October 26, 2014

How to Restart a Blog When You’ve Been on Hiatus for Three Years

Posted by: of Stephan on 05/14/13

I left my blog dormant for a few years, but I’m finally back in the saddle! I drafted up a post entitled “How to Restart a Blog When You’ve Been on Hiatus for Three Years” because it seemed fitting. Here are my main points to get you started:

1. Jump in and write something. No apologies. Or a lengthy explanation or justification for being off the grid.

2. Get some tools or processes in place that will make it as painless as possible to post. Like Dragon – which incidentally is available as an iPhone/iPad app.

3. Hire a virtual assistant if that will help you. (More on using VA’s in a future post).

4. Roll out a site redesign at the same time to let everybody know you’re reengaged and committed.

5. Don’t try to get all your readers all caught up on your life all in one post. You’ve got plenty of fodder for many blog posts – so save it for later.

6. Finally, silence the perfectionist in you. I have this bad habit of pouring over my blog posts – my articles even more so – trying to make them perfect. I put a dozen hours or more into articles on search engine land. That’s crazy. That’s not good use of your time. Much better to freeze all those great ideas and insights stuck in your head – share them with the world. It’s okay if the sentence structure isn’t always on the mark. It’s a blog post for Pete’s sake.

Take the Business Blogging and SEO Survey

Posted by: of Online Marketing Blog on 01/14/10

Blog SEO Survey Blogs serve many purposes for companies and individuals alike. As easy to use content management systems, blog software enables companies that are “content challenged” a mechanism to create content for subscribing customers and search engines.

While many companies start blogs with SEO in mind, there are many overzealous claims and exaggerated expectations about what works and what doesn’t.

At MarketingBlog.com we’re currently running a poll with business bloggers to better understand the perceived SEO impact of business blogging and would greatly appreciate 1-2 minutes of your participation: http://bit.ly/6Lr4Xb

Responses will be aggregated early next week and an executive summary will be published here on Business Blog Consulting. Full results will also be available in a Business Blogging and SEO Report.

If you’re a business blogger, please take and share the survey.

To make it easy to share the survey on Twitter, Facebook or FriendFeed, here’s a bit of text to copy/paste:

Take the Biz Blogging and SEO survey: http://bit.ly/6Lr4Xb

Upcoming Blogger Conferences

WordCamp Dallas is later this month — March 29-30. Netconcepts’ own Chris Smith will be speaking on SEO for blogs. There’s a great lineup of speakers, including WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. Registration is only $20. There’s no reason not to attend! Even if you blog on a different blog platform, you should still attend. The networking with fellow bloggers alone is worth the travel costs. I speak from experience, having attended WordCamp in San Francisco last summer and I loved it.

Blog World Expo is another fabulous conference to attend. Their inaugural year was last year. It took place in Las Vegas and will be back in Vegas this year — September 20-21. At last year’s conference I spoke on an SEO panel with SEO gurus Aaron Wall, Andy Beal and Vanessa Fox. I stayed to the very end of the conference, and I was glad I did. I got to hear billionaire blogger Mark Cuban speak during the closing keynote of the conference.

Then there’s BlogHer 2008 — a conference for and about women bloggers, taking place July 18-20 in San Francisco. All the speakers are women. My 16-year-old daughter Chloe Spencer (the Neopets blogger) was privileged to speak on their Professional Blogging panel at BlogHer 2007. I attended last summer and really enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t the main intended audience (i.e. women bloggers).

One guy I spoke to during a cocktail reception at BlogHer last year told me that BlogHer was a great conference for single men like him to attend. He said it was “like shooting fish in a barrel.” Haha, I laughed when I heard him say that. Contrast that with WordCamp Dallas, which is projected to be 75% male.

Any other conferences for bloggers out there that I’ve missed?

Technorati Adds Authority Metric

Posted by: of Online Marketing Blog on 05/11/07

Technorati launched a blog authority widget last month but now that Authority score is showing up next to blog search results and on a new and improved blog profile page. I’ve been paying a lot more attention to Technorati since Online Marketing Blog the top 100 Favorites list and made an appearance on the top 100 Popular blogs list recently.

