Imagine you have a blog with a couple hundred folks who read it on a semi-regular basis. Some of them are your co-workers. Further imagine that you work for one of the world's best known tech brands. Finally, suppose that you know at least two of your company's vice president's read (or have read) your blog.

Would you blog differently? Shy away from criticizing your employer? Purposely avoid work-related topics?

I hope not.

You might wonder, as I have, what would happen if your company's PR folks caught on. (Maybe they have?) Would they care? Should they care? Or is it more of a "don't ask, don't tell" situation?

What if those PR folks also knew that tech journalists were reading it, hoping to get ideas for a story about your company? (That's a funny story that I really wish I could tell.)

What about shareholders? Is that part of what being a public company in the Internet age is all about? Having employees who blog about their company from the inside. It probably won't be long before someone stands up at an annual shareholder's meeting after the CEO has made some bold claims and says, "I was reading one of your employee's weblogs. She seems to think that won't work at all, and she provided very compelling evidence." How might that CEO react? Would the blogger lose her job?

What about your competitors? Surely the smart ones are reading 'em. Aren't they?

Posted by jzawodn at March 16, 2003 06:51 PM

Reader Comments
# garrett said:

well, i don't work at as prominent a company, but i do know that several of my superiors at work do read my weblog, and it does have some affect on what i say.

i don't particularly like the fact that it does, but when the head of software engineering asks you to remove something you wrote, there isn't a whole lot someone in my position can do...

for the curious, what happened was that google happened to rank one of my archive pages high enough that a search on "$COMPANY software engineering" put it on the first page of results, and the head of software engineering ran across it because he was doing a google search to see what an incoming recruit might come up with when looking for info on our company. unfortunately, i had some stuff on that particular archive page where i was ranting about some of the product development people at work. nothing too outrageous, i mean everyone bitches about people at work, but he felt that it might be taken the wrong way by someone looking for information about our company. so at his request i removed the reference to our company's name from the site.

since then, a number of other people at work have found out about the site, and i take that into account (subconsciously at least, but very occasionally on a conscious level) when i'm posting. i don't think it changes much about what i post, but on some level it does.

the thing that really depresses me about it is that if the job market were different, i don't think i'd have changed the site, but the way things stand, i'd rather err on the side of caution than risk losing my job. i don't know if i'd actually have been in danger of being fired, but i'd rather not find out.

on March 16, 2003 07:12 PM
# milbertus said:

My team lead at work once mentioned to me that he had found my blog (I'm not sure how, I didn't tell him about it), but I don't think that he reads it on a regular basis. That's the only time someone at work has mentioned my site to me - afaik, anyway.

If my superiors at work read my blog, would it change how I post? I'm not sure. I tend to stay away from work-specific topics for this very reason, just in case someone from my company does happen buy. It's partly because of the current state of the job market, just like how Garrett said, and I'd rather not risk it.

For me, the biggest reason that I'd want to mention work things on my site is to feel better by ranting to someone about it. I find that I don't really need to do this, because talking over the situation with my wife helps out a lot. Plus, I don't have to get into that grey area of blogging about work.

on March 16, 2003 07:57 PM
# kasia said:

Funny you mention that.. the one time I blogged about something at work I had journalists contacting me asking for quotes.. not to mention got misrepresented elsewhere as someone I'm not.. (and clearly stated I'm not).

I've three levels of boss's bosses reading my blog.. kinda funny when my boss's boss came back from vacation and said he learned about the big snow storm from my blog. Then again, I don't blog much about work.. guess I'm just chicken.. but where else would I find another unix programming job in CT?

on March 16, 2003 08:08 PM
# Anonymous said:

garrett, you're lucky. I ranted about a co-worker and had to sign a reprimand paper and take down all the offending posts. Since there were no guidelines to what would need to be taken down in total, I stopped the whole blog. I only restarted blogging a year and half later, with no mention of the company, coworkers, my feelings, or even what I do (although obviously by reading one would realize I'm a programmer).

And yes, this is even an anonymous comment, because I get too many hits from work on my webpage, and I would not be surprised if they look for me from time to time to see if there's anything new to nail me on, including googling for my comments.

on March 16, 2003 08:42 PM
# Kevin said:

It's interesting that you bring this up... Just within the last couple of weeks I made the first mention of my company's name due to our company being sold. It was, and is, the only time that I've made any mention of the company's name.

