Enterprises try blogs, but fear remains

Large enterprises tend to be afraid of negative effects from blogging, but others are seeing the collaborative benefits of the tool, experts say.

Blogs -- now thought of generally as mere personal digital depositories with sometimes questionable value -- are slowly making inroads at the enterprise level, as companies increasingly realize that the tight sense of community around them works well for collaboration as well as enhancing social bonds between employees.

But the embrace of blogs opens a floodgate of concerns, such as how to establish corporate policy, how to deal with the blur between a blogging employee's professional and personal lives and how to protect sensitive company information. Jane McConnell, who runs Netstrategy JMC, an intranet consulting firm in Paris, said many of the large,10,000-plus employee companies she consults with are "terrified of blogging."

"They are obviously primarily afraid of losing control," said McConnell in an interview with IDG News Service. McConnell was attending Online Information 2005, a three-day seminar in London addressing content and information management.

Companies are afraid of employees writing information that is not filtered through their communications department, she said. Timing is an issue, as people can post information that a company may not be ready to go public with. Another concern is the potentially large audience for that information, she said.

"Internal blogs and external blogs go to broad audiences," McConnell said. "There's no longer a selection of people who are a target for messages as there has been in the past."

IBM has taken a direct approach to blogs. It has a central blog "dashboard" on the company's intranet where employees can start one, said Philippe Borremans, public relations manager for IBM Belgium and Luxembourg. The blogs consists of personal ones and those for "virtual" teams in different countries and time zones on IBM projects, said Borremans, who gave a presentation during a session on blogs and wikis, the term for editable Web pages.

The company has also created a code of rules for employees who blog outside the company using already established rules for internal blogging.

But Borremans advised that it's not wise for companies to impose strict blogging guidelines from the top. Even if companies don't have blogging guidelines, their employees are probably already blogging anyway, and suddenly imposing restrictive rules won't be of use, he said.

"Involve them [bloggers] in creating guidelines," Borremans said. IBM employees have generally acted professionally when blogging both internally and externally to the extent that the company does not even monitor its internal blogs.

Confidential information at IBM is clearly labeled as such, and that information cannot be discussed in blogs. IBM trusts their employees to use common sense, he said.

"If you have people who have something interesting to say -- your employees -- don't hold them back," Borremans said. "We've only seen up until now only benefits."

Not all employees need to blog, however, said Adriana Cronin Lukas, a partner with Big Blog Company in the U.K. But blogging can become a part of job descriptions so employees can keep up on trends. Lukas spoke on the same panel as Borremans. It's best to target employees who are naturally fit into blogging culture, she said.

Setting up blogging at knowledge-based companies such as IBM is easier because every one of their employees has a PC, McConnell said. It's a lot harder for companies with several manufacturing plants to implement blogging, she said. The integration of blogging into enterprises also differs from country to country because of different management attitudes and transparency issues.

At a recent breakfast McConnell organized in Paris concerning blog implementation, of around 15 large companies, only two -- ElectricitA© de France SA and Alcatel SA -- had dealt with blogs and wikis, she said. Others were just starting to understand basic information about blogs.

"It takes a certain mind-set on the part of either IT or the management or the people themselves to even be interested in this," McConnell said.

But as enterprises seek to attract bright, young workers, they may have to ensure that they have collaborative tools such as blogs, wikis and instant messaging available, she said. Otherwise, those workers "are going to find that company difficult to work in, because they have been living that way," McConnell said.

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