The social media rules recently put out by the Wall Street Journal and its parent Dow Jones are all about control rather than conversation. They hamstring reporters' ability to use channels such as Facebook and Twitter in their work and to make closer connections with their readers. (And making closer connections would seem like a good idea when Warren Buffet and lots of others are questioning the relevance of traditional print media.)
It's hard to blame Dow Jones for wanting to give its reporters some guidelines. There have been too many examples of folks who theoretically knew better getting themselves and their employers into troublewith their online activities, and there's remarkably little legal guidance on how to proceed. But I agree with many others in the blogosphere that Dow Jones, by erring on the side of caution, is missing an opportunity to make its coverage more collaborative. Writes James Poniewozik in a piece on TIME:
Most of this boils down to the classic old-media problem with new media: fear of the loss of control. Fear that, usually, is misplaced and counterproductive. Take the worries about discussing story topics. I can't say how often I've heard people raise the concern about letting "the competition" know what you're up to. My usual answer: there are exceptions, but in reality there are very few stories so sui generis and original that they would be harmed by people knowing they're in the works. And one can get tremendous insight and info by crowd-sourcing some topics in advance.
Transparency is one of the great benefits of the Web, not a danger. The audience for media outlets wants to know-and deserves to know-how decisions are made, what goes into producing a story, how the process of knowledge-gathering and idea-making is constant and flawed. Hiding that process isn't about serving anyone but ourselves-really, covering our asses. And that only hurts us; journalists are better off showing that they're human, that they make mistakes and that they (hopefully) learn from them.
I went back to take a look at my notes for my recent story about corporate blogging, as I'd asked most of my sources, including companies like Dell and Intel, what kind of guidance they provided for their employee bloggers. When I asked about blogging "policy," most of them chafed a bit at that word, saying it seemed to imply strict oversight and heavyhanded rules. They preferred the word "guidelines" and stressed that few restrictions were placed upon their bloggers. For what it's worth, Deputy Managing Editor Alix Freedman did use the "policies" word in an e-mail to Dow Jones employees.
At Lenovo, David Churbuck, the company's vice president of Global Digital Marketing, told me that while Lenovo's blogging guidelines were reviewed by the legal and communications teams, they were "designed to be as brief, common sense and conversational as possible." Key principles include employees identifying themselves as representatives of Lenovo when participating in online conversations and not making any comments that would materially affect Lenovo's communications strategy or share price. Lenovo bloggers aren't required to get prior approval for their posts, but each blogger is assigned a "buddy," a fellow employee they can ask for input before posting, Churbuck said.
Similarly, Bryan Rhoads, a digital strategist with Intel's Social Media Center of Excellence, called Intel's guidelines "a framework, an education on how to be successful, rather than an edict from on high." Topics like stock price fluctuations, litigation and other privileged information are obviously off limits, but pretty much everything else is fair game. "Write what you know" is a key guideline. Said Rhoads:
I am not a chip expert. If I do blog about chip sets, I need to be transparent about it, that I am approaching it from an end-user perspective rather than as an expert.
The Social Pathblogger David Griner lauded Intel for striking the right tone with its guidelines when it introduced them last December and (transparency rocks!) posted them online.