As luck would have it, one of the readers of my blog happens to work for one of my company's dealers. Since then, that same person has mentioned my company, and me, in his blog a couple of times now (and not extactly in a favorable light). Not that this is a bad thing, but it does increase the chances of someone from my company reading my blog.

Since we are now under new management, who knows how anyone reading my blog might react. But with today's economy and the uncertainty that a merger brings, I don't know that I want to risk it.

on March 16, 2003 08:43 PM
# Anonymous said:

I too will speak anonymously. I've never mentioned the name of my company on my site, and I probably won't. I still don't mention the name of the company I last worked for, and I left that job three years ago.

All in all I'm fairly reserved in what I post about work, and if you really did some Google-work, you could find out where I'm employed. That seems to be more the case everyday...

on March 16, 2003 09:14 PM
# Matt said:

Jobs come and go. I worry about my Mom. :)

on March 16, 2003 09:47 PM
# Andrew said:

Hi Jeremy, I'm a random coworker of yours who reads your blog. I forget why I started, but I subscribed to the livejournal syndication of it.

I personally would not publicly write anything directly references my work or says good or bad things about work. I keep that kind of writing protected, readable only by livejournal friends. I write publicly under the assumption that everyone in the world can read it.

I wonder if RSS will (or has already) incorporated some sort of access control or user authentication.

on March 17, 2003 02:19 AM
# wil said:

yes, I think you would rightly lose your job. Most, if not all information discussed within work is to stay at work. blogging it to the outside world could give competitors' an advantage and I'm pretty certain that would be a sackable offence in many an institution.

Technically everything you publish, and publish I mean blog, should be vetted through your PR department. That's what they're there for. To control and drive the company image. There are certainly clauses in my contract stating that I am not to publish anything about the company, our clients or products without it going through the PR department and to their discretion, senior managers.

Not that I want you to stop. I thoroughly enjoy your blog and I wouldn't want you to change your style. If you lose your job, I'll paypal you a few dollars in compensation. :-)

on March 17, 2003 05:57 AM
# Dan said:

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't talk about paid work in my blog for the same reason that I don't talk about paid work loudly in public. I was always taught that it was inappropriate, and one should be reasonably circumspect about such things generally. Blogging's no different in this regard than any of a half a hundred other forms of expression that existed before blogging did.

Blogs are public, and some stuff's just not appropriate to be said in public. I still keep a paper journal for things that don't go in the blog and, like it or not, there's a fair amount of stuff I just won't put out on the web, because it just doesn't belong there.

on March 17, 2003 06:32 AM
# anon said:

Another point to consider, if you're blogging from work, you're likely using work resources. Most Acceptable Use statements have language preventing use of company resources for purely personal activities. While these rules are often ignored if you are simply "surfing," they might be applied more strictly if you are saying "bad" things about the company. Now, if you only blog at nite using your own resources, there's not much they can say. However, again, most employees are employed at will. They employer can fire you any time they want, without reason.

(I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV)

on March 17, 2003 10:56 AM
# Morgan Deters said:

I would certainly blog differently if I knew for a fact that management was reading---that's part of knowing and responding to your audience. This is not to say that I would censor myself---far from it. Rather, I would use my position of influence to specifically target aspects of the company that I think should be improved. If you have an ear with senior management, use it to your advantage and that of your company.

on March 17, 2003 11:31 AM
# jim winstead said:

i pretty much refrain from talking too much about work-related stuff, particularly because i've seen how badly mischaracterized it can get. and i've been through the wringer at companies where criticism was viewed extremely disfavorably.

the irony is, of course, that there are probably more people i work with that see things i write here than the things i write on my own weblog.

(and really, i'd have to say that knowing that my mom and dad read my weblog cases a longer shadow on my writing there more than anything else.)

on March 17, 2003 11:59 AM
# Techno said:

My policy has always been simple. I never mention anyone's name to whom I generally associate with directly in my blog without their permission. This includes my employer. While I'll never deny it, I'll never come out and openly state it either.

