Sun seeks to increase and boost corporate blogging

Encouraged by its success, Sun plans to boost its corporate Web logging system and encourage wider employee participation.

About 16 months after officially encouraging employees to take up Web logging, Sun Microsystems now estimates that between 1,500 and 2,000 staffers are engaged in this increasingly popular practice of publishing online journals, according to the man behind Sun's blogging effort.

Now, Sun is working to boost even further its corporate blogosphere by strengthening the backend infrastructure of its blogging system and facilitating the posting of multimedia content to the journal entries, said Tim Bray, Sun's director of Web technologies.

The company also plans to actively encourage more employees to blog, particularly those involved in the design and manufacture of Sun's hardware products, a group that is under-represented among Sun's bloggers, he said.

And unlike some companies, Sun hasn't found itself having to fire any employees over the content of their blogs, Bray said.

On the contrary, the company's top executives are convinced that ever since Sun launched its corporate blogging initiative in May of last year, it has benefitted greatly from an effort it has had to invest little money in, he said.

"From the point of view of the company, it has been really all upside: the costs have been low, there haven't been any problems and it has been a huge business success," Bray said.

According to Bray, who is a popular blogger himself, anecdotal evidence of the benefits of employee blogging at Sun is plentiful. Blogs have helped salespeople get in the door of potential clients that in the past had been hard to approach, Bray said. From a marketing perspective, the sense is that Sun's image has improved by giving a voice to many employees who are passionate about IT, he said.

Perhaps more importantly, employee blogs have become conduits for feedback and ideas from clients that otherwise Sun might not have received, he said. "The blogging platform serves as a very effective listening post," he said. "Our ability to know what's going on in our community has been qualitatively improved by the blogging."

When he was hired by Sun in March last year, Bray and a few other Sun employees were already blogging, but the company wasn't actively encouraging the practice and didn't have a corporate blogging policy.

Encouraged by then newly-appointed President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz, Bray was asked to draft a policy. Later, in May 2004, employees were informed that if they wanted to blog about their work at Sun, the company now had a system set up to do it that could be accessed via a Web browser http://blogs.sun.com.

From an initial batch of about 40 who signed up shortly afterwards, there are now about 1,500 bloggers on that platform and several hundred more who do it from their own sites, including Bray http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/).

Key to the success of the blogging initiative was early support from Schwartz, himself an active blogger. "In April 2004, I was doing a general vision presentation about the kinds of benefits one might get from blogging," Bray said. "Someone put up their hand and said: 'Well, you do realize we have a policy that forbids anybody from making any public statements without prior legal approval.' And Jonathan said: 'Well, I don't think that's appropriate anymore.'"

For Bray, drafting a corporate blogging policy was mostly about using the document to remind readers of pre-existing policies regarding what employees can and can't publicly discuss in e-mail messages, phone conversations, in-person discussions and other forms of communication, he said.

Companies that discourage or prohibit corporate blogging are not only missing out on many benefits, but may have deeper employee relations problems, he said. "If you don't have an employee base that you can trust to talk to the world and explain what the company is up to, then blogging is the least of your problems," he said.

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