Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Enterprise Blogging and Corporate Ethics

by Dennis D. McDonald

Dave Taylor, a co-moderator with me of the members-only LinkedinBloggers Group on Yahoo!, has an interesting read on his blog titled Walmart and Edelman PR lead the way on working with bloggers.

Lately I've been reading about the increasing acceptance of blogging by corporations as an extension to their ongoing corporate communications with their customer and the public. Some commentators have raised the question of whether such uses of blogging are "ethical" or not, and Dave mentions this.

Dave comes down on the side of acceptance, and I tend to agree with him. I see no problem with companies sending information to bloggers in hopes the bloggers will pick it up and write about it. Writing about stuff is what bloggers do, and they should be able to evaluate the source of the information they get as well as anyone.

What seems to be at the core of some of the blogging ethics debates is how "disclosure" is practiced, e.g.,

  • Does the information sent to a blogger by a corporation -- in the hopes that it will be written about -- honestly disclose the source and purpose of the communication?
  • Does the blogger when writing about something mention how that information was obtained?

Just this morning, for example, I received an email from a PR firm asking me to participate in the beta testing of a new software application developed by a company the PR firm represents. The message indicated that I was being contacted due to some of the things I had recently written here on this blog (e.g., regarding web 2.0 applications).

It's clear to me why I'm being contacted, and I'm considering my participation since as a manager I know what's involved in testing software, but I don't yet know how information I publish about the software might be used. For example, as a consultant I prize my objectivity about software tools and I would not want to do anything to jeapordize perceptions of my objectivity. But corporate blogging is here to stay, at least as a form of public relations.

There are other uses that have little to do with PR. One use that runs parallel to PR use of blogging is as an adjunct to project management. This is adressed in one of the interviews I conducted as part of my Web 2.0 Management Survey where a financial consultant described how his firm was developing a blogging toolset for use internally and in support of client projects.

Uses of new technologies unrelated to public relations and marketing are expanding as blogging and other content-related technologies such as podcasts and wikis become embedded within different corporate functions. This makes for a richer communication environment even as it challenges traditional corporate approaches to managing technology. Inevitably a variety of ethical issues will be raised and this will lead to a growing number of articles in the blogosphere about ethics -- like this one.

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