Basically, the Authority score is based on the number of blogs linking to your blog within a certain period of time. I had someone ask me if they should start promoting their blog differently in order to up their “Authority” score. My recommendation is, don’t do anything that isn’t going to further the main goals of the blog. Getting on a list that can send you traffic and build credibility is nice, but if those visitors don’t respond well to your content, they’re just drive by traffic.

Forrester’s new whitepaper will make business blogging easier

Posted by: of A View from the Isle on 01/25/07

One of the big questions us business blogging consultants have to answer is “So, what’s the ROI here?”.  Sure, we all have good answers.  As a group we’ve all bantered this around, especially when we get together and we’re bantering over a round … of drinks, and we’re pretty much all on the same page here.  One thing that has been lacking is that all-important uber-consultant seal of approval.  I know it’s silly, but hey it’s the truth.  Big companies like to see Gartner or Forrester reports that back what you’re saying.

Today Forrester released their blogging ROI whitepaper and real-world application of the model to GM  (hat tips to Steve and Charlene).  Finally!  Now if I could just get my hands on a copy of that report …

If you’d like to read a little more in-depth analysis of the report, check out my post on the OBO blog.

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Is RSS Good for Your Enterprise?

Good article over at eWeek called “RSS Offers Relief from Enterprise E-Mail Overload.”

It talks about how email has fallen out of favor as a way of distributing information to large groups of people, and how certain businesses are starting to use RSS.

The article also covers some negatives of RSS, including:

  • Problems with adoption and inertia from some users
  • How RSS feeds can reduce page visits, and
  • How RSS can create bandwidth bottlenecks for popular feeds.

This definitely isn’t one of those “email is dead” articles, but instead shows how forward thinking companies are looking to RSS as a new distribution channel.

Complaints About Google’s Blog Search

Chris Richardson at WebProNews has a good article outlining some of the complaints against Google’s Blog Search.

Seems a lot of blogs are scraping content to either redirect visitors to another page or to sell Google Ads on their own blog. Who makes money on Google Ads? Well, Google of course! What’s especially frustrating is that many if not most of the offending blogs are on Blogger, owned by, of course, Google.
By running a Google Alert on “flyte” I’m finding about one blog a day that’s scraping my content to drive traffic to their sites to sell more Google Ads. However, since not all of my posts include the word “flyte” I’m only catching a fraction. (I share a name with a college football coach, so the Google Alert on “Rich Brooks” was not helpful.)

Is it even possible for me to write a paragraph about the Web that doesn’t include the word Google or a product owned by Google? Only time will tell….

Scraped Blog Content and Google Adwords

There’s something rotten in the state of the blogosphere.

Like most neo-narcisists, I have a Google Alert going on my name, or more specifically, the name of my company. Every day, I get reports on posts I’ve done that mention “flyte,” or traffic reports involving people named “Flyte,” or updates on the Brideshead Revisited movie that may or not be made, or, more recently, seeing my work appear without my permission at other blogs.

These blogs have invariably scraped content from a post of mine, sometimes w/credit, sometimes w/o, and used the content w/o comment to sell Google Ads. Of course, anyone coming to the site will invariably click on one of those ads, because the scraped content is often incomplete and thus incoherent. For example:

Although there are several Web sites dedicated to organizing and promoting To start, I?d recommend using a hosting service that specializes in Podcasts. His podcast, flyte: Web strategies for small business, is available at

Yeah, I’d be proud of that.

Each time I find content that’s been scraped selling Adwords I report it to Google. Here’s how:

  1. Click on the link that says “Ads by Goooooogle.”
  2. Scroll down the following page and click on “Send Google your thoughts on the site or the ads you just saw.”
  3. Click on the “Also report a Violation?” link.
  4. Report to Google that this blog/site is scraping content from your blog (assuming they are.)

