What rules for corporate blogging?

by Robin Harris on Thursday, 16 August, 2007

Barry, an EMC employee, graciously responded to yesterday’s post on free speech on both his blog and in a comment. Tony Pearson, an IBM employee, also pointed to IBM’s wiki-generated – walk the talk! – IBM blogging policy and guidelines.

However, a fundamental difference remains: Barry wants “corporate-sponsored” bloggers subject to the rules of commercial speech and I don’t. More on that below.

IBM guidelines
I like the IBM guidelines and so I’m reposting their summary of them:

Guidelines for IBM Bloggers: Executive Summary

  1. Know and follow IBM’s Business Conduct Guidelines.
  2. Blogs, wikis and other forms of online discourse are individual interactions, not corporate communications. IBMers are personally responsible for their posts. Be mindful that what you write will be public for a long time — protect your privacy.
  3. Identify yourself — name and, when relevant, role at IBM — when you blog about IBM or IBM-related matters. And write in the first person. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of IBM.
  4. If you publish a blog or post to a blog and it has something to do with work you do or subjects associated with IBM, use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”
  5. Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
  6. Don’t provide IBM’s or another’s confidential or other proprietary information.
  7. Don’t cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval.
  8. Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc., and show proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory — such as politics and religion.
  9. Find out who else is blogging on the topic, and cite them.
  10. Don’t pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes, and don’t alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so.
  11. Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective.

Note points 2 & 3 above. They are critical.

“Hard cases make bad law”
Barry makes much of the recent case of a Hitachi blogger on the Hitachi website who made inaccurate statements about a new product. Barry posted about it and the Hitachi blogger made corrections.

Isn’t that how the blogosphere is supposed to work? Assuming the blogger acknowledged the mistakes and changes in an update, then what is the problem? We’re in violent agreement that accurate information is a Good Thing, and that individuals should take responsibility for their screw-ups.

But Barry wants to take it a step further and place corporate bloggers under the rules of advertising rather than personal speech, broadening the legal liability for mistakes to the company’s deep pockets.

But IMHO, a corporate blogger also has an ethical and fiduciary responsibility for factual representation of his company’s products and services in his or her blog, to the same level of accuracy as her/his company would require for any other logo’d collateral they produce.

That’s my position: Plain and simple.

And that’s where I disagree. I’ll talk about that and then ask the interesting question: what is really going on here?

All in favor of “unethical” blogging stop reading now
What Barry is arguing for, intentionally or not, is for blogs on corporate sites to be treated as advertising rather than individual expression. There are a couple of fallacies behind this position:

  1. The “same level of accuracy” as logo’d material argument implies something that isn’t true: that logo’d collateral is legally required to be factual. The common use of the “specifications subject to change without notice” qualifier belies this. The legal construct of puffery is an important qualifier. The common use of words such as “up to” which imply but do not promise – good thing too! – is another tactic to limit accuracy. There are bright line limits on commercial speech, but not many. Perhaps corporate bloggers should adopt disclaimers to avoid liability for mistakes.
  2. It assumes that customers rely on blog posts for factual information about products and services. Is it reasonable to trust a blog post, even by a CTO or company founder, over the formal, reviewed-by-everyone statements in data sheets, press releases, product descriptions, change lists and SE presentations?

Corporate bloggers should be factual and I expect them to correct mistakes. Being human, they will make mistakes. The larger question is: is blogging on corporate sites a Good Thing? Because if we make individual expression a subject for lawsuits – and that is where Barry’s approach leads – we won’t have it, and I think that would be a terrible disservice to customers and the industry.

What we would have instead is the watered down, homogenized expression we find on most corporate websites, i.e. PR. Is that what we want?

What is this really about?
As Beth Pariseau reported in an article last month

Though EMC officials have been whispering elsewhere, the j’accuse duties were formally performed by a blogger, Barry A. Burke, who wrote a thorough criticism of HDS’s thin provisioning July 10.

So let me get this straight:

  • An EMC employee who is an “unofficial” blogger, publishes the critique that other unnamed EMC officials have been “whispering” elsewhere.
  • The “unofficial” blogger pushes for legal restraints on corporate bloggers.
  • No comment on the ethics of using “unofficial” but loyal corporati to stick it your employer’s competitors.

