Tips for a Corporate Blog That’s Good Business & Legally on Safe Ground

Today we’re going to address the legal risks of corporate blogging to your company.

Your business folks may be pushing you to start a blog.  Corporate blogs can be another tool that allows your company to talk directly to customers, potential customers and your own employees.  Since your people know the business arguments for and against setting up a blog, here I’m going to focus on the legal risks of corporate blogging.

Corporate blogs come in one of two types: the internal blog accessed internally with a target audience of your company’s employees and the external blog on the Internet for a worldwide audience.  Regardless of type, a corporate blog is written and maintained by either an outside vendor at your direction or by company employees.  The legal risks to your company are largely the same regardless of the type of blog. 

I can’t tell you if a corporate blog is right for you, but I would encourage you to listen to your management team and employees.  Encourage your employees to take part in discussions about the potential blog and the blog’s development process.  Odds are some of them are already blogging or at least reading blogs, so they can offer you valuable tips and feedback in designing the look and feel of your blog and suggesting valuable content.  Best of all, their experience and expertise may help cut your costs.

If you decide to implement a blog, as a first step, I’d suggest creating your company’s blogger team.  Allowing anyone to post to your corporate blog could lead to a PR disaster, lost productivity and conflicting or confusing messages going public.  Setting up a blogging process that complies with your corporate policies allows your company to maintain control and accountability over the blog. 

Choose your bloggers carefully since they will be representing your company.  Educate them so they understand the legal and business risks.  Should you implement an interactive internal blog that allows every employee to post content, you’ll need to educate all your employees.  You’re also going to need to update your employment policies to set clear guidelines about blogging.

If you contract with a vendor to provide your blog’s content then the usual contract risks apply.  Most importantly you need to ensure that you wind up owning the content you’re paying for.

The content of your blog is going to cause you the most headaches.  When your employees post blog content as part of their normal duties, your company is responsible for the blog’s content.  Statements made on the blog by the employee will be considered statements made by the company, and if something posted to the blog is plagiarized, your company is to blame. 

Defamation claims are a major concern.  False or misleading statements in your content about someone that could cause harm may be grounds for a defamation suit.  And don’t forget that there’s also trade libel relating to false or misleading statements made about the goods and services of a competitor.  Make sure that you’re not violating your own Privacy Policy with your blog posts.

Only material and trademarks owned by your company, or another party’s material, and trademarks that you have the permission or right to use should be posted to the blog.  Violating someone else’s intellectual property rights is not what you want your blog to do.  While there is a “Fair Use” exception for parody, criticism, commentary, and news reporting, you shouldn’t rely on the exception without consulting your attorney. 

Your bloggers could accidentally leak confidential information or trade secrets without some sort of monitoring of blog content.  Odds are that not every employee or officer in your company is aware of what kind of information is inappropriate to disclose, but your tech attorney should be since he or she deals with protecting your company’s confidential information and trade secrets on a regular basis.  Imagine waking up tomorrow and finding internal emails, sales forecasts, marketing campaign plans, and other confidential information posted on your blog for the world to see.

If you are a public company, investors may be reading your blog and if there’s something posted they don’t like, your stock could take quite a hit.  Posting the wrong piece of information could also get you in trouble with accusations of securities fraud, insider trading, or other securities related issues.

Corporate blogs can be viewed as advertisements depending on blog content.  Such blogs must comply with applicable advertising, consumer protection, deceptive practices, and unfair competition laws and regulations.

What about the posting of illegal content?  How can you even define what is “illegal” on an external blog where anyone in the world can read the content?  Are you supposed to comply with the laws everywhere?  In this instance, I’d suggest you strive for what’s called “mainstream compliance” and comply with the laws of every country in which your company normally does business or has assets.

Some blogs allow readers to post comments to the blog.  While getting feedback directly from your customers and other consumers may be one of the major reasons that you’re setting up the blog, be careful.  I urge you to think long and hard before implementing this feature on your blog.  It’s usually more of a problem than it’s worth. 

If you decide to enable reader comments, you’ve opened up the opportunity for anyone to violate the intellectual property rights of third parties by posting content that is not theirs to your blog.  If you do allow comments, you need to notify the poster that they are solely responsible for their posts, that they are representing that they have the right to post the content, and that you may remove the content at any time for any reason.  One way to do this is to establish terms of use for the blog and disclaimers that limit the company’s liability for third party provided content.  When you allow comments and posts to the blog, you’re also going to need to figure out how to handle personal information gathered from the poster and comply with privacy laws and your privacy policy.

One of the advantages in operating your company’s blog is that you have control over the content.  If you see a post that might get your company in trouble, remove it immediately—but keep archived versions.  In the world of backups, archives, and retention policies, odds are that the post still exists somewhere.  You want to make sure that your archive has a copy too.

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