If it’s a Blogger blog you can also flag it for in appropriate content.

Unfortunately, I’m concerned that Google’s not concerned enough. After all, they make money every time someone clicks on one of these ads. While I like the people at Google, and I think they’re bright and they want to do the right thing, this may be a case of the fox guarding the chicken coop.

Recently, Search Engine Roundable reported that Google had a patent application named “Detecting spam documents in a phrase based information retrieval system,” so maybe they’re taking it seriously.

However, until they do take it seriously bloggers need to be watching that their own content isn’t being scraped and Adwords advertisers should probably require that their ads only appear at Google, and not on 3rd party sites.

Tread Carefully on the Participatory Web

Posted by: of Online Marketing Blog on 01/3/07

During the Search Engine Strategies conference in Chicago recently, the managing editor of WebProNews Mike McDonald did a video interview with BBC bloggers Stephan Spencer and myself about the “participatory web”.

stephan-lee-wpn.jpg

Public relations agencies are scrambling and sometimes floundering at their efforts to use social media to further client branding and marketing goals. Mike asks some great questions ranging from “how do you make money with the participatory web?”, “What things should you do and what do you need to watch out for?” and thoughts on things like pay per post.

Stephan does a much better job at pronouncing “participatory” than I do, :) He also provides some great examples on how to be transparent as well as the consequences for not doing so.

Being good BBC bloggers, both Stephan and I mention Business Blog Consulting, in unison no less! Be sure to give it a view.

Bloglines Looking for Director

Posted by: of Blogging Systems Group on 12/15/06

When I opened Bloglines the other day to check my feeds I saw a notice about an opening for a director position to oversee future development of the app.

As you probably know, Bloglines was acquired back in February by Ask.com. Bloglines creator Mark Fletcher assumed the director position, but left the company in June to pursue other interests.

I’ve written an op/ed on my Allbusiness.com blog, Strategic Business Blogging, so let me invite you to read that post as well.

FTC May Regulate Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Posted by: of Blogging Systems Group on 12/14/06

The Washington Post is reporting the Federal Trade Commission may regulate word-of-mouth marketing and require full-disclosure.

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships.

In a staff opinion issued yesterday, the consumer protection agency weighed in for the first time on the practice. Though no accurate figures exist on how much money advertisers spend on such marketing, it is quickly becoming a preferred method for reaching consumers who are skeptical of other forms of advertising.

I’ve ranted about the PayPerPost, need for full-disclosure debacle a couple of times and have one more such rant in me, which I’m considering posting here later this week. However, if the FTC steps in, it may make my harangue moot. More to follow on this I’m sure.

Via TechCrunch and CopyBlogger

WordPress Enterprise Edition Built for Big Business

Automattic and KnowNow have partnered to launch a new blog platform that targets big business using the WordPress open source software. The new platform will be called KnowNow WordPress Enterprise Edition.

It appears that the new product will be aimed at the same audience that might be considering Six Apart’s Movable Type software. According to the slightly-over-the-top press release, “this partnership is critical to our Fortune 1000 enterprise customer base.”

Found through the Monkey Bites blog.

Apparently, WordPress has become the blog police?

One of the core questions that people ask me when they decide to start using a weblog as the foundation of their business marketing and branding efforts is: where should I host my blog? My usual answer is that it doesn’t really matter and that you can get started a lot faster by using a hosted service like WordPress or Typepad, but I’m going to have to change that now.

Why? Because the team at WordPress.com has come up with new regulations about what is and isn’t acceptable on blog postings, and if you cross the line, they’ll not only shut your site down with less than twelve hours warning, but they’ll also ban you from ever signing up again.

It starts with banning blog entries that have (sponsored) links from PayPerPost, but that’s a sticky slope and it’s easy to have that move into other prohibited areas, including perhaps exactly what your business blog is about. Then what?

So, come clean, are you hosted on WordPress.com? And if so, what’s your opinion on this clarification of their Terms of Service and its implementation within the community?