Free speech for unofficial bloggers too
Barry hasn’t done anything wrong that I can see. It appears that his critique of a feature that EMC won’t have for another 6-9 months is factual and sincere. I don’t know enough about him to know if his analysis is his work product or not, but I’m willing to believe it is.

But this situation does raise a concern: will companies start encouraging and rewarding employees who go after competitors in blog posts and comments? EMC has a well-deserved reputation for bare-knuckle sales tactics, and what is storage blogging but selling by another name? To EMC management, anyway.

The StorageMojo take
EMC’s “command and control” management culture is antithetical to the hierarchy-flattening effects of networks and social media. EMC’s management no doubt sees the traffic and the higher recognition of competitor executives who blog. Dave Hitz and Hu Yoshida are genuinely nice guys, very smart, and that comes through in their blogs.

EMC, of all storage companies, would benefit by presenting a human face to customers and the industry. Their past arrogance is well-remembered by many.

They’d also do well to emulate IBM’s approach: encourage everyone to blog so EMC bloggers become part of the landscape rather than an object of curiosity. If it happens will EMC bloggers, official or not, ever be anything less than rabid company partisans?

Comments welcome, of course.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Storagezilla August 16, 2007 at 4:56 pm

Let me make this clear *no one* inside EMC gets rewarded for blogging. It you choose to blog there’s a policy spelling out that you don’t represent the company, you need to make that clear, you can’t use company images or logos, and away you go. Seeya!

I took flak a while back from some quarters inside EMC for being “too hard” on IBM on a blog I pay for out of my own pocket and write at 12:30am at home. My dumbest mistake was using my work email address on the last comment exchange you and I had (Where you selectively parsed our exchange btw) because I was sitting in work at the time.

I’ve bought a digital dictaphone, a pre-amp, and a mic for podcasts, I have written thousands of words, I’ve made international calls on my own dime and I’ve chased people in my free time for interviews. At EMC World I was invited out to dinner with the press after spending the day working the stand answering customer questions. Where between courses I provided entertainment and answered more questions for the people at the table.

There’s my full disclosure, that’s what I’ve made from blogging about EMC. Someone bought me dinner and even then I was still talking about the stuff I think is cool. WhooHoo! I’m compromised!

We do it because we’re passionate about it. If you want to put on the tin-foil hat and pretend it’s a grand orchestrated conspiracy from the well oiled EMC media machine and I’m really Karl Rove not some geeky employee who believes in the technology he works with then go for it.

the storage anarchist August 16, 2007 at 5:03 pm

(sigh!)

the storage anarchist August 16, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Wow – that’s harsh.

Admittedly I challenge the status quo, and I call for ethical competition in blog-land. But for you to categorize me as “arrogant” and “antiethical?”

Just wow.

Worse, you ignore entirely the other couple of dozen EMC bloggers as if their perspectives (and faces) are irrelevant? Double-WOW.

Oh, I know full well that you’ll never “roll over.” But you might want to think about expanding your perspective a little. Just a teensy bit. Just maybe.

Your readers will of course note that THREE out of the first FOUR commenters on your original post on this topic say they agree with me (4-out-of-4 actually, since Tony obviously supports his own corporate guidelines).

None of them work for EMC, as far as I can tell – so have an unbiased response. And the ratio of support seems pretty consistent with the feedback I’ve received directly – check the poll on my blog and see for yourself.

For some reason, though, I can’t seem to find any recent posts on your blog where you take either Hitachi or NetApp to task over any of their recent misleading claims, although there are frequent and repetitive misrepresentations from both camps. Perhaps you have overlooked them. Or maybe you don’t actually know what parts aren’t true.

Or perhaps you just believe everything that Hu & Dave say without question, because they’re such “nice and smart guys.”

Whatever.

It is what it is, as they say. Everyone sees that you wear your anti-EMC bias loud and proud.

So be it…

(oh, and thanks for all the traffic :*)

Robin Harris August 16, 2007 at 7:34 pm

Guys,

Take a deep breathe and re-read what I said. After you do that you can re-do your comments.

Maybe sleep on it first. What you read and what I wrote are two different things.

