Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

EMPLOYEE BLOGGING....Tired of quickie newspaper pieces about blogging that tell you for the hundredth time that (a) they're really cool and (b) Instapundit is the most widely known? Looking for some more meat?

This month's issue of the Harvard Business Review has a pretty good case study about the intersection of blogging and the real world for both good and ill. Names and industries have been changed to protect the guilty.

I don't feel like commenting much about the story except to express some astonishment that two of the four "expert commentators" (at the end of the article) seem blissfully unconcerned about the potential liability problems posed by an employee discussing confidential company information in a public forum and a third mentions it only in passing. I know that information wants to be free and we've all got to get on the cluetrain and all that, but the SEC takes a pretty dim view of that kind of activity even if blogging is the Next Big Thing.

Here's the story:

Oops, it turns out HBR really doesn't want me to post the whole article here, and who can blame them? Here's the executive summary instead, or you can buy a copy online for six bucks.

A Blogger in Their Midst
By Halley Suitt

It was five minutes before show time, and only 15 people had wandered into the conference room to hear Lancaster-Webb CEO Will Somerset introduce the company's latest line of surgical gloves. More important, sales prospect Samuel Taylor, medical director of the Houston Clinic, had failed to show. Will walked out of the ballroom to steady his nerves and noticed a spillover crowd down the hall. He made a "What's up?" gesture to Judy Chen, Lancaster-Webb's communications chief. She came over to him. "It's Glove Girl. You know, the blogger," Judy said, as if this explained anything. "I think she may have stolen your crowd." "Who is she?" Will asked.

Glove Girl was a factory worker at Lancaster-Webb, whose always outspoken, often informative postings on her web log had developed quite a following. Will was new to the world of blogging, but he quickly learned about its power in a briefing with his staff. After Glove Girl had raved about Lancaster-Webb's older SteriTouch disposable gloves, orders had surged. More recently, though, Glove Girl had questioned the Houston Clinic's business practices, posting damaging information at her site about its rate of cesarean deliveries--to Sam Taylor's consternation.

This fictional case study considers the question of whether a highly credible, but sometimes inaccurate and often indiscreet, online diarist is more of a liability than an asset to her employer. What, if anything, should Will do about Glove Girl? Four commentators--David Weinberger, author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined; Pamela Samuelson, a professor of law and information management at the University of California, Berkeley; Ray Ozzie, CEO and chairman of Groove Networks; and Erin Motameni, vice-president of human resources at EMC--offer expert advice.

Kevin Drum 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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