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The Time I was Written Up for Blogging

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Image by Tac Anderson via Flickr

About a year and a half ago I was written up for blogging. It was kind of a weird moment and I’ve never really talked about it much. It wasn’t that big of a deal but I thought I’d share how it happened and what I learned from it.

I had been at HP for about 10 months (I’m kind of surprised it hadn’t happened earlier) and I wrote this post on the TechBoise blog. I had started the TechBoise blog before going to HP and kept it running the whole time I was there. (The formatting is a little wacky because the blog has been moved across a few different platforms and hosting sites.) The TechBoise blog was, and largely still is, the only place for local tech and startup news. I was basically part of the media. Granted I was the the weird kid that rarely got invited to anything but I knew all the reporters and worked with them to get local startups and the tech scene in general greater visibility.

So back in May of 2008 a local reported emailed me about the recently announced layoffs at HP. Instead of responding to him in email or by phone, I did what comes naturally to me and I blogged about it. This freaked out some people at HP. Now if you read the post I linked to you might be wondering what the big deal is. Well, there’s more. They had me pull the post which I was later able to repost after some edits. (Basically I had to take out the whole first part.) Here’s what was in the original post that isn’t there anymore:

I’ve been thinking how to respond to the recent stories about the re-balancing going on at HP, when Joe Estrella pinged me for a statement. Here’s my statement Joe, thanks.

When I talk about HP, I’m referring to the Imaging and Printing Group (IPG) of which the JaserJet Business (LJB) is a part of. Boise is the primary LaserJet sight. I should also state that any statements here are my opinion and don’t represent that of HP.

As an HP employee I don’t know a whole lot other than what management tells us. And as a publicly traded company they don’t tell non management employees much more than they tell the public.

Here’s what I do know:

  • Printers are in a much different Market than they were 10-20 years ago. (I really hope this doesn’t surprise anyone too bad.)
  • HP is still the #1 printer company by almost 50%, depending on how you slice the market.
  • IPG has had a hiring freeze on for a while now and is extending that hiring freeze into the foreseeable future.
  • Communications from upper management tells us that this is enough to avoid layoffs within LJB (take it for what it’s worth).
  • If there is any attrition don’t expect Micron type mass layoffs.
  • Don’t expect any growth at the site either.

I didn’t say anything technically wrong (this was all public knowledge) and the content isn’t what I got written up for. It was the timing and the reason for the post. <huh?>

Here’s what I did wrong:

  • Technically I responded to a “press inquiry” (nothing freaks out PR people more than employees talking to the press)
  • I talked about the layoffs and certain financial aspects of the company during the “quiet period”

Like I did then, some of you may be asking: “what’s the quiet period? It turns out that publicly traded companies can’t talk about certain things right before an earnings call. The SEC can actually fine companies big money for this.

Now anyone who knows corporate communications (which I now have a much better understanding of) will tell me that I still didn’t do anything technically wrong. The “quiet period” really only applies to people with enough insight into the business. (aka upper management with acronyms in their title starting with the letter ‘C’) It doesn’t technically apply to your average employee.

But HP has established a hard and fast rule that all employees have to follow the quiet period. This reduces speculation and helps prevent federal investigation (something HP has had issues with before).

I crossed that line. It was made clear in the company policies and I didn’t follow it. I didn’t break the rule on purpose, I just had a different context than management.

  • Joe was a reporter but we talked all the time about Boise tech. I didn’t think of his question as a “press inquiry” it was just Joe.
  • I had no clue what the quiet period was and if I had paid better attention to the employee training where they covered that or actually read the emails from corporate comms, I probably would have realized it.

Ultimately it was a valuable lesson. My action’s have consequences and sometimes bigger things are at play than just me and my opinions. There are people that comb the blogs and comments of blogs and Twitter and Facebook trying to piece information together about businesses. They’re called, reporter’s, analysts, bloggers and investors. And if the wrong thing, or enough wrong things, are said then those people draw conclusions and influence others actions And that can leads to a drop in stock prices and that can lead to a loss of jobs for people. I wasn’t worried about my job but there are other people that are less equipped to find other jobs or do there own thing. than I was.

It also taught me that companies need to learn to speak to employees in the context of social media. Having blogging guidelines for people who blog is not enough. You need to have a full set of social media guidelines. You need to help your employees understand not just why they can’t say (verbally or digitally) certain things but WHY they shouldn’t. Do’s and Don’ts are not enough.

I was fortunate that my manager understood the value that I brought to HP and that the failure represented a two way problem: I didn’t follow the rules but the rules didn’t make sense in my world. And as we move forward this is only going to get worse. Who’s a reporter? Who’s the media? Most bloggers don’t call themselves reporters. What about your friend with a blog? Any friends on Facebook have a blog?

You need to guide your employees not control them. You have to help them understand the WHY’s so they are better equipped to make decisions in a world that is evolving faster than our ability to even get a name on it, let alone make recommendations on how to behave in it.

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://empoprise-bi.blogspot.com/ John E. Bredehoft (Empoprises)

    While I guess the rationale for your being written up makes sense, the whole “quiet period” thing is admittedly baffling to me. I have worked for a small public company which was eventually taken over by a Fortune 500 company, and while I really worried about quiet periods when we were small, they became a non-issue when we became part of the Fortune 500 company (our business was a very very small part of that company, which was primarily known for a completely different product line). I'll grant that HP's printer group is a significant business, but it's still a little mystifying.

    That, of course, doesn't negate your basic point that companies should explain their rationale for things, rather than just saying “no.” And, at this point, that's all that I'm going to say about THAT.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Thanks John. I admit that I still don't think it was that big of a deal but I've learned that large corporations sometimes have to be very black and white about some issues. If it was something that became a real problem I always had the choice to leave.

    But yes, if companies provide context and intent behind their explanations I think they'd see a much greater level of adherence both on explicit and vague applications of the rules.

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    I know a person at a company who started a blog for that company, then found out the corporate insurance was cancelled due to liability issues that the insurance company had instituted for blogs, etc.. once the proper addendum to insurance was made, policy was re-instated.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Thanks Steve, that has to be the most ridiculous example I've ever heard. Wow. Companies (especially insurance companies) do the stupidest things because of the fear of loss of money.

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    Well it was 2004… the insurance industry wasn't sure how to deal with blogs.

  • http://www.compliancebuilding.com/2009/11/04/social-media-policy-formation-risk-management/ Social Media: Policy Formation & Risk Management | Compliance Building

    [...] The Time I Was Written Up for Blogging [...]

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com/dont-overreact-to-your-social-media-mistakes/ Don’t Overreact to Your Social Media Mistakes

    [...] Over the years we read about (seemingly) huge blowups that happen to other people and companies and it’s easy to talk about what they should have done differently. And then it happens to you. These fire drills are emotionally consuming and extremely stressful. No one wants to be “that guy.” I know because I’ve been that guy and was even written up for it. [...]

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