Robin

Kartik August 16, 2007 at 7:52 pm

Hi Robin,
I work for EMC and I believe I work for the best technology company in the world – I would leave if I felt otherwise. I wager so does Hu Yoshida, and Barry, and many other passionate bloggers I have read material from, as they should. And I should mention that I am new to the social media movement.

I agree with several things in your post. I agree that Barry did nothing wrong – he expressed his personal opinion. Like yourself, I too have respect for Hu Yoshida, even if I don’t agree with what he says all the time, as I find an articulate, intelligent and passionate individual. I agree with Tony’s content from IBMs blog guidelines – good stuff, even though his company is a competitor of mine.

However, here is what I am struggling with.

I have worked with EMC for 8 years, and am quite aware of the legacy of alleged “past arrogance”, one that I have not been a part of. That is not the EMC I work in today and neither are these values that I or most EMC’ers espouse. I perplexed as to what its relavance is to this topic. This discussion should be about Barry’s observations, and his call for restraint in official vendor blogging, and the opinion of others on his stance.

I am equally disconcerted by your comments in “The StorageMojo Take” segment. Given how you have characterized EMC today by whatever past experience you may have had, I feel that any attempt by me to engage in a fruitful discussion will be futile because of the deep bias you are demonstrating against EMC.

While I applaud your call to “present a human face”, I have grave doubts that the any dialogue will be evaluated or responded to objectively. My sense is that any EMC blogger or commenter will be marginalized in this forum simply because they are affiliated with EMC.

I respect to your right, to your opinions, no matter how contrary it may be to my experience, and your right to express it. But when your criticism of an individual’s opinion, such as Barry’s, is so inextricably intertwined with your disdain for the organiation they are affiliated with, how can that ever be an open, value-added discussion?

Sincerely,
Kartik.

Josh Maher August 16, 2007 at 8:54 pm

What’s your point Robin?

I know the controversy thing does well for you and it’s easy to get EMC’s blood boiling, but I’m just not sure what your point is. Sure Barry has a unique opinion as do you, but to argue over who’s opinion of “how to blog” is the right opinion is like arguing over which wine tastes the best (I guess there are blogs for that too…)

HDS and Netapp both take plenty of shots at EMC on their blogs (as most bloggers do)…. I know EMC is easy to hate, they’ve pissed me off at times too, but once you weed through the assholes and get to the products and the people making the secret sauce there is a lot to like. So arguing with one EMC blogger and generalizing one voice to the entire company is a little irrational (afterall isn’t blogging and social media about ALL of the voices).

Perhaps the pointless mudslinging is why most of the EMC program managers, developers, etc aren’t out on the internet talking about their features, and perhaps your posts like this one and Barry’s posts are part of that.

I hope I’m wrong and your not picking fights for traffic, the topics you post about otherwise are interesting enough that you shouldn’t need it.

Anil Gupta August 16, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Wow! Robin, you stirred hornets nest.

One of the things, I find interesting about EMC bloggers are that their posts, topics and views are typically in unison with very little, if any, differences in opinions among themselves. Even if they claim their blogs not guided by EMC ControlCenter, I seriously doubt anyone who reads EMC bloggers believes that.

Actually, several times I have been queried by others who thought about “indorporate” blogging initiatives whether EMC has an entity that brings certain topics, subject and news items to the attention of their bloggers, indirectly coaxing/influencing them to write about these topics.

When a blogger talks about the business, product and services of the company they represent or competition, my suggestion is to be extra-cautious, thorough with fact-finding, perform due diligence, back your opinions with supporting evidence in blog post and phrase your blog post such that it is clear that they are your opinion, just don’t rely on a disclaimer in footer.

Anyway, I find storage domain to be so fast-changing and ever-expanding that I rather talk about what I don’t know or in the process of learning than what I already know or do at my day job every day. Blogging is not extension of day job for me. Blogging is a creative outlet and method of pushing the boundaries of my existing storage knowledge in to new territories.

Anil

Robin Harris August 16, 2007 at 11:09 pm

Kartik,

I appreciate the civil tone of your comment. I wish all EMC employees had similar control.

I may be behind on EMC may be today, but on the other hand my recent experiences with EMC haven’t been all that positive either. I get the feeling that the company is actually trying to mature with the new board and some of the new execs, but old cultures die hard.

