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What's the right corporate policy for Twitter, Facebook and blogs?

Posted by: Diane Brady on May 14, 2009

The Wall Street Journal has posted some ground rules for its employees on how to use Twitter. Among other things, it declares “Let our coverage speak for itself, and don’t detail how an article was reported, written or edited.”

And the policy now requires that staffers get editor approval before “friending” confidential sources. It also tries to dissuade them from aggressively promoting their own work. And there’s a missive to not discuss articles that haven’t been published or interviews conducted. Some of the rules follow the common-sense guidelines that my colleague Doug MacMillan recently covered in our Social Media report. But others seem to fly in the face of what social media is all about.

Our policy hinges on adhering to the same journalistic ethics that we use in print. But we also believe that readers increasingly want to engage in a conversation about the subjects we’re covering. Colleagues like Stephen Baker and Michael Mandel have used their blogs and tools like Twitter to seek reader input on a story before the final version is posted.

It’s also interesting to to contrast the Journal’s new rules with the NY Times’ approach and the BBC’s policy. Neither seem as restrictive as the Journal’s new policy.

For more insights on our philosophy, check out editor-in-chief John Byrne’s blog posts here and here. Post a comment below and let us know what you think.

Reader Comments

Joseph Manna, Infusionsoft

May 14, 2009 6:15 PM

I can understand why a large media conglomerate (WSJ/Dow Jones) would implement such barriers in communication -- control.

They haven't quite figured out that as much as a brand can lose control in social media, they can gain it back by simply engaging and being there.

I believe every Journalist ought to be connected to Twitter, Facebook, IM and be completely plugged into their editorial, team and audience.

As far as a social media policy is concerned, I've found that effective education as to how to contrive value from social media as much as showcasing epic failures in the past help solidify the responsibility of social media.

It's your words and your brand. Claim them or be claimed.

In light of this, I have to strongly recommend that WSJ reconsider and join the masses of their viewers or they shall join their adversaries on the Newspaper Death Watch.

Oh, and for the record, I don't pay to browse WSJ stories that are hidden behind the garden. I just copy and paste the title into Google News and get the actual AP story that was fed. Trust me when I say that WSJ is merely cannibalizing themselves in this print media depression with these outlandishly old polices.


John Bottom

May 15, 2009 5:58 AM

Very interesting. For me, this is the biggest obstacle to business use of social media right now. And while it is just fairly important to other businesses, it is absolutely fundamental to the world of publishing/journalism because information and opinion is their trade.
How to get round it? One way is to ban it on IP grounds. Not good. So the only option is to control it - but sensibly. Clearly it is impossible to vet every tweet and comment, so the answer lies in education. Everyone working for the WSJ should learn and understand what the social networking channels can do to *promote* the WSJ brand, not undermine it. They are all intelligent people. Let them all talk.
With all this hysteria over social media, it's easy to forget that the same guidelines apply to the employee discussing work in a bar with strangers. They know where the limits are. It's just that the cost of indiscretion is higher now that their voices are amplified through social media.
Ironic that it is the WSJ trying to limit freedom of speech...

Mark Schaefer

May 15, 2009 8:11 AM

Thanks for the post on a vital corporate issue. This is the Wild West oc communications and it's getting wilder by the minute as people stream onto social media platforms and, inevitably figure out how to abuse it.

All communications, everywhere, all the time presents a nightmare scenario for corporate communications professionals. Where does the line cross between free speech and corporate responsibility? Between open community and terms of employment? How does a large company possibly monitor hundreds of thousands messages that may represent a permanent communication record?


May 15, 2009 10:16 AM

I do not think there are any "set ground rules" as some of the latest articles are suggesting. This is because I think the rules are more like guidelines and should be applied on a case-by-case basis to each individual company.

One of the things, that will continue to withhold Journalists integrity, is their right to keep their sources a secret, for example. It's how we are able to the best information (as well as the worst). But that mere option is something that shouldn’t be dictated.

When it comes to social media, if options such as that and alike are compromised or "ruled upon" it suffocates just how far our ability to have freedom of speech will go. One thing can certainly lead to another. Thus, it will also strangle how much information we get, how good that information is etc.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be guidelines or semi-rules for social media for journalists, and the corporations that employ them, or any company for that matter. Simply put, I'm just saying the rules need not apply to every single case. For if they do, these "rules" will end up hurting those willing to give information and report it, more than it will be helping them (and their sources).

That's what America is built on isn't it?

The freedom to choose.



May 15, 2009 12:16 PM

Whatever happened to the concept of "common sense"? If you have to tell your employees not to do something like friending confidential sources, they are probably not the employees you want to retain.

What happens via social media is not new - it's just faster. In fact, it's more transparent so those that use common sense will protect themselves and their employers from faux pas.

Bhupesh Shah
ethnicomm inc.


May 15, 2009 12:33 PM

Video killed the radio star....


May 18, 2009 5:43 PM

I find it hard to believe that WSJ would come up with an elaborate policy for the use of social media without an underlying incident that was somehow kept under wraps, It'd be interesting to find out what prompted the execs at WSJ to publish this rulebook!


July 6, 2009 3:14 AM

To let or not to let employees access social media sites from work is the question.


July 29, 2009 8:05 PM

Thank you Trey. That's my question. What's the answer?

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