Kaiser Permanente, Enterprise Blogging and Why the Blog Business Summit Team Talks Out of Both Sides of Their Mouth(s)

by Steve Broback on April 24, 2007

This morning’s Wall Street Journal has a cover feature detailing how Justen Deal, an employee rabble-rouser was able to create a public relations nightmare at Kaiser Permanente with one widely-broadcast internal email criticizing the company’s efforts to digitize sensitive patient information.

The e-mail was sent on a Friday after most employees had gone home for the weekend. Kaiser IT staff spent much of the weekend trying to purge it from the e-mail system, but they met with limited success. According to the Journal, “by Monday, the mass mailing had reached an estimated 120,000 computers at the company. It had also leaked into cyberspace.”

The highly critical epistle was picked up by the blogosphere and became a major issue for the company. Some even speculate that it could have affected Wall Street perceptions.

According to the Journal:

“Mr. Deal…quickly became a cause celebre in the blogosphere and beyond. HIStalk, a popular health-care IT site, featured ‘an exclusive interview,’ with Mr. Deal. One stock analyst says that Kaiser’s tribulations could alter the competitive landscape for IT vendors.”

We’ve said for years that a blog post is “an email to the world” and it’s obvious that when this mail jumped from someone’s in-box to a blog entry it took on a life of its own.

Justin Deal– the author of the email was not a blogger, so to send a large-scale message, he had to cobble together a mailing list via manual means:

“But it wasn’t as easy as pushing a button. He didn’t have access to a company-wide “send all” address, so he improvised. He says he bought a cheap software tool that helped him gradually build a list on his own computer.”

Consider this: if Kaiser had been using an enterprise blogging system (like Blogtronix, iUpload, Marqui, and others) instead of e-mail for internal workgroup communications, Deal’s embarrassing efforts would likely have been stymied because it would have gone out as a blog post with a central location rather than a mass mailing. Furthermore, this posting could have been held for management review before being made public. Posts peppered with terms (as this mail was) such as “conflict of interest,” “recklessly,” “losses,” “inefficient,” “exposed,” “internal resistance,” “ignored,” “problems,” etc. etc can automatically land in a “potential rants” folder for review by superiors before propagating.

This is one reason we work with corporate clients to set up blogging systems that accommodate several blogs, some public-facing, some internal. This platform allows management to exercise control over what is said and when. It also means that public-facing employee posts are driving link love and Google Juice to the corporate domain.

That said, it’s obvious to us that it’s not always in an employee’s long-term best interest to create a media property — especially in their spare time — that they can’t take with them if they make a career move. When Scoble left Microsoft, his blog went with him. If the blog had been a Microsoft property, his value to another firm would arguably have diminished significantly.

So. In many cases we encourage employers to have their staff populate blogs owned by the corporate entity, while at the same time we tell friends, relatives, and clients who are independent consultants to avoid investing a lot of personal time in any blogs that can’t migrate with them.

Yes, we are consistently inconsistent.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 P. Burdette 04.24.07 at 8:12 pm

I think you completely miss the point of blogs. Your business plan sounds like you want to make blogs as boring and sanitized as possible. Why would workers even bother? Take Sun. They’ve figured out how to empower their employees with blogs, not chain them to the “approved message.”

Paying lip service to expression and empowerment, without following through, won’t sustain long-term success. But good luck with whatever it is you’re doing or planning to do.

2 Steve Broback 04.25.07 at 1:42 pm

I totally agree that sanitized posts are not what’s best for the blogosphere or society at large, and align with you in feeling that Sun does it right. Please read the mail that Deal sent — do you think if he worked at Sun he could have published that as a post? Do you see any Sun employees write posts like that? With an enterprise blogging system he would have had to carefully craft a message that was more akin to constructive criticism.

I believe there is a “third way” besides negative rant and happy talk from employees. Sun achieves it. So does Microsoft.

I’d be interested iin hearing what exactly is the “point” of blogs? Aren’t there dozens of “points”? One point is to help corporations market themselves. Another is to spread truth and transparency. Another is to let employees have a cathartic outlet. Etc. Etc.

3 Darrell Pruitt 04.25.07 at 2:35 pm

I would suggest that if Sun’s management is as arrogant as Kaiser’s, then Sun needs a supression tool as well. P. Burdette is correct. If one limits employees’ free speech, nobody will use the blog. If nobody uses the company blog, that does not mean that bad things are not being said. It only means that bosses will be the last to read them. That first amendment right is a pesky benefit to offer. It is getting to the point where a boss can no longer hide malfeasance as a method of doing business. Darrell Pruitt

4 Steve Broback 04.25.07 at 3:33 pm

Have you read Sun’s blogging policy? It states: “Once again, it’s all about judgment: using your weblog to trash or embarrass the company, our customers, or your co-workers, is not only dangerous but stupid.”

Don’t misunderstand my pragmatic view that corporations will try to limit public ranting by employees. If Deal’s criticisms are indeed accurate, shareholders (and the public) need to hear them. After working for some pretty ridiculous corporations over the years, I feel the airing of issues like Kaiser’s are a terrific thing. I’m just saying those corporations using enterprise blogging systems will likely have more control — not less over this kind of outreach.

Some corporations using enterprise blogging systems are already limiting free speech. Posts are often held for review — either algorithmically or via human interaction.

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