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Law firms can learn from Yahoo’s new employee blog guidelines

Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo says after a a lot of work internally the Yahoo! Employee Blog Guidelines have been published. You can get a PDF file of the guidelines by clicking this link.

Large law firm clients of LexBlog routinely raise the liability issues of blogs and in some cases look for our input in establishing guidelines. Law firms are generally not turning their employees loose to blog in the same way Yahoo would. So even though I don’t expect law firms to use similar guidelines there’s a few things we can pick up from Yahoo’s work. Here’s a lengthy excerpt from the guidelines.

Legal issues

  1. Legal Liability. When you choose to go public with your opinions via a blog, you are legally responsible for your commentary. Individual bloggers can be held personally liable for any commentary deemed to be defamatory, obscene (not swear words, but rather the legal definition of “obscene”), proprietary, or libelous (whether pertaining to Yahoo, individuals, or any other company for that matter). For these reasons, bloggers should exercise caution with regards to exaggeration, colorful language, guesswork, obscenity, copyrighted materials, legal conclusions, and derogatory remarks or characterizations. In essence, you blog (or post on the blogs of others) at your own risk. Outside parties actually can pursue legal action against you (not Yahoo!) for postings.
  2. Company privileged information. Any confidential, proprietary, or trade secret information is obviously off-limits for your blog per the Proprietary Information Agreement you have signed with Yahoo!. To obtain a copy of your agreement, please contact your HR manager. The Yahoo! logo and trademarks are also off-limits per our brand guidelines. Anything related to Yahoo! policy, inventions, strategy, financials, products, etc. that has not been made public cannot appear in your blog under any circumstances.
  3. Press Inquiries Blog postings may generate media coverage. If a member of the media contacts you about a Yahoo!-related blog posting or requests Yahoo! information of any kind, contact PR ( or 415-XXX-XXXX) You should also reach out for PR for clarification on whether specific information has been publicly disclosed before you blog about it.

Best Practice Guidelines

These four recommendations provide a roadmap for constructive, respectful, and productive dialogue between bloggers and their fellow Yahoos. These are not “rules” and thus they can’t be broken. There is no hidden meaning or agenda. We consider these to be “best practices guidelines” that are in the spirit of our culture and the best interest of all Yahoos, whether they blog or not. We encourage Yahoos to follow these guidelines, but it is not mandatory to do so. It’s your choice. We really mean that.

  1. Be Respectful of your colleagues Be thoughtful and accurate in your posts, and be respectful of how other Yahoos may be affected. All Yahoo! employees can be viewed (correctly or incorrectly) as representative of the company, which can add significance to your public reflections on the organization (whether you intend to or not). Yahoos who identify themselves as Yahoo! employees in their blogs and comment on the company at any time, should notify their manager of the existence of their blog just to avoid any surprises. To be clear, you are not being asked to alert your manager of your posts, just to consider letting them know you have a blog where you may write about Yahoo!. Whether your manager chooses to occasionally read your blog or not, the courtesy head’s up is always appreciated.
  2. Get your facts straight. As a Yahoo! employee with intranet access, you have the opportunity to contact the Yahoos who are responsible for the products, services, or other initiatives that you may want to write about. To ensure you are not misrepresenting your fellow Yahoos or their work, consider reaching out to a member of the relevant team before posting. This courtesy will help you provide your readers with accurate insights, especially when you are blogging outside your area of expertise. If there is someone at Yahoo! who knows more about the topic than you, check with them to make sure you have your facts straight.
  3. Provide context to your argument. Please be sure to provide enough support in your posting to help Yahoos understand your reasoning, be it positive or negative. We appreciate the value of multiple perspectives, so help us to understand yours by providing context to your opinion. Whether you are posting in praise or criticism of Yahoo!, you are encouraged to develop a thoughtful argument that extends well beyond “(insert) is cool” or “(insert) sucks”.
  4. Engage in private feedback. Not everyone who is reading your blog will feel comfortable approaching you if they are concerned their feedback will become public. In order to maintain an open dialogue that everyone can comfortably engage in, Yahoo! bloggers are asked to welcome “off-blog” feedback from their colleagues who would like to privately respond, make suggestions, or report errors without having their comments appear your blog. Bloggers want to know what you think. If you have an opinion, correction or criticism regarding a posting, reach out for the blogger directly. Whether privately or on their blog, let the blogger know your thoughts.

Yahoo also wisely suggests that employees new to blogging call on veteran bloggers in Yahoo, like Jeremy Zawodny, for counsel.

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