Starting an industry-related blog while being employed

“I’m a full-time professional looking at ways to be seen as a contributing member to my chosen industry, and as a keen writer, I’m thinking of writing a blog to provide advice, while developing my career and credibility. I have lots of free time at the weekends, so time is not a concern, but I’m conscious of contravening any social media policies with my current employer and getting into trouble. Any pointers?”

Starting a blog in this day and age is an easy way to begin building an online presence and in turn professional reputation and credibility. Avoiding this great medium to contribute your experience in the form of advice to the wider industry could stunt your development, in comparison with deciding not to blog because you’re concerned about your employer’s policy.

Before starting your blog, I suggest two easy actions: note your interpretation of your employer’s policy on social media, and then speak to your manager. By reading the policy and noting your interpretation, you are likely to be more confident in bringing the subject up with your manager. If your policy is crystal clear on the use of social media, I would still encourage you to follow these two steps.

Not only does preparing notes on your interpretation add weight to your proposal and explaining your agreement to what is expected of you, by speaking with your manager you are building trust between you and them – which results in a general better working relationship all round anyway – as you’re letting them know about it from day one. No secrets.

Should you inadvertently write about something that could contravene the policy (e.g. write about something contentious that could damage the employer’s reputation), it would look far worse for you if your line manager hadn’t known about it than if they did. If they didn’t know, it suggests you had something to hide. For this reason you might also have to declare a conflict of interest, a formal record of you informing your employer you have considered the risks and what you are going to do to address these.

If you have explained your interpretation of the policy and your manager confirms they’re happy you know what is expected of you, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. As long as you stick within the policy and the conditions of your conflict of interest declaration.

Online identity

So when you start your blog, there are probably two things you have considered regarding your identity when looking at your employer’s policy: use your real name, or create a pseudonym (a made up name). Keeping your real name, and naming the blog after you, means as your reputation grows, the credit is identifiable to you. This means any prospective employers and fellow professionals will be able to pin this hard work on you. In time this will help you become a thought leader in your field. However, you might say the risk of getting into trouble with your employer is increased than if you create a pseudonym.

In theory, creating a pseudonym decreases the risk of getting into trouble, leaving you to say whatever you want say, or if you just prefer to be more private. However, it takes one tech-savvy person to find a way of identifying you or your employer and you’re back to worrying about getting into trouble if you have said anything offensive or controversial.

Your hard work that can help you professionally grow and network is also completely detached from you, meaning you have to jump over that extra hurdle to help people link the two together.

I suggest a bonus third option. I wouldn’t say it combines the two options above, it’s more picking the best bits of each, an approach I took for The Avid Doer. I picked a name for my blog (rather than choosing my name), and focussed the branding on this title, not me as an individual. I then I popped my name in the ‘About’ page so that search engines can still link me to the work, and it also provides accountability and transparency for the readers.

Mentioning your employer

It still helps if you refrain from mentioning your employer, past and present, and limit the number of anecdotes in a work context. The list of your employers are on LinkedIn (if you have a profile) and sharing a story set in a card shop you used to work in that doesn’t paint the previous employer in a good light makes it easier for people to identify who the company is. Bad-mouthing identifiable companies in general, whether you were employed by them or not, is also risky as they might well be your future employer.

One more benefit of the bonus suggestion is that you get to describe yourself as the founder of ‘X Blog’ on your CV, career bio or to anyone who will listen, because let’s face it, it does sound cool.

Don’t let the fear of getting into trouble deter you from making such a great professional development opportunity like writing a blog. It doesn’t stop you having other social media accounts, does it? Odds are you will get into trouble by being unprofessional, so all you need to do is just be professional.