Being on the inside isn’t the best place to view a company’s culture. Maybe we have a newer, humbler EMC, ready to take the long-term view that have kept IBM and HP players for many decades. I just need to see it. With the kinds of ranting I get from some bloggers employed by EMC – check the second comment here please forgive me if I have my doubts about a “reformed” EMC.

That said, I’d be happy to run an industrial strength charm school for EMC bloggers so they wouldn’t make fools of themselves. Mr. Tucci?

Josh,

I don’t think I was slinging any mud. I am trying to understand why someone would want bloggers to be homogenized the way corporate PR is. Doing that defeats the purpose of blogging IMHO.

Following that thread it occurred to me that an unscrupulous group, like the Republican party, might use bloggers to further their aims. It is a natural enough thought, and you’ll note I did not accuse any one of doing that. It is a possibility, one that was suggested by a reporter, and I just looked at it.

My most popular posts have to do with technology, not boring, overhyped subjects like blogging. I’ve been observing EMC for 15 years. I have many friends who’ve worked there, and a few, who shall remain nameless, who still work there. Back at the turn of the century I worked for EMC’s largest OEM doing over $200M a year and I couldn’t get my phone calls returned. When I did it was, well, let’s just say it wasn’t satisfactory.

My generalizations are based on many data points, some recent, some not so much. I try to indicate which is which and maybe I don’t always succeed. But I do try.

I equally unforgiving of Sun and Microsoft, for instance, and I never get them frothing at the mouth. Honestly, I think EMC has a culture issue. Chill guys. It’s only words.

Robin

obServer August 17, 2007 at 12:44 am

Totally agree with you!

Here’s another current reference to corporate blogging:
J&J Sues The American Red Cross: The Beauty Of Corporate Blogging
http://internet.seekingalpha.com/article/44797?source=feed

Josh Maher August 17, 2007 at 7:46 am

Robin,

I think you’ll find more of the folks like Kartik on the inside (as I’m sure your aware with your friends at EMC). So it’s nice to know you are still holding out hope to see them in the blogosphere and on the sales front (I am too!!). Overall though, the storage blogger community as a whole needs the folks like Chuck continuing his informationist mantra, Barry continuing his self appointed marketing watcher, and the rest of the people (like Craig) talking about the interesting things in their daily lives.

As far as the interesting tech blog posts go…. I really liked the Google breakdown, keep the posts like that up and I’ll never stop reading 🙂

the storage anarchist August 17, 2007 at 8:16 am

Wow – you actually referred to me as the “Storage Antichrist?”

http://www.google.ie/search?hl=en&q=Storagemojo+storage+antichrist&meta=

ISG August 17, 2007 at 8:45 am

By Robin Harris : “Following that thread it occurred to me that an unscrupulous group, like the Republican party…”

Very, offtopic but this comment here really rubs me the wrong way, it may be a your own opinion and you are entitled to it, but it’s not a very intelligent one. Mainly from the perspective that you basically called >90 million people unscrupulous via association since they openly align themselves with that “unscrupulous” party (don’t try and defend your generalization by saying it’s the party not the people… they are one in the same). Wide sweeping comments like this is what has been killing politics one party is not good, and one party is not evil. Look to your left, now look to your right, if you aren’t a Republican one of the people you looked at as been insulted. It’s the equivalent of racial stereotyping, and I dislike it when, any of the Dems,Repubs,Libertarians,Green, etc start framing statements that way, it shows their stupidity rather than their intelligence. Myself, forced into a corner I’d probably say that if anything they all pretty much act the same way, as the groups are comprised of people. The Repubs have 30% of the population, the Dems 32% the number of members are so large that one can’t say that a party will act good or bad, it statistically just won’t happen. Because of this I most assuredly would not make a wide sweeping good/bad statement about something 30% of the entire population aligns their beliefs with.

The wonderful thing about the blogosphere is that you are still entitled to espouse your uninformed opinions, and I can also state my opinion about your statemens (I did slip that last one back ontopic).

