he was making some people at his new employer not too happy.
Amongst all the blog noise, here are some comments from three influential US bloggers that struck me as providing some thoughtful perspective:
- John Batelle, entrepreneur, journalist and author: "This is a clear message to Google employees. I imagine any who are blogging, are re-reading their HR policies about now… I guess someone who violates the rules like this will, I imagine, be dealt with in various ways by various companies. I wonder what Yahoo might have done in the same situation, or Microsoft? The information on the site, which was taken down and then redacted, was really not that big a deal. At least, it seems that way to me. But one never knows. Is this such a clear case of violation as to merit firing? Perhaps he left on his own accord, we may never know as I imagine he signed something on his way out the door."
- Jeremy Zawodny, Yahoo (who said he spoke to Mark Jen): "Yes, he was fired from Google. It was directly related to his blog. He was employed there for just a couple of weeks. Mark’s a good guy. He doesn’t believe he was doing anything wrong (neither do I based on what he told me)."
- Robert Scoble, Microsoft (who said he had an email from Mark Jen): "Reading Mark’s blog I can see a variety of mistakes he made. When you start at a new company you need to build a relationship network before you start discussing the company in public. You need to understand what the various forces that have power (and, at every company there are probably people who have more power than you do — even the CEO has to listen to the board of directors and to other people inside the company) and you have to work carefully and deliberately. It’s not easy writing in public. All it takes is one paragraph to lose credibility, have people laugh at you, get you sued, create a PR firestorm, or get your boss mad at you. Think about that one for a while. Just a few hundred pixels on the screen can dramatically change what people think about you."
Taking into account all of the above, it’s a very clear and short step to arrive at Employee Lesson Number 1 –
> Employees – Use your own common sense on what you say about your employer and issues in your workplace in your public blog. The responsibility for this is yours, as are the consequences if you don’t use your common sense.
So what about the employer? Where do they stand? I’m not speaking about Google and this situation in particular: this is about any employer today.
It isn’t too hard to answer, actually, which takes us another clear and short step to arrive at Employer Lesson Number 1 –
> Employers – You must establish the framework under which employees can blog in their workplace, creating the guidelines that make it clear what the ground rules are, and then communicating them to your employees in a way that they clearly understand. The responsibility for this is yours, as are the consequences if you don’t have clear guidelines.
Both of these ‘lessons’ go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other.
Finally, the last word (in this post, that is):
- Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research: "We’ll probably never know the full story behind these events so it’s silly to speculate on what was the straw that broke that camel’s back but it’s clear that unless you have a VERY tolerant employer and boss, be careful what you put out there for the world to see. Having said that, it’s more important than ever for every company to have a clear policy on blogging and what is and what is not acceptable. While common sense should rule, it’s clearly not in all cases and it’s best for everyone to be on the same page early on, if for no other reason, to stop the rumor mills from churning every time something like this happens."
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