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Blog rules, part 2: Best practices to keep you in business

Author Nancy Flynn of the ePolicy Institute offers the last five of her 10 best practices-based tips on how to make the most of corporate blogs.

Blog rule No. 6: Seek safe-harbor protection from liability through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Customers' blog comments may make you a third-party copyright infringer, subjecting the organization to treble damages.

If your organization allows customers and other outside readers to post comments or ask questions on your business blog -- and those users were to post content (text, art, videos, etc.) that is protected by a third party's copyright -- your organization could be vicariously liable for copyright infringement. To make matters worse, as a third-party copyright infringer, your organization could be subject to treble damages -- unless you have followed procedures to ensure safe harbor protection from liability through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

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To qualify your organization for DMCA protection, simply designate an agent with the Library of Congress, complete all the necessary paperwork, and follow all the DMCA-mandated protocols.

Do not solicit or post comments from customers or other readers until the DMCA registration process (a ridiculously easy preventive measure) is complete.

Blog rule No. 7: Assign a lawyer or other responsible party to review, edit and -- as necessary -- delete readers' comments pre-post. All it takes is one inappropriate comment to trigger a workplace lawsuit, regulatory investigation or blog mob attack.

Given the risks inherent in business blogging, employers are advised to screen writers' posts and readers' comments pre-post to avoid publishing anything that is defamatory or inaccurate, violates copyright law, reveals confidential information, or otherwise is inappropriate, offensive or in violation of rules, regulations and policies.

Reject posts or comments that fail to pass the "smell" test. For all others, edit with care. Feel free to correct mechanical errors and suggest copy changes to employees to enhance readability. And consider putting all employee-bloggers through writers' training.

Blog rule No. 8: Use blog monitoring tools to track what is being written about your organization and help control comment spam and splog. According to AMA/ePolicy Institute research, 12% of organizations regularly monitor the blogosphere to track what is being written about them. Good idea. A blog search found 675,000 entries by customers, employees and franchisees talking about McDonald's in one 90-day period alone.

To help keep an eye on the blogosphere, subscribe to one or more blog search engines (Technorati, Google News Alerts, PubSub, Daypop, Feedster, IceRocket and BlogPulse, among others) that each track between 15-20 million blogs.

Monitoring is the best way to find out what your employees, competitors and other bloggers have to say about your people and products. It also is the most effective way to determine whether or not your business blog content has been stolen by sploggers (spam bloggers).

Blog rule No. 9: Battle spam in the blogosphere. Although technology struggles to solve the challenge of surging splog attacks and comment spam, business bloggers (and individuals who are blogging at home) are advised to do what they can on their own to battle spam in the blogosphere.

There are two types of blog spam: splogs and comment spam. A splog is a phony blog. Its content is typically a combination of copy stolen from legitimate blogs plus links to advertisers' Web sites and gibberish. According to blog search engine Technorati, nearly 6% of all new blogs actually are splogs.

Comment spam shows up on legitimate blogs in the form of comments from fake readers who have nothing legitimate to contribute. Comment spammers merely want to get sales pitches in front of readers' eyes or trick readers into linking to advertisers' sites.

Tips to help battle spam in the blogosphere:

  • Don't entrust your company's blog program to a free creation and hosting service. Opt for an enterprise blogging solution instead.
  • Before committing to blog creation software or a blog hosting service, determine what the vendor's spam-control capabilities are.
  • Deactivate or modify the comment feature of your blog.
  • Review reader comments pre-post. Delete comment spam along with inappropriate comments.
  • Use blog search engines to determine if your organization's blog content has been pilfered by sploggers. Use search terms including the company name, executive names, product names, blog names and URLs.

Blog rule No. 10: Blog posts never die. They remain archived and accessible forever. Thanks to incoming links, outgoing links, permalinks, ping services and syndication, a factually inaccurate or otherwise damaging post can bounce around the Internet from one blog to millions of other blogs forever -- archived and ever-accessible to new readers.

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Be proactive. Protect your organization by instituting written policies -- backed by formal employee education -- before content-related disaster strikes. Unless employee-bloggers are guided by workplace rules, they are free to operate in the unconstrained, freewheeling, anything-goes culture of the blogosphere. That's bad news for the 93% of employers who have yet to institute policy governing business blog use and content. It's equally alarming for the other 93% of organizations that lack rules to control the type of posts employees may publish on their own personal blogs.

Bonus blog rule No. 11: Blogs are a phenomenal vehicle for attacking companies, brands and individuals. Be proactive. Prepare today for the block attack that is likely to hit tomorrow.

According to one legal expert, 60% of organized blog mob attacks are paid for by unscrupulous executives who pay bloggers to bash the competition -- with no trail back to the sponsor. Compounding the problem is the fact that the more controversial or ugly a blogger's attack is, the more likely the blogosphere will link to it.

To help keep blogstorms at bay, apply these strategies:

  • Monitor the blogosphere regularly to stay on top of what is being written about your organization.
  • Establish relationships with the most influential bloggers covering your company and industry.
  • Start your own external business blog to communicate your corporate position and give your side of the story should your company come under attack.
  • Recruit customer evangelists and brand bloggers -- the superfans who are more than happy to write about your products on their sites.
  • File a "cybersmear" lawsuit if all else fails. Be sure, however, to consult with legal counsel and weight the risks and costs against the potential benefits before suing.

Apply the 3-Es of blog risk management

Maximize employee compliance and minimize blog-related risks by establishing a strategic blog management program that incorporates the 3-Es of electronic risk management:

No. 1. Establish comprehensive, written blog rules and policies. Address employees' use of the organization's business blog, as well as employees' personal, home-based blogging. Provide employees with clear rules governing content and usage. Make sure employees understand that all company policies apply to the blogosphere, regardless of whether employees are blogging at the office or at home.

No. 2. Educate employees about blog-related risks, rules and regulations. You cannot expect an untrained workforce to understand blog risks or comply with blog rules. As part of your organization's formal blog training program, be sure to address First Amendment rights and privacy expectations, as well as the organization's blog-related risks and responsibilities.

Many employee-bloggers mistakenly believe that the First Amendment gives them the right to say whatever they want on their personal blogs. Wrong! The First Amendment only restricts government control of speech; it doesn't protect jobs. Employees who work for private employers in employment-at-will states can be fired for just about any reason -- including blogging at home on their own time, or at the office during work hours.

No. 3. Enforce blog policy with disciplinary action and technology. Take advantage of blog search engines to monitor the blogosphere and keep track of what is being written about your company. Consider using technology to block access to external blog URLs to prevent employees from wasting productive time and accidentally (or intentionally) disclosing trade secrets. Put some teeth in your corporate blog policy by notifying employees that violation of blog rules (or any company policy) will lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Copyright 2006, Nancy Flynn. This article is excerpted from Blog Rules: A Business Guide to Managing Policy, Public Relations, and Legal Issues by Nancy Flynn (Amacom 2006). For information about The ePolicy Institute's training & speaking programs, consulting services, books or other products, contact Nancy Flynn at

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