Whatever August 17, 2007 at 11:39 am

Going to an EMC blog to find out how great EMC technology is, isn’t that like asking going to Nike to find out about Human Rights violations? Gee, Nike says everything is fine, what a surprise. I can only laugh each time I see the clones drone on about how great of job they are doing. Storage utilization rates are sub 20% at most companies who have been taken advantage of sales folks from EMC and the rest of the large storage companies out there, yeah great job on innovation guys, keep up the good work!

Same as true with EMC blogs. Chuck and crew certainly don’t like it when you disagree with them either, look how nasty chuck got at an anonymous post criticizing his poor job on analyzing and industry competitor:

http://chucksblog.typepad.com/chucks_blog/2007/08/that-sinking-fe.html#comments

Since when did “Being an Informationist” include making half baked comments about a competitor? News Flash, EMC folks think they’re technology is the best in the market! I guess you shouldn’t expect much from someone who doesn’t even have a real title. StorageZilla and the rest of the crew commonly use Ad hominem attacks against any who call them out on their Kool-Aide filled lives (Comparing Togio to Cartman comes to mind).

Such is life I guess, but why is everyone giving these guys so much press? They antagonize and distort information, I guess that’s the real meaning to being an “Informationist”, manipulate information to your viewpoint and antagonize anyone who calls you out.

Whatever August 17, 2007 at 12:06 pm

BTW, I don’t mean to diss everyone whose blogging on behalf of EMC. Jeff Browning’s blog is actually turned out to be a great resource. Honest and lacking personal attacks on companies and individuals:

http://oraclestorageguy.typepad.com/oraclestorageguy/

Thanks Jeff! I wish more people at your company who have chosen to blog were as honest and informative as you instead of resorting to personal attacks and hiding behind bogus titles,

Kartik August 17, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Hi Robin,
Thanks for your reply. Yes, the EMC of the last 5 years is indeed a kindler, gentler EMC. I can only humbly urge you to keep an open mind on this regardless of your experience with individuals. There is much beauty in the forest, regardless of what one may percieve as the state of some of the trees.

To me, principles should come before personalities. If I say something that people don’t agree with, by all means, attack what I said at will, and I will vigorously defend, modify or retract my stance. But if someone were to attack me because I work for the three-lettered Evil Machine Company, well.. I’d have a hard time taking someone like that seriously. But what you shared, Robin, leads me to hope that we are in agreement on that. I look forward to more open dialogue with you on technology – the stuff that our customers are really interested in.

I read Anil’s comments with interest too, especially his suggestion that somehow there is an “EMC ControlCenter” managing EMC social communications. I am a field guy – I spend 80% of my time with customers, and very little corporate.

So I can assure you that I have not been drinking scopolamine-laced water from the coolers in Hopkinton, or been subject to Corporate’s mind control rays, and I definitely do not participate in the ritual animal sacrifices at the alter of the Great DMX nightly at O’Tooles ;^)

But, I do agree that EMC social media participants do tend to have a very unified stance. If I may, I’d like to suggest that there may be another hypotheis other than mind control that may explain that.

My hypothesis is about EMC’s internal culture – our values are focus, passion, a sense of ungency and a maniacal obsession with making our customers successful. That is what we call our EMC DNA. Our corporate stance is not created in a vacuum – it is hotly debated internally, and converges through a very open process, always coupled with a strong feedback loop from the field and our customers. We all believe in our ability to help our customers succeed. The commonality you sense, I submit, is in this common conviction, so its not so much a case of saying the same thing, but saying it with the same set of values. Its our shared common vision and passion.

Is this mind control? One might argue that it is. It is also the hallmark of all great collaborative endeavors, from the formation of nations to healthy homes and families. And I hold that EMC is a geat company precisely because of this.

If I ever saw anyone constantly disagreeing with their company in public, I would have to ask – why do you work there if you don’t believe in it? Change it or leave. If I saw Hu Yoshida make anti-HDS statements, I would have no hesitation is asking him that. I dont believe he will, because he is as passionate about HDS as I am about EMC.

Just my $0.02…
Cheers, Kartik.

Tony Pearson August 18, 2007 at 1:55 pm

Hi Robin,
I saw this on Tim Ferris’ blog, and thought of you and your latest exchange with the informationists:

http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2007/08/08/the-7-commandments-of-blogosphere-and-life-self-defense/

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