If you’ve read the Cluetrain Manifesto, you know that blogging originated from people’s burning desire to let their authentic voice be heard. Early bloggers were reacting against the watered-down, politically correct messages they were reading in the public media or writing for their employers.
I’m now starting to run into clients who want their employees to be more proactively engaged in the blogosphere – active participants in the interactions between the company and its partners, or the company and its customers. It’s a praiseworthy goal on the part of these companies. It’s challenging them to think quite differently about inbound and outbound communications, to revisit corporate policies, etc., etc.
But I can’t help but wonder what will happen when people who are writing out of their authentic hearts and minds inevitably get into conflict with their employers. In some cases that conflict will arise out of the employee’s desire to tell the unvarnished truth – the reasons for an uncorrected product defect or late delivery to market. In extreme cases this will take the form of whistle blowing – something that can benefit all of us if a company has been behaving egregiously. (Think Enron…)
Less defensible, of course, are situations when an employee knowingly or inadvertently reveals a company’s trade secrets. Or exposes the company to increased competitive threat by dropping enough clues to enable smart rivals to have a “window” into the company’s plans.
Historically when conflicts like this have emerged, all the power has been vested in the company. At best the employee is warned and gets a black mark in his employee file. If the situation warrants it, the employee may well be terminated.
But what happens when the employee’s blog entries develop such a large following that they start to affect the company’s search rankings or its reputation? What happens when individuals’ personal brand associations are transferred to their employer?
I can imagine some very interesting conversations and policy debates between HR managers and CMOs over the months and years to come.