The terms ‘social media’ and ‘Web 2.0’ may not be at the heart of HR vocabulary, but internet trends such as blogging and social networking are increasingly entering the workplace. Blogging, in particular, is a growing phenomenon.
According to the blog search engine provider Technorati, there are more than 57 million blogs in existence.
What is a blog?
A blog (short for web log) is a user-generated website, where entries are made in journal style and displayed in reverse chronological order.
Blogs often provide commentary or news on a particular subject, while some function as more personal, online diaries.
A typical blog combines text, images and links to other blogs, web pages and other media related to its topic.
A crucial part of the blog is for readers to be able to leave comments in an interactive format.
Most blogs are mainly made up of text, although some focus on photographs (photoblog), videos (vlog), or audio (podcasting), and are part of a wider network of social media.
Making blogging work
With a new generation of workers who have knowledge of these and other social media, and the confidence to use them, it is up to employers to ensure that they give staff the opportunity to use them – but not to exploit the use of blogs.
Blogging at work can help to build:
- Enhanced collaboration internally and with clients. Organisations such as investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort and law firm Allen & Overy have all extolled the benefits of blogging. Software giant Microsoft has seen a significant improvement to its reputation on the back of its blogging, together with improved communication with clients.
- Increased work efficiency and avoidance of e-mail overload. A key benefit of blogging is that it leads to a dramatic reduction in e-mail volume. Publishing firm Ziff Davis claims to have made annual cost savings of more than $1m (£520,000) by encouraging staff to interact through blogs.
- Enhanced employee participation. A survey by PR company Edelman found that bloggers were twice as likely to present their job in a positive light as to denigrate it. In a competitive economy, such a positive PR step could create competitive advantage.
- Improved recruitment. Consumer goods company Cadbury Schweppes launched a graduate recruitment site with blogs and MP3 downloads to give graduates an insight into the company. The blog attracted more than 60,000 visits when it was first launched in 2005 and contributed to nearly 4,000 applications – a 50% increase on 2004.
- Inexpensive marketing. Blogging can help you to market your organisation at a low cost, while also reflecting its personality. For example, the Google search engine tends to promote blogs higher up its search ranks than static web pages, so having an employer blog could enhance your brand recognition.
Web of danger
Despite the benefits of blogging, many organisations fear that allowing their employees too much freedom may have an adverse impact.
Some of the perceived dangers of blogging include:
- Video dangers. Staff could post videos on sites such as YouTube. Supermarket chain Somerfield, for example, recently launched an inquiry after video clips of people performing stunts wearing the firm’s uniform were posted on the internet.
- Employees blogging (about work) in their own personal time. A number of employers have dismissed employees over blogs, and the fallout from such dismissals has usually caused more damage to a company’s reputation than the blogs themselves.
- Employees spending too much time blogging in their employer’s time rather than promoting the business.
- Copyright infringement. The ease with which material can be copied and pasted means there is great potential to breach copyright law.
- Defamation. The relatively informal nature of the medium means that people can say things that they may later regret. Disclaimers cannot protect a company against the misguided observations of a member of staff.
Safe blogging advice
It is critical that organisations create some kind of policy. Individuals are capable and willing to blog in their personal time and, unless monitored, this could cause damage to your online brand.
A good blogging policy should be robust enough to protect your organisation but still encourage use of the medium.
The following guidelines should help you achieve this:
- Even if your organisation does not blog, and has no intention of doing so, you should introduce a blogging policy. The greatest risk comes not from blogs in company time but from those that are done by staff outside of work hours.
- Create a policy but be light and informative. A recent study into corporate blogging at Microsoft – where as many as one in 10 staff is involved in blogging – indicates that the organisation’s laid-back approach to what staff can and cannot write about has been one of the key reasons for staff to take it up. Avoid creating such a detailed policy that it will deter your staff from blogging for your benefit.
- Be careful before taking legal action. One of the dangers of taking legal action against someone who has breached a blogging policy is that, even if the action is justified, the case may attract so much attention that it will damage your brand even further.
Justin Patten is the principal at Human Law, a technology consultancy that specialises in blogging and other social media. A commercial mediator and solicitor, Patten is currently writing a book on blogging and social media called Blogging and other social media: Technology & Law. View the book so far.
The HR blogosphere
Those entering the blogosphere for the first time will quickly learn that it is dominated by Americans and by people who have run out of things to say. It is not hard to find blogs that have lain dormant for months, years even.
Indeed, some technology analysts believe blogging peaked in October 2006, when 100,000 blogs were created every day.
In the HR space it is quite easy to find inactive blogs. A quick search on blog search engine Technorati reveals four blogs about HR – none of which has been updated this year.
Meanwhile many of the UK HR blogs tend to be associated with a supplier. For example, Nicholas Higgins of Valuentis provides regular useful updates on the world of human capital management, Peter Gold of Hire Strategies writes frequently about e-recruitment, while James Parr provides an informative and topical look behind the scenes at Omni Resource Management Solutions with his Omniblog.
Online recruitment sites frequently have a blog side-line. For example, Jobsite has no fewer than eight online diaries to choose from.
Some, however, have already run out of things to say, unlike Personnel Today’s very own Guru blog, which is busy climbing the Technorati rankings.
Meanwhile, HR seemingly still awaits its first anonymous work blog to join the long list of these that do exist. These blogs are occasionally compelling accounts of the lives of public sector workers, including teachers, mental health nurses, policemen, and a disproportionately high number of paramedics.
By Rob Moss, online editor, Personnel Today
If you are interested in writing an anonymous blog about life in an HR department, please firstname.lastname@example.org