I'm actually quite happy that if you enter my company's name into my search form, you get a number of results, but the only items that reference it directly refer to a feature they offer and someone spamming them. But then, I was brought up in an era of obsessive paranoia.

on March 19, 2003 10:04 PM
# Paul said:

interesting.. i don't keep a "blog" necessarily but at one point had a "rants" section and a more detailed "reviews" section to my site. i took most of it down for the reasons you mentioned.

as for work-specific info, i think it is innapropriate to go into details about work-sensitive stuff on my site because that can create a conflict of interests - i want to be honest to my viewers, but i have pledged confidentiality to my employer.

that said, i worked in the uk office of your employer for some time and was shocked at how open everyone was with their opinions and interests. not sure if same in US, but they seem very sincere about letting people be themselves inside and outside of work.. as if their employees diverse opinions were a valuable part of the company. didnt seem like anyone wanted to hinder that.

like others, i assume anything i post will be ready by my bosses, coworkers, customers, competitors, etc... so i am often, and unfortunately, restricted by that fact.

on March 21, 2003 01:35 PM
# Anonymous said:

I was sacked for complaining on my blog about the way my company treated it's staff. (I should point out I'd made complaints for about 2 years through all the relevant channels about the state of the place, but nothing ever changed.) I made some non-specific comments about the state of affairs - out of pure frustration - and was immediately sacked.

However, I still think you should be free to write what you want on your blog. Everyone has a right to express an opinion, and if your company wants to stop you expressing a negative opinion it should make sure their policies don't lead to that situation in the first place.

on March 22, 2003 02:50 AM
# Anonymous said:

This is the very reason that I have not started a blog myself.

on March 25, 2003 10:33 PM
# Chrispian said:

Wow, what a great question. I've been working at my current job for a little over two years now. Just before I got there a girl was fired because she viciously slammed the company on her blog. Her blog did happen to be hosted by said company.

The blog hadn't been actively read by the management but a potential employee was researching the company and found the link through google (like in garrett's case) and found the harsh words. This job seeker fired off an email to the managers and the owner and was very upset by what was read on the blog. Next day this employee was cleaning out their cube.

The post wasn't that bad really. I mean it was a very angry type rant. I can see my employers side of it. It did turn off a potential candidate to the idea of working for us. I probably would have done the same thing! I've decided not to say where I work in my blog. I feel like the fair way to do it is to complain all I want. I'm not afraid of my bosses knowing I'm not happy because if employees are not happy, something bigger *is* wrong. But I do leave their name out of it.

The lines between personal blogging and business blogging are blurring and for the most part for the better. However, I do see a future where the employee handbook will outline what you can and can't say about the company in public, possibly to the point of an NDA about work. I can't blame them, but I also don't like it.

on May 4, 2003 03:05 PM
# Beowulf said:

I think the above case is a little extreme and the potential employee was maybe a bit naieve in acting on the opinion of one person. No company is perfect, 'potential employee' should have acted with a bit more maturity, maybe shopped around for opinion on the company (try other blogs for example!).

About employment moans on blogs, you should first make the complaint through the relevant channels, blogging about how this-and-that are wrong in MegaCorp without doing so is a bit back-stabberish, and won't enamour you to most human bosses. And not mentioning the company name won't help much either, as you can be punished for undermining management to other employers and customers (of course, you could not let *anyone* know it's you - but that's sort of defeats the purpose of a blog). The best policy, coming from someone who has been sacked for blogging (still in court, tell you about it later), is to go to your boss from the start, ask them what guidelines does the company have, wrestle as much freedom as you can, and get it all in writing. You stand no chance if you don't as most contracts contain a 'catch all' clause for misconduct, and some people are just looking for any excuse these days. If they provide no freedom of blog expression and you really want to blog start looking for a new job - it's easy to find a new job while you're employed!

on May 5, 2003 05:34 AM
# Chrispian said:

Beowulf, good points and I agree totally. I like the communicate my issues through the proper channels. I personally almost never blog about work unless I had a pretty bad day, which is rare. When I do have issues I usually take it up with whoever the source of the problem is.

As for this case being extreme, no doubt. I can understand my companies reaction. If it had only been one post, I could especially understand. But the them of this persons blog (to my understanding) was work bashing. (Timestamps on the posts also showed this person was doing it from work and that's another issue).

on May 5, 2003 11:25 AM
# Bex said:

Yep, I just got sacked for what was written in my blog! Doh! It's all my own fault really for being naive, but hey, at least I was only temping and it wasn't my chosen career or anything.

on June 26, 2003 04:23 AM
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