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Staffing Management: To Blog or Not to Blog?

Lisa Daniel  1/7/2005
 

Staffing Management, July  September 2005

Vol. 1, No. 2

While employee web logs offer possibilities for recruitment and branding, there are risks to blogging you need to consider and control.

When it comes to staffing, few would argue that, if you want to peek into the mind of a potential hire, the closest view comes from his or her personal web log. What is more controversial is whether companies should use or sponsor blogs as recruitment and branding tools.

Blogs have popped up by the millions these past five years, offering a window into the thoughts and behaviors of total strangers. There are believed to be between 10 million and 20 million blogs on the Internet, delivering information that ranges from news and political commentary to the daily routine of a college student. If the information superhighway was the buzz of the 1990s, the blogosphere is the rage of the 2000s.

Blogs are maintained by companies, individuals and interest groups and solicit reader feedback. They are used as bully pulpits, outlets for creative writing and branding opportunities. What they all have in common is that they are updated frequentlydaily or several times a weekand their style is personal.

Some companies are using blogs as recruiting tools. While this currently is more likely to attract younger applicants and those in technical fields, John Sumser, CEO of Mill Valley, Calif.-based InterBizNet, which demonstrates how to use technology in recruiting, believes blogging will evolve to include all segments of society, much the same as the Internet today.

There is an adoption curve of four or five years that favors technical people, just like the web, Sumser says. The same question came up in 1994 about whether [the web] would attract only a certain demographic. By 98, it wasnt an issue.

It is the potential proliferation of blogging that led Businessweek in April to urge businesses to blog. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. Theyre a prerequisite, according to the magazine.

Checking Up on Job Candidates

Worried that your latest pick might not fit in? Wondering if she is involved in some radical movement that might embarrass your company? Or maybe you have an inkling that Mr. Perfect is actually a lazy slob. Google the candidates name and hope for a blog. Daily logs of personal writings not only give you clues about a persons writing, communication and organization skills, they also tell you about personality traits. Here is a www.blogster.com posting from 25-year-old Justin in Michigan (complete with typos):

I said: there is nothing wrong with talking to yourself ... i do it all the time. want to hear something that is not only embarrasing, but also makes people run for the fire exits when i tell them? i speak outloud with my subconcious, and it andwers. its like having a little man in my head. he doesnt tell me to kill, or anything, he just listens and gives those little ideas of what to do next ...

Monitoring candidates blogs is one more brick in the wall of hiring, says David Russo, chief people officer for Peopleclick, a Raleigh, N.C.-based workforce acquisition firm that provides managed software and consulting services. Wed like to have the best and brightest, but everybody, whether they say it or not, really wants someone who fits in with the company culture. Checking candidates blogs might help determine whether they will.

Getting Your Name Out There

While the benefit of monitoring job candidates blogs may be obvious, it isnt as clear whether it is a good idea for companies to create their own corporate blogs or to sponsor a host site for employee blogs. Where some companies see easy and inexpensive positive branding and recruitment opportunities, others see the potential for a smear campaign spun out of control.

Still, the practice is catching on. Microsoft was an early adopter (Nike, IBM and General Motors are others); it began hosting employee blogs in 2003. Today there are some 1,300 Microsoft employee blogs. The blogs have made online celebrities out of Microsoft employees Robert Scoble, Heather Hamilton and others. The company hopes that these employees and their blogs will give an authentic voice to extend the companys brand as a progressive workplace, as well as help maintain a potential hiring pool. Its a good tool for employment branding and outreach, says Hamilton, a staffing programs manager at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash. The biggest impact it has had is in our ability to push out information about upcoming events and types of roles and to put a human face on Microsoft and our staffing function. I think of blogging more as a communication channel than a candidate sourcing tool.

Microsoft bloggers are not told what or how often or how much to write, Hamilton says. The only guidelines are a prohibition against giving out unreleased information about new products. Hamiltons postings range from information about Microsoft as a workplace and advice on blog content and interviewing to how she spent her day off or what she thought of the latest episode of The Apprentice.