Note: this is an excerpt of a longer article I’ve written on this subject: Is WordPress now the Blog Police.

Edelman responds with a plan, will it be enough?

Posted by: of A View from the Isle on 10/21/06

I caught on Steve’s blog last night and via Jeff Jarvis this morning, Richard Edelman’s blog what is an interesting follow up to yesterday’s news about Wal-Mart (Walgate? Floggergate?).

From Richard Edelman’s blog:

  • We are undertaking a thorough audit around the world to ensure we apply best practice guidelines to every program in every market and specialty area.
  • We are requiring that all employees attend an Edelman University class on ethics in social media, hosted by members of me2revolution team as well as external experts. This will take place before the end of next week
  • We are establishing a 24/7 hotline so our me2revolution team can review, provide counsel and apply best practice guidelines on social media programs before their implementation. This ensures that programs adhere to the WOMMA guidelines or best-in-class standards around the world.
  • We are creating ethics materials that will be distributed to each office and all new hires.

This is just the beginning. We recognize we have further to go. You can and should be helping us. I appreciate all the invaluable feedback you have provided during this week–and we have taken action on at least of one of your comments. If there any other actions that you would advise us to consider, I would welcome them.

The question is then, is this enough?  On the surface, I’d say it’s a really good start.  Time is going to have to tell though.  I suggested in a comment on Richard’s blog that they need to tout some successes and start a blog with a client that really follows all the principles and ethos of WOMMA.  And hire some outside biz bloggers as coaches wouldn’t hurt either.

You can bet this is going to be talked about at Blog Business Summit next week!

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Lowdown with Chris Pirillo

Posted by: of Online Marketing Blog on 10/15/06

At the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York earlier this year, I had a chance to start doing an interview with super blogger, past TechTV host and organizer of the Gnomedex conference, Chris Pirillo. It was to be a video interview with my new Sony Cybershot, but I didn’t have very much memory left and the interview was cut short. I’ve since corrected the problem with a 4gb and another 2gb memory stick for almost 2 1/2 hours of decent quality video on two postage stamp sized chips.

Six months later I finally reconnected with Chris (which is amazing since we’re on IM) and was able to ask him a variety of questions ranging from social media to RSS. Here’s a snippet:

“In this interview, Chris talks about his TagJag project, web traffic from social media, favorite conferences, plans for Lockergnome 2.0, his upcoming wedding with fiancee Ponzi and fun quotes like: “Google is the internetâ€?, “Email is deadâ€? and “Let’s not blog about blogging about blogging about blogs anymore, okay?â€?.”

I can appreciate the enthusiasm for RSS, but I don’t think email is dead by a longshot. RSS to email at least. In fact, during dinner last night with “Mr. RSS” himself, Rok Hrastnik and I talked about RSS being too easy to use and that it can get to a point of information overload. The closest solution is the “river of news” concept, but how many good solutions are there for that?

If you would like all the Q/A with Chris Pirillo, here is the full interview.

Speaking of RSS, if you are at the DMA 06 conference this week, be sure to check out the blogs, RSS and podcasting session from 4:30-5:30, room 135 in the Moscone North building with Stephan Spencer, Amanda Watlington and myself.

Also, there is the RSS Roundtable meeting on Tuesday night sponsored by Pheedo, PRWeb, SimpleFeed and Silverpop downtown San Francisco which should be a good discussion.

Blog Inside: IT@Intel Joins the Blogosphere

Posted by: of Thinking Home Business on 10/12/06

There is a new arrival on the corporate, indeed Fortune 500, blog scene – the IT@Intel Blog.

The site will probably not appeal to people who want the full array of possible effects – audio, video mashups etc. Because unlike the groovy, dancing main Intel site, the IT@Intel blog is visually and organizationally sparer, along the lines of the related IT@Intel web site.

The blog uses MovableType’s Enterprise 1.3 platform, but again the graphic presentation is quite unlike some other corporate blogs using MT Enterprise, such as the rather jazzy GM FastLane blog.

