Blog Council Transparency Toolkit Draft Released

Actually, the formal title is the Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit, and through Mayo Clinic recently joining the Blog Council I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in “the end of the beginning” of the discussions in development of these resources.

The Blog Council is an organization of mostly Fortune 500 companies (and their non-profit or not-for-profit equivalents like Mayo and Kaiser Permanente) who are actively engaged in blogging and other social media. (See a membership list here). Mayo is among the newer members, and so our role in the development of these guidelines has been minimal, but the Blog Council’s work on projects like this is a big part of why we wanted to join. It’s helpful to be able to network with and learn from similar-sized organizations as we navigate the social media world together.

As corporations are developing policies related to blogging and social media, there are some good resources out there already, such as on Constantin Basturea’s TheNewPR/Wiki. (You’ll note that it’s in my Blogroll.) It has lots of links to real corporate policies, for instance. One of the strengths of the Blog Council project, though, it that instead of being a collection of individual company policies it is a “best practices” document, and represents the best collective thinking of companies with lots of real-world experience in this arena.

I also appreciate the spirit in which this toolkit is offered: it’s an open source draft. As the broader community gets involved in the discussion, it will be further improved. But anyone can take the documents and use them as starting points for developing their own policies, and the toolkit can be applied beyond just blogs.

The Blog Council isn’t some kind of “policing” or “watchdog” agency, and we’re not here to make binding rules for anyone. But our members united by enthusiasm for social media, and we want our organizations to be involved in an ethical, open, transparent way…and we’d like to do all we can to encourage our corporate colleagues to do the same. The toolkit is just about making it easier for us to share with each other and also more broadly, and to provide a mechanism for community feedback.

For example here’s what the first checklist, on Disclosure of Identity, currently says:

Focus: Best practices for how employees and agencies acting as official corporate representatives disclose their identity to bloggers and on blogs.

When communicating with blogs or bloggers on behalf of my company or on topics related to the business of my company, I will:

1. Disclose who I am, who I work for, and any other relevant affiliations from the very first encounter.

2. Disclose any business/client relationship if I am communicating on behalf of a third party.

3. Provide a means of communicating with me.

4. Comply with all laws and regulations regarding disclosure of identity.

5. We will educate employees, agencies, and volunteer advocates.
– Train them on these disclosure policies
– Monitor to the best of our ability
– Take action to correct problems where possible

6. Pseudonyms
(Option A) Never use a false or obscured identity or pseudonym.
(Option B) If aliases or role accounts are used for employee privacy, security, or other business reasons, these identities will clearly indicate the organization I represent and provide means for two-way communications with that alias.

7. “We Didn’t Know”
All blogs produced by the company or our agencies will clearly indicate that they were created by us.

I hope you’ll check out the Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit, and share your comments either below or on the Blog Council site.

Update: Here’s the post about the toolkit on the Blog Council site. See more discussion from Valeria Maltoni here.

Personal and Professional Personas in Social Networks

In the Facebook 210 course I describe a way to use Facebook’s Friend lists to create a “work-safe” profile that is less likely to cause professional problems, when that high school classmate or college buddy tags you in a questionable photo or writes on your wall. This led to a thoughtful comment from Erik Giberti:

I’ve sent you a friend request and of course your on my limited profile. I find this discussion interesting because there’s a fine line between having a personal persona and a professional persona. I go back and forth on this idea, but I believe that they are really one in the same. The way I am at work is often reflected by the way I am when I’m not at work and vice versa. The reality is, many folks create an artificial “professional” persona that masks who they are in the “real world”. It has been my experience that employers and co-workers can usually tease out trends in your real life personality and spot the fake portions of the professional persona. What’s left is really something closer to your personal persona. So why not just present that first and save everyone the time?

I think Erik has a good point, and personally I don’t have a problem with anyone seeing my whole profile. My life is an open book. And I think the ethic of transparency we are coming to expect from corporations also has some implications for personal life. In fact, that’s why I like Facebook as opposed to MySpace or Second Life. In Facebook people almost always go by the name their parents gave them; in MySpace that’s not necessarily so, and in Second Life you are represented by an avatar and aren’t allowed to use your real name. (I did recently try Second Life, I think my name is Allen Atlass.)

On the other hand, even aside from the potentially problematic posts and tags from others, many people put their religious beliefs and political leanings on their Facebook profiles, and many businesses want to keep politics and religion out of the workplace. You don’t typically put that information on your business card.

LinkedIn doesn’t have anything in its personal profiles that would indicate religious or political persuasion, unless of course you have worked vocationally in religious or political pursuits. For Facebook to be an effective business alternative to LinkedIn (I use both Facebook and LinkedIn, but Facebook to a much greater extent), it needs to duplicate this functionality.

That was the point of Facebook 210 and the subsequent SMUG Research Project; creating an example of how you can avoid broadcasting this personal information to co-workers, customers or clients, but yet share it with your non-work friends.

SMUG students who read my post on religious podcasting have a window to my theological beliefs, and because of my previous career information (which is available on both my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles), they would correctly infer my political sympathies. (Hint: I don’t have a direct psychological stake in the outcome of tomorrow’s Pennsylvania contest between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama.) Which leads me to reiterate that the views expressed on this blog are mine, not those of my employer.

So Erik is right to a point; maintaining a sanitized professional persona may not be consistent with the ethic of transparency. One might even call it a matter of integrity in the literal sense. Integrity means being a single person, not having a compartmentalized life. If you’re maintaining a professional profile on LinkedIn and a personal one on Facebook, with completely different friends, you’re already creating this division. Facebook 210 just tells you how to create that separation on a single platform.

I think the key to what Erik says is that a professional persona shouldn’t “mask” who you are in real life. But there’s a difference between hiding information about yourself and not actively promoting things that might be stumbling blocks for some acquaintances.

What do you think?