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posted 18 Dec 2006

News: Social networking

Microsoft study provides tips on corporate blogging

By Graeme Burton

A study into corporate blogging at software giant Microsoft, where as many as one-in-ten staff are involved in blogging, suggests that it is the organisation’s relaxed approach to the medium about what staff can – and cannot – write about that has been one of the main motivators for staff to take up blogging.

While many analysts have suggested that organisations need to be careful about what they let their staff blog about and to write policies accordingly, the study reaches the opposite conclusion.

“Employers and employees who take up blogging should anticipate a degree of ambiguity. If pushed to specify limits upfront, an organisation could be too restrictive and lose the benefits. At the same time, it may be good for bloggers to constantly consider limits and consequences – personal judgment and responsibility are inescapable elements of employee blogging,” concludes the report.

The research was commissioned following years in which staff at Microsoft have been encouraged to ‘connect’ and communicate with customers via blogging so that users can get unfiltered information about products direct from the development team, as well as respond directly to them.

Overall, the effects have been highly beneficial, believe the report’s authors, Lilia Efimova, a researcher at the Telematica Instituut in the Netherlands, and Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher in the adaptive systems and interaction group at Microsoft Research.

A common theme that emerged during their interviews with Microsoft staff was a lack of explicit rules governing both work blogs, as well as personal blogs in which work topics may arise. However, the authors believe that it is this minimal corporate control that has helped employee blogging to flourish – to Microsoft’s benefit. “It’s created freedom for people to experiment,” says Efimova.

One particular finding of the study was that the public weblogs of employees often led to unexpected discoveries, both among other employees, as well as from outside the organisation, says Efimova. Grudin and Efimova. They have suggested a set of actions that could help an organisation to amplify blogging’s benefits:

·                    First, communicate that blogging about work is not a sin and explicitly indicate anything that might be considered taboo (‘three things not to blog about’). Indicate that you are aware of the potential risks, but prepared to find out how the medium works without making rigid decisions in advance;

·                    Get to know the bloggers. Ask inside the company and search online;

·                    Help others inside the company to find relevant colleagues’ blogs. Create a blog directory or let staff add links to their weblogs in their contact details;

·                    Index work-related entries of external employee weblogs and include the results in intranet searches;

·                    Create a ‘weblog of the month’ column in the internal newsletter, featuring ideas from external employee blogs;

·                    Syndicate weblog posts on a specific topics in the relevant intranet sections.

Efimova and Grudin explore their research in more detail in a case study in this month’s Inside Knowledge.

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