The appropriateness of the IT@Intel Blog’s very neat design becomes evident when you see that, although this is a public blog, it appears to be aimed not so much at the general public as at the IT community and people with related interests.

And although I am not an IT engineer, and I like my rococo in its place, for me the visual spareness of the blog’s layout reflects a pleasingly elegant clarity of architecture and navigation.

There is a simply stated manifesto of guiding principles:

  • We will provide unique, individual perspectives on what’s going on at Intel and in the world;
  • We will post comments, except for spam and remarks that are off-topic, denigrating or offensive;
  • We will reply to comments promptly, when appropriate;
  • We will respect proprietary information and confidentiality; and
  • We will be respectful when disagreeing with others’ opinions.

For anyone who thinks that’s a bit light on for a corporate blog, never fear. There is a more extended and decidedly heavier statement in the legal page, whose phrasing, with its caveats and warnings, reminds us that this blog is indeed a corporate one.

The neat architecture is expressed in the simplicity of layout. The navigation menu along the top has just five items, so whatever your interest in the blog you can find your way there quickly – no need for head-scratching:

  • Recent Posts
  • About the Blog
  • Meet the Bloggers
  • Archives
  • Contact us

And as indicated above, other than the almost monochrome banner there are no pictures, no audio, no videos.

One other comment on underlying concepts and architecture is that the URL structure, http://blogs.intel.com/it/, allows nicely for any number of additional blogs to be created within the Intel blogs framework. Admittedly that’s not a big revelation from an IT engineering-based company, but it is a handy reminder of the value of thinking through structure and architecture before launching any blog in the business space.

There are four bloggers listed and posting at the IT@Intel blog, enough presumably to spread the load but not so many as to make it a case of “everyone’s responsibility is no one’s”. All have titles that indicate a high, or reasonably high level of seniority in the corporation (I don’t know the corporate structure or Intel’s policy on titles). And all are apparently working in an IT engineering or user experience framework. No one from marketing.

It is noticeable that there are no buttons or icons, not even a modest orange button for XML/RSS.

I like the way they have set up the sidebar with six elements, each in its own text box: Most Popular Tags, Recent Comments, Most Active Posts, Blogroll, Related Links, and Subscribe.

The treatment of the tags is interesting – no cloud in the sidebar, just four tags and a link to All Tags for anyone who really needs a cloud to make their day. There are only seven blogs in the Blogroll (that would have been an interesting discussion to be a fly on the wall for, surely – who’s in, who’s out?), only six Related Links and a simple, linked list of basic feed options in the Subscribe box, including a “What are feeds?” text link to a clear explanation on a separate page.

And content? Style?

Early days, but I liked what I read. Four individuals, each with a different style and each evidently keen to make his (yes, all males) mark as a blogger.

But they might have to up their rate. Four posts on October 9 and, at this posting, none since, is not exactly off to the races, guys. But those four posts have already attracted a number of supportive comments. So I hope the bloggers are encouraged by that and produce more, and more frequent, posts.

Pickedup from a Techwhack story via Google Alerts.

Blog PR

Posted by: of Online Marketing Blog on 10/8/06

Blogs are increasingly competitive sources of information for users’ time online compared to mainstream media and many marketers and public relations practitioners persist at stumbling about the blogosphere like bulls in a china shop.

Since my own blog gets about 5-10 pitches per week on average, I think I have a pretty good idea of the variety of ways blogs in general are getting pitched these days. The verdict? Not good.

The emergence of such blogs as The Bad Pitch Blog which is updated a lot more frequently and far more popular than The Good Pitch Blog goes to show that there’s simply not enough attention paid to what constitutes a good pitch. And we all know what Rick thinks about a crappy pitch.

On the topic of blog relations, you hear a lot about being careful of pitching bloggers and that you shouldn’t pitch blogs the same way as you would a print journalist. That’s true for the most part, but there are also many similarities.

To help pros and flacks alike, here are a few of my own tips on pitching blogs which may help PR practitioners resonate more with the blogging community.

