We have chosen to dedicate a substantial post to this topic since it is an important issue affecting Cisco and many other companies as online communications continue to evolve.
Our recent experiences have shown us that as corporate blogging becomes more prevalent, new questions arise about transparency and etiquette. Corporate blogging is an important vehicle for two-way dialogue and communications, and it is a vehicle we are committed to utilizing here at Cisco. Most recently, we’ve learned some important lessons and through this blog post, hope our learnings add value to those participating in this important new media.
Cisco today is amending its policy on employee blogging. These changes follow the disclosure by a Cisco employee that he had authored an anonymous blog commenting on various policy and legal matters with which the company has been involved and on which he worked. In addition, Cisco employees who knew he was the author circulated links to the blog without revealing that a Cisco employee authored the blog.
The company believes strongly in employees’ right to freedom of expression, online and elsewhere. At the same time, we expect our employees, when commenting on matters related to Cisco’s business, to exercise that freedom in a manner consistent with Cisco’s corporate values of transparency and integrity. Therefore, we have evolved our employee blogging policy to expressly address:
- blogging anonymously about issues employees have responsibilities for at Cisco; and
- passing on to third parties “anonymous” blog postings of any kind that employees know were written by someone at Cisco.
The revised blogging policy will include the following clause, to take effect immediately:
“If you comment on any aspect of the company’s business or any policy issue the company is involved in where you have responsibility for Cisco’s engagement, you must clearly identify yourself as a Cisco employee in your postings or blog site(s) and include a disclaimer that the views are your own and not those of Cisco. In addition, Cisco employees should not circulate postings that they know are written by other employees without informing the recipient that the source was within Cisco.”
A lawyer in Cisco’s intellectual property department, Rick Frenkel, created the Patent Troll Tracker blog. Rick started his anonymous blog in May 2007, writing frequently and broadly on patents and presenting relevant data related to patent litigation, an area currently of great public interest, in which Cisco also has an interest. He identified himself as the author of the blog in a posting on his site on February 23, 2008. Once his authorship became public, confusion was created between Rick’s views and Cisco’s views on various patent issues discussed in his blog.
What We Learned
As we have investigated this issue, there are clear lessons we have learned. There are two very distinct issues in this situation that have been instructive:
- No one from Cisco edited Rick’s anonymous postings or required him to write on any topic, no one in his chain of command beyond his immediate supervisor knew that he was the author of Troll Tracker, and Rick intended that the blog solely reflect his opinions. However, given that Rick worked on intellectual property matters for Cisco, Rick’s relationship to Cisco should have been made clear and Cisco takes responsibility for the content of the blog.
- We believe that a few Cisco employees used poor judgment when they suggested topics to Rick for his anonymous blog or pointed third parties to the blog without disclosing that the content was created by a Cisco employee. These are not appropriate communications activities for Cisco employees and are inconsistent with our values and principles.
These shortcomings began innocently – with Rick’s desire for personal anonymity and Cisco employees’ desire to disseminate useful information while respecting Rick’s anonymity. But eventually this opened the door for a perception that Cisco somehow had something to hide. Cisco is committed to transparency in our communications and in the relationships we have with all of our constituencies, and we regret that this situation occurred.
We are committed to our policy of allowing our employees appropriate online expression. As an employee, Rick is free to continue his personal blog, Patent Troll Tracker, in compliance with the revised policy. Rick has many fans who appreciate the information he collects and disseminates on patent litigation trends and recognize his blog as an important voice in the on-going national dialogue on patent issues. Blogging and blog policy are evolving areas for many companies. We believe we have learned a valuable lesson from this regrettable situation. Our goal now is to bring further clarity to our employees in the area of online communication, and our hope is that others will learn from this experience as well.