One of the hot topics of the Blogosphere lately has been people getting fired for blogging. This inspired Niall Kennedy of Technorati to mock up a wartime-era poster including the logos of various blogging companies to make his satirical comment about the recent companies overreaction to employee blogs. He posted his poster remix on Friday night. On Monday, Niall recanted.
What’s surprising to me is how folks are surprised when companies limit or otherwise censor what employees say in their personal blogs. As an employee of a company, you are always representing that company whether you, or the company, likes it or not. This is nothing new, and blogging has nothing to do with it. Niall writes, “I have always operated under the assumption that until I reach executive status at any company I work for I remain an individual voice and do not represent the organization.” Huh? Some companies consciously make the fact that every employee, and I mean every employee, represents the company as part of their explicit operation. The best example that comes to mind is the Wal-Mart Greeter, a customer service position that acknowledges the fact that a company’s relationship with its customers exists through its employees, so much so that it’s important to dedicate employees to nurture that relationship without other distractions.
In the high tech industry, Niall’s misunderstanding may have been a little more understandable — individual contributors didn’t directly interact with a company’s customers. However, through self-published public displays of individuality such as blogs, employees can and do interact with a company’s customers, partners, vendors, etc., and when you do, you are representing the company whether you like it or not.
I remember telling someone at a dinner party years ago how, “Even though it’s after work, and we’re friends, for better or for worse, I still represent my employer, right now.” The response was an incredulous, “Are you serious? How can that be?” I went on to explain that, “If I act like a fool, you will form the opinion that my employer hires fools. If I act unethically or immorally, you will form the opinion that my employer hires unethical or immoral people. If you are a customer of my company, or were considering being one, or you yourself work for a company who is a customer, how would this impression influence your decision or recommendation to do business with my company?” From the pause that followed, I could tell that he got the point. Even though I was “just an individual contributor” working for a large corporation, I was representing my company even when I wasn’t working, even in times that many people would consider my own very private, personal time. And this was long before blogs existed, let alone popular.
The upside to this is that a company can use this to their advantage, if they hire really smart, conscientious and moral people, and encourage them to speak freely. Of course, to enjoy this advantage, companies have to start hiring people like this, and that’s the hard part.