April 2007

There is a bit of a debate going on about creating a blogging code of conduct. Tim O’Reilly, one of the visionaries of Web 2.0 and blogging has put a draft code of conduct on his site.

It is a question that we are often asked by clients – what happens if someone comes on a blog and posts negative, derogatory or nasty comments? We feel very strongly in free speech and the right to disagree, agree, provide feedback – good and bad – and discuss, converse and engage with each other. BUT – what happens when it gets nasty? I’m not talking about passionate, engaged, smart exchange, discussions and even disagreement. I’m talking about personal attacks, corporate attacks – postings that have no objective except to bully, embarrass or threaten.

To me, this is blogging gone wrong. What is incredible and amazing – and has the power to change the world – is the open, easy and respectful exchange of ideas, the opportunity to discuss, disagree and debate. It is collaboration, support and inspiration. But – there are a lot of people out there with issues. Their whole focus is on attacking and in many cases, they feel completely justified in doing this. And it scares me. Nasty attack postings on blogs are painful, frightening and upsetting. Often these people will hide behind being “anonymous” – and that makes it even worse.

The debate on creating a blogging code of conduct is hot. Some bloggers really don’t like the idea and feel that it is censorship. I can see that. But after having watched some pretty nasty attacks online, I think that a code of conduct is a good idea.

When we work with a client to engage them in the idea of blogging, we put it on the table – and in the blog – that discussion, debate, opinions (good and bad) and even disagreement are welcomed in the postings. And our client has to agree that they will answer the tough postings and respond to the negative comments with as much focus as they do the positive ones. But – personal attacks, obscenities, and mindless rants are posts that will be deleted. And we will explain in the blog why the post was deleted.

It can be nasty online, as anyone who has ever had an attack posting focused on them or received an email full of anger and hate. In our experience, these postings and emails usually say more about the person writing them than the person they are attacking. They are often full of inaccuracies and errors and the point of them isn’t to create a discussion to find a resolution to a problem. We know that along with freedoms come challenges – and we are incredibly grateful that we live in a world of freedoms. With this freedom, comes the opportunity to choose what we will and will not accept as discussion. For us, that means that anything based in discussion, dialogue and respectful communication is an incredible opportunity to hear from our audience.

You don’t have to agree with us to make a great conversation – in fact, most growth comes from speaking with people who don’t think the same things you do. A great discussion is one of the best things in life! So tell us what you think – is a blogging code of conduct a good thing or a bad thing?

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First off, I owe the readers of this blog an apology – my last entry was too long ago and I have committed the worst blogging sin possible … NOT blogging!!! This is exactly what we tell our clients not to do…and here, I have gone and done it. Being too busy is no excuse. My apologies. It won’t happen again.

There is a great article in the April issue of Wired Magazine entitled The See-Through CEO written by Clive Thompson. In it, Mr. Thompson writes about the power of blogging – and the challenges. He also put his money where his mouth is, so to speak – and put the article idea out there on his blog before he wrote it, creating a dialogue of what the piece could and should be. This is the true value of blogging. Some of the most interesting content in this article comes from the comments from readers of his blog. This article is a great example of the dialogue that can come up from putting your ideas, thoughts and concepts out there.

A lot of articles, including this one, often put forward the idea in this new world of online transparency, of blogging and openness – that you no longer need a PR person or publicist. That we “spin doctors” don’t like the idea of putting it all out there … that with Web 2.0 and the movement to online communications, PR becomes redundant. To that, I say … HA!

Great public relations has always been about engaging in conversation, dialogue, constructive and open feedback – talking and listening. In my opinion, blogging is one of the best things to happen to companies in the past century. Great PR doesn’t spin, hide or bury information, and with the new openness online – great PR people are invaluable. There are very few CEOs who, at this moment, would feel comfortable putting it all out there in a blog – the good, the bad and the ugly. A great PR person can show that CEO the value of this. A great PR person can identify the leading bloggers – and create the schedule for the CEO to reach out and speak to these bloggers and their audience by posting to their blogs. A great PR person DOES NOT write the blog, but can work with the CEO to ensure that he or she consistently delivers the straight goods on their blog. After all, who among us doesn’t want to sugar coat bad news just a little, who doesn’t want to soften a negative story when it is about us or our company. …a great PR person maintains the integrity of the blog and the message – and challenges the CEO to step out of their comfort zone.

We’re talking major corporate culture change here. And to do this right, a visionary CEO needs a strong PR professional with integrity, who has been empowered to open the door to true communication. Like just about everything in a Web 2.0 world, a great CEO and a great PR advisor collaborate and work as a team to create accurate, honest and authentic relationships through a blog.

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