Transparency: Defending The HR Bloggers

Posted By on Sep 8, 2009


genie bottleDespite the desires of some, it is impossible to shove the HR blogging genie back into the proverbial bottle. And with the proliferation of bloggers covering every aspect of the human resources ecosystem, those threatened are quick to scream “foul!” and attempt to discredit those brave enough to conquer new ground. This high-pitched squeal of disdain is never louder than from the gasping mouths of some of our industry’s traditional media.

My rant-like preamble was triggered by an irresponsible piece published today in Workforce Management’s online edition. Entitled, “A Tighter Rein on HR Blogging?“, this thinly veiled expose attempts to unseat the credibility of many of our industry’s most important voices. YourHRGuy’s Lance Haun and The Human Capitalist’s Jason Corsello are among the targeted, but no one takes a greater hit to the chest than Cheezhead’s Joel Cheesman.

[Please Note The Following (Sarcastic) Disclosure: I did post links in the paragraph above that may take you to other sites. If the owners of said sites have paid advertisers, your traffic may be used to generate pennies of revenue. In the case of Workforce, those pennies may be