  1. Be relevant. It seems so simple and obvious, yet it is the biggest mistake made when pitching bloggers. Look at the categories of the blog and look at previous blog posts. Is your pitch REALLY relevant for the blog? With a lot of the pitches we get, you can tell there’s been no attempt to look any further than the title of the blog. For example, on my own blog I get pitches about things like online advertising or creative interactive advertising campaigns ala Adrants and a quick look at the categories or previous blog posts reveals that the blog clearly does not cover advertising.
  2. Personalize. Getting an email pitch with no personal reference at all, or just a press release and no message is a sure trip to the trash folder. Even more annoying is when there is an attempt to personalize, but it’s copy/paste and the fonts are completely different between the template text being used and the “personalized” content, which often ends up not being very accurate anyway. Take the time to research the blog, make comments and get involved. Be honest about who you are in the comments and provide thoughtful insight that is of value and relevant to the blog post.
  3. Make it easy. Time and time again, I get pitches with one sentence and then the full press release copied into the email or worse, attached as a MS Word doc. This can be very annoying and shows there has been very little effort made. Most bloggers don’t write 600 word stories in response to a press release. They are far more prone to link to a press release. So provide a summary of the release in the email, and a link to the full version of the press release hosted elsewhere. Some bloggers might just copy and paste your summary, add some commentary and a link to the full release you’ve provided. Remember, popular bloggers are very busy. Make it easy for them to blog your story.
  4. Schwag is good. I’ll admit it. I don’t mind getting books sent to me to review. In almost all cases I will at least mention the book in a post if it’s relevant to the topics we cover. I know one thing is for sure, if a search engine or company sent us schwag, we would absolutely post a photo of it along with some honest commentary. Does it suck or is it cool? People want to know!
  5. Be persistent. Don’t be offended or give up if a blogger doesn’t take your story the first time. Be courteous and smart about repeat attempts though. Watch to see if they really do pick up on your story before sending another pitch. Of course, this is not a problem if you actually read their blog.

Here are a number of additional resources on blogger relations and pitching bloggers:

In case you’ll be attending the DMA06 conference in San Francisco later this month, be sure to check out the session on Blogs, RSS and Podcasting with Dr. Amanda Watlington, BBC co-contributor Stephan Spencer and myself where I will be presenting on using blogs for public relations.

BBC contributor is keynote speaker at the Blog Business Summit

Conferences and workshops tend to blur together when you travel and speak as frequently as I do, so I appreciate getting involved in an event that’s focused more on education and discourse than on selling stuff, either from the podium or the exhibit hall. Don’t get me wrong, those sort of conferences can be valuable and I’ve definitely learned quite a bit attending those sort of events, but as a former research scientist, there’s much I prefer about getting together with a few hundred of the best people in the industry and exploring best practices together.

That’s why I am delighted to share with the Business Blog Consulting audience that I am not only going to be enthusiastically attending the upcoming Blog Business Summit in Seattle, but that I’m also going to be speaking a number of times, including a keynote talk on what I call “findability” and why blogs are such an important part of that equation.

The line up of speakers for the Summit reads like a who’s who of thought and influence leaders in the blogging world, including fellow BBC contributor Tris Hussey. It’s the last week of October on the waterfront in Seattle, and if you’re interested in business blogging or blog consulting, you’ll definitely want to learn more about the Blog Business Summit.

(If you’re interested in my comments and thoughts on the speaker lineup, and what I’m planning on talking about when I stand at the podium no less than four different times, please pop over to my thoughts on the Blog Business Summit)

How Do You Say “Page Rank” in Arabic?

Posted by: of Thinking Home Business on 09/23/06

For any company doing business in Arabic-speaking countries or communities a good feed to have is for the Maktoob Business Blog.

Online since December 2005, the blog covers aspects of business in the Middle East, with a stated aim of focusing on marketing, advertising and media. There are several contributors.