Blogs created or sanctioned by a company can increase its publicity by moving the company higher on search engines and can allow a company to choose keywords for searches, further increasing its branding, Hamilton and others say. In addition, bloggers are known for sharing weblinks and are a large source of the web feeds known as RSS, or really simple syndication. RSS distributes multiple web articles by headlines and provides links to subscribers. RSS is often automatically generated by blogging software and includes links of the bloggers choice that readers can subscribe to.

A Culture of Cynicism

It is the fear of giving carte blanche to employees to say whatever they want, as well as the blogospheres reputation as the Wild West of the Internet, that causes some to shy away from it.

Before I, as the vice president of human resources, would take [on the responsibility of company-provided blog space], Id want to see some maturity in the space, Russo says. I would not want to be on the leading edge of taking it on, and Im not a risk-averse guy.

Russo points to the irate tones and unsubstantiated claims made famous in early blogs such as fedcompany.com, as well as the ease with which a brand can be tarnished by relentless negative postings.

In blogging, cynicism is an art form, Russo says. Once you put [information] out there, it is at the mercy of bloggers. Bloggers can use news or information about a company in a positive way or a destructive way, and employers have little control over how a company may be representedor misrepresented.

Kathy Barton, Peopleclicks senior vice president of marketing and product management, agrees. Barton says she has seen how negative blogging can degrade not only a companys reputation, but also that of its executives.

What I found disturbing is the level of personal attack on company officers, Barton says. Its obscene, its scatological, its threatening. All it takes is one disgruntled person.

Barton and Russo say that one exception to their advice against entering the world of blogging is for high-profile companies that are already generating negative headlines. If theres ... negative blogging already, then I would want to start a positive one, Barton says.

Culture Dictates Fit

To create a successful recruitment or branding blog, youve got to have guidelines rooted in the belief that you have good people working for you who like working for the company, says Sumser.

Sumser points to news reports that Amazon.com had hosted employee blogs in which postings were later discovered to have been fabricated to put the best employee spin on the company. He suggests that Amazon underestimated its employees and their loyalty to the company.

Its sad because everybody knows Amazon is a great gig and it blew up on them because Amazon is so closely watched, Sumser says. This is the Wild West. If youre going to blog, you are opening yourself to criticism and scrutiny.

But, he adds, a few negative posts shouldnt hurt a companys recruiting, anyway. On the other hand, if a company is a terrible place to work, it wont be able to hide that fact from potential employees. Any recruiter worth their job is going to be honest about the company.

Hamilton agrees that a well-run company that treats its employees fairly shouldnt have to worry about jumping on the employee-blogging bandwagon. A PR-controlled blog isnt really a blog; its a corporate web site. And the audience can quickly pick up on that. People come to blogs to read about personal experiences, opinions and readers comments. Those things cant be orchestrated by PR. If a PR department is uncomfortable with that, its not in the employees interest to blog on behalf of the company. Ultimately, the company culture dictates whether blogging is a successful tool for the company. Its definitely not for everyone.

Potential Pitfalls

For companies that pursue creating their own blogs, Sumser suggests buying the appropriate software (its about $200) and keeping the function in-house.

Youre opening the door to all kinds of problems if you contract out, he says. Blogging is a big job. Pretty soon it starts to look like a full-time job and the recruiting manager is managing something that maybe they dont understand. Its uncomfortable and there is a learning curve.

Eric Yoon, CEO of Jobthread.com and a former product manager at hotjobs.com, suggests that companies set clear guidelines on the nature of the blogs content and choose as bloggers employees who understand blog culture.

You shouldnt have to tell an employee to post on a regular basis, Yoon says. If a person doesnt have a blogger mentality, it probably wont work.

When setting employee guidelines, there are legal implications to consider. Firings over blog content have gotten so common that they have spawned a new word: doocing. They also have created a new expertise among law firms such as the San Francisco-based Howard Rice. Earlier this year, Howard Rice released information and guidelines for corporate blogging, posted on its site as well as the corporate blogging site www.ventureblog.com.

Howard Rice warns that your company may be held liable if an employees post defames or invades the privacy of a third party, uses copyrighted material without permission or makes false or misleading statements about a competitor.

Company guidelines about blogs also should warn against divulging trade secrets and committing securities fraud, according to Howard Rice.

Lisa Daniel is a business and career writer based in Burke,Va.

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