Social Enterprise

When does a "commercial" blog cross the line?


As this very post stands as evidence, TechRepublic has rushed headlong into blogging—with surprising success. In less than a week, more than 150 blogs have been started by TR members, many of whom have never posted to a Discussion or Technical Q&A before. We're already working on ways to improve the blog interface, make blogs searchable, and start surfacing blog posts on other parts of the site.

Of course, every silver lining has a potential cloud, and we're already starting to trip over potential problems. Specifically, what happens if somebody uses their blog as a "free advertising" platform for their business. Setting aside the potential legal implications, would members find this offensive? Personally, I'm of the mind that members can blog about anything that isn't illegal or blatantly offensive, but I've seen plenty of discussion threads that have been used to plug a Web site or a business, and the community's response to these posts has almost invariably been pretty negative.

Now, I'm not talking about somebody posting a variation on the Nigerian Bank scheme to their blog. That's illegal, and anybody we find attempting this stuff—phishing, scamming, porn-trafficking—will find their blogs erased and their account slammed pretty quickly. This stuff, we know how to handle.

What we aren't immediately sure about is a "Dave and Jim's Consulting" blog that is nothing more than a promo platform. Our terms of service give us a pretty wide lattitude to block this stuff—no fair using blogs to do an end-run around our advertising department—but I'm wondering exactly where to draw the line. Isn't blogging about your business, and using your blog comuunity contacts to help your business, just as legitimate as using Tech Q&A to solve a technical problem for a client?

To complicate the issue further, ours is a pretty effectively self-policing community. Our regular members find spam posts in Discussions well before the staff does (we gotta sleep, OK?), and they often engage in a pretty hefty dose of vigilante justice ("nice spam post, too bad we traced your IP address and signed you up for every junk list we can find") long before we get there. Our members can take care of themselves, but there is the fear that folks may get put off if the signal to noise ratio between "legit" blogs and "spam" blogs get too out of whack.

I'd love to hear anybody's thoughts on the issue. It may or may not affect our blog policy, but I could really use some perspective on this.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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