The blog is a product of Maktoob Business – whose website banner claims that the group has the world’s largest Arabic community.

araby.com logo

A recent blog post reports on Maktoob’s newly-launched (beta) Arabic search engine, Araby.com, which Maktoob claims has a number of competitive advantages over the Arabic version of the engines developed first for English:

  • optimized to deliver Arabic-language results from Arabic sources
  • specialized search channels including Arabic news sites, photos, blogs and forums
  • a dedicated channel for searching Islamic topics

The press release here provides more detail and some pr elaboration.

Not being able to read Arabic, for me the Araby.com site is a closed book. But could Araby.com be a serious Arabic competitor to Google and Yahoo! A contender in its rather large niche? This blog post by one of the developers, Isam Bayazidi, sounds a cautionary note – it’s beta, he’s saying:

One thing for sure, Araby.com, and the verticals in it have a long way to go with development. We only released early to give users a peak into what is cooking, and get feedback on it.

Guidelines Needed for Government Employee Blogging

Posted by: of Thinking Home Business on 09/18/06

Virginia Department of Business Assistance employee and dedicated blogger, Will Vehrs got a good result last month from the Commonwealth’s Department of Employment Dispute Resolution. The severity of disciplinary action against him for some blogging activity was reduced and the ten days’ pay that had been docked was ordered to be restored.

The story in summary form is at Virginia’s Daily Press site in the article State worker suspended over blog comments wins grievance. That’s not a blog post so I’m not sure about the archiving, but the story is told also on Townhall.com.

The bigger story here is that as an outcome of these events we have a landmark decision by a government agency, about public sector employee blogging, in the published findings of the Virginia Department of Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR).

I am not a lawyer, but I have been a government executive and more recently a government sector consultant. I believe this document will prove very helpful to public service managers who take the time to read and ponder it, and to anyone who consults on blogging to government departments or agencies.

Not before time. Until now I have not been able to discover any really useful information, directly about government employee blogging, as distinct from coverage of general issues about employee blogging.

There are several well-cited codes or sets of guidelines on blogging by employees in the corporate sector, e.g. those from IBM, Sun Microsystems and Thomas Nelson. But to the best of my knowledge no one has yet produced a set of blogging guidelines for the public sector, or at least not so as to be readily accessible from an online search.

And my sense is that any public sector manager or blogging consultant asked right now to advise a government agency on, for example, blogging guidelines for employees, would have to cobble something together from the various corporate sector guidelines and codes of blogging conduct.

That would be better than nothing, but might not be enough to provide guidelines adequate to the challenge. Or at least might not be enough to satisfy the client that every area of risk or uncertainty has been covered adequately and in language that speaks to the government employment context.

There is also the issue of workable guidelines being developed for individual agencies, which, it could be inferred from the EDR decision, may be acting less than prudently in relying on blanket guidelines established on a ‘whole of government’ basis.

A related issue is that if a government agency permits (or encourages) employees to blog, there could be a need for some quantification of what constitutes acceptable use of ‘on the job’ time. As the EDR decision makes clear, one of the limitations on Virginia Department of Business Assistance (VDBA) managers’ ability to discipline employees over blogging was that the applicable policy, i.e. the Commonwealth’s policy on Internet usage, allowed for ‘incidental and occasional personal use’ of the Commonwealth’s internet access, but did not attempt to quantify that.

Nor, it seems, is a ‘common sense’ approach going to be necessarily adequate in itself. In Will Vehr’s case, the supervisor counseled him about use of the weblog, warning that he would have to be careful not to ‘cross the line’, to be careful about the frequency and content of his commentary, to use good judgment and make sure his commenting did not become a distraction. Those principles are pretty much in line with the various corporate guidelines, such as those mentioned above. But once a media storm blew up and politicians and community members got involved, the principles were not enough in themselves to enable the supervisor to discipline Vehrs in such a way that the action would hold up under the scrutiny of a grievance procedure.

An interesting side issue is that although Vehrs had a disclaimer posted on the blog stating that the views he expressed were his own, EDR found that the posting of the disclaimer was “not sufficient to insulate him from violation of the policy (that he was required to state that his communications were personal and not a ‘communication of the agency or the Commonwealth’)”. Which raises the question of what would constitute a disclaimer adequate for the purpose.

According to reports, such as that on the Townhall.com site, the VDBA’s solution to these interesting challenges to public administration has been fairly basic – ban blogging. Presumably that means blogging on the taxpayer’s time. Nothing is said in the reports I’ve seen about guidance on private blogging by a state employee, where similar guidelines surely need to be established as are included in corporate sector guidelines cited above.

A ban is not a policy. And while understandable in the circumstances, that outcome is not helpful for those of us who might be interested in seeing how a government agency would go about adopting a more nuanced policy approach.

So in the absence of such an approach and drawing on the EDR findings, here are some key points I would be looking to include in any set of guidelines for government sector blogging, in addition to principles already established for the corporate sector:

  • quantify what would constitute an acceptable – not necessarily recommended – upper limit of time over a given week for personal use of the employer’s internet access, on the employer’s time, for blogging
  • with due consideration to privacy issues, establish logging and archiving arrangements adequate to provide objective evidence of time spent in blogging, to assist in resolving any future dispute
  • advise employees fully, in writing, of any applicable law, overall service guidelines and any specific governmental, departmental, agency or unit guidelines
  • advise employees of the need to provide disclaimers in a prominent way, so that readers of their blog posts or comments understand that ‘their views are their own’
  • provide managers with appropriate guidance and training in their supervisory role regarding employee blogging and specifically on the need to be able to provide objective evidence of any alleged breach of guidelines, before proceeding to disciplinary action

I’m sure there are more principles and refinements to be included in any comprehensive set of blogging guidelines for government employees. On the other hand, I expect that some bloggers will regard even what I’m proposing here as unduly restrictive or onerous.

But whatever guidelines eventually emerge, public sector managers, and consultants advising the public sector, have reason to be grateful to Mr Vehrs for having taken his grievance to EDR, and grateful to that Department for publishing its decision online.

UnConferences: Not a Bad Thing to Attend After All

Posted by: of andrewbourland on 09/11/06

I have to eat my words and offer a public apology to Josh Hallet, whose BlogOrlando UnConfererence I questioned the validity of in this forum.

In that piece, I charged that UnConferences were essentially anti-capitalistic over-reactions to the sins of the current approach to conferences. I questioned their value, recalling an UnConference I attended at the ripe young age of 16 which degenerated in to chaos.

I got some feedback from people telling me that I shouldn’t be so harsh in my judgement of UnConferences, that I should attend one before I make such rash statements in the future.

Such an opportunity arose this weekend when I attended PodCamp Boston, a gathering of podcasters and videocasters designed to teach each other what they’ve learned about the art, craft and business of podcasting.

An agenda that looked informative and useful emerged as the days for the conference approached. An impressive list of experts and well known figures within podcasting steadily grew as well, making the conference that much more valuable for me to attend.

It was a free conference, but it was looking early on like something of great value to me, so I signed on as a $250 sponsor — which I would have been glad to pay anyway just to rub elbows with the quality of people who would be attending.

The sessions moved along quickly and were quite lively with enthusiastic participation from the attendees — much more so than other conferences I’ve attended where people tend to fall into catatonic states unless the speaker was particularly charismatic.

Anti-capitalistic? Hardly. The organizers did all they could to facilitate good networking and introducing those who would benefit greatly from meeting each other.

I learned a great deal in the time I was there, and hope I was useful to others as well. Not only that, despite being a dyed in the wool introvert, I ended up joining three local organizations which will help continue the learning path I’m on. It will also help me in my networking about, learning more of the right people that I should be talking to.

So Josh, you were right, I was wrong. The UnConference can in fact be a tremendous opportunity to learn more about the topics you are interested in.

I would recommend corporate bloggers seek out these venues as well to increase their knowledge on their blogging skills. They only cost you the time, energy and knowledge you put into them — which will serve to increase their value substantially.

 

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