Friday, October 12, 2007

Employees: Don't Get Hit by the Train — Part 4

Click to enlarge on Featurepics
Don't Miss the Train.
© Josef F. Stuefer

This is the last in a four part series examining the use of blogs to open communications between consumers and genealogy companies. In part one we introduced the Cluetrain Manifesto. In part two we presented the Manifesto's key theses. In part three we examined the official blogs of Ancestry and FamilySearch. Today we talk about employee bloggers and the problems they face. I'll present the short list of known employee bloggers at Ancestry and FamilySearch and their parent companies.

Blogging's Unintended Consequences

Wikipedia notes that bloggers have faced numerous unforeseen consequences including defamation and liability lawsuits, criminal prosecution, imprisonment (in Singapore) and deportation (from the Sudan). One innocent blogger became the target of threats so vicious she was afraid for her life.

Don't Get "Dooced"

There's an additional concern for those who blog about their work.

Heather B. Armstrong is a 1997 graduate of Brigham Young University who rose to national prominence when she was fired from her job because of her blog, Dooce. Armstrong says,

I was fired from my job for this website because I had written stories that included people in my workplace. My advice to you is BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the internet unless your boss knows and sanctions the fact that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET.

Sympathetic bloggers now use the term "dooced" to refer to losing one's job because of one's blog. Horror stories of dooced bloggers are strewn across the Internet. (See articles at NYT, BBC News, Telegraph, NPR, Bangalore Times, SF Chronicle.)

I Love, er... Loved My Job

My job is a dream come true. I love genealogy, computers and the Internet. I love Ancestry and company. I love working there. I love all the fantastic people I work with. I think our executive management team is top notch.

But employees are finding that loving one's job and employer will not save them when they inadvertently cross the unseen line that separates acceptable and unacceptable blogging.

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency Christine Axsmith got axed from the CIA.

I love the CIA. I love the mission. I love the people. It's such a great place to work.

Her mistake? On a blog inside the CIA only accessible by readers with top secret clearance she followed up a well-received post on the poor food in the cafeteria with one reviewing the Geneva Convention's rules about torture.(Source)

The Evil Empire

Robert Scoble is the prominent blogger credited with "single-handedly (at first) giving the EVIL EMPIRE (Microsoft, who else?) a 'Human Face' thanks to his Blog." The Economist described Scoble similarly:

Microsoft logoImpressively, he has also succeeded where small armies of more conventional public-relations types have been failing abjectly for years: he has made Microsoft, with its history of monopolistic bullying, appear marginally but noticeably less evil to the outside world.... Bosses and PR people at other companies are taking note.

I suppose Ancestry's reputation is what drove me to blog (with the encouragement of my former VP). While management has purged the company of the repugnant practices that produced their previous reputation, their past public persona persists.

How to Not Get Dooced

Cover of Naked Conversations In Scoble's book, Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers (coauthored with Shel Israel), he dedicates an entire chapter to the topic of blogging without getting dooced. He should know. While a blogger for Microsoft, he sometimes criticized Microsoft's problem areas—even praising its competitors' strengths—without getting fired. Here's my take on the seven danger areas Scoble advises employee bloggers avoid:

  1. Leaking financial or other confidential information.
  2. Breaking news in advance (see #1) or otherwise generating unexpected work for the PR team.
  3. Not matching up with the PR image. Companies spend a lot of time and money to build a particular brand image.
  4. Disrupting the workplace by angering your co-workers or bosses.
  5. Exposing dirty laundry, or in any way hurting people’s careers (See #4 again).
  6. Increasing legal liabilities. Companies generally don’t like getting sued.
  7. Damaging a company’s relationships with partners, competitors or other entities that affect its standing.

When violation of these issues take employers or employees by surprise, trouble results. Employers must recognize that effective blogging policies and fair disciplinary actions must address all the danger areas. Employees must recognize that each company and each area within a company will have different blogging tolerance levels, which can vary over time. Scoble and Israel advise,

Good bloggers have to be good employees, if companies are going to not only tolerate, but encourage blogging.

Companies Benefit

Scoble goes on to explain the benefits that employers derive from employee bloggers.

On the part of company decision-makers, they need to keep in mind that the sentiment of the blogosphere is decidedly opposed to the broadcast marketing and corpspeak that dominates other communication channels. Employee cheerleading [works and] only works credibly when employers tolerate their [occasional] criticism.

The best course for employers is to give employees guidelines under which they will have the freedom and incentive to become world class bloggers. Make clear that you trust your employees to blog smart. Define the taboos in your company.

Then step back and let them say what they want. Yes, from time-to-time, some will be critical of company products or policies—and they’ll do it right out there in the open where your customers, competitors and the media can see it. And all of those people will see the openness and tolerance of your company culture. ... That is good for [your company image].

And your customers, competitors and the media will more readily believe positive statements about your company coming from them than coming from you.

FamilySearch Employee Bloggers

Here are the few blogs of FamilySearch and TGN employees that I know of. Perhaps there are others. I'll start with FamilySearch and parent company, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church).

  • Dan Lawyer. Taking Genealogy to the Common Person. March 2006. Product manager at FamilySearch Labs. Infrequent posts. Blogs about work.
  • Larry Richman. ldsWebguy. July 2006. The Church Internet Coordination Group Director. Frequent postings. Blogs about work. Not genealogy-centric.
  • Jason Lynes, et. al. NorthTemple. August 2006. A group of designers from the Church. Frequent posts. Blogs about work. Not genealogy-centric. Scroll to see postings.

The Generations Network Employee Bloggers

Here are some blogs from employees of and parent company, The Generations Network (TGN).

Wrap Up

Fall is Coming by Sean Malone
"Fall is Coming" from Sean Malone's blog.

I have learned a lot researching this series. This last article, in particular, has put the fear in me.

Have I learned enough that I can provide useful and interesting information to you, my readers, while showing my employer that my blog benefits the company also?

Stay tuned...


  1. I enjoy your writing style and the info you give us. I hope Ancestry likes it too. A place where we can have normal conversations about FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc sounds great to me. Keep it up.
    Sincerely Learning From the Past,

  2. Dear Readers,

    As promised, Hector followed through with his intent to blog about his work environment. In a posting he titled "My Employer: The Generations Network," Hector states, "This is the first truly family-friendly, where they mean what they say, company that I have worked for. Everybody else has given lip service to this philosophy, but TGN lives and breathes it. I truly thought these sort[s] of companies were a myth, and was shocked when I found they were for real."

    I can verify that TGN really is family friendly. I suppose it took Hector to make me appreciate how rare such companies can be. So on this Thanksgiving weekend, let me say to my employer, "Thank you." Our corporate mission is to unite families across space and time. It's nice that TGN starts in the homes of its own employees.

    -- The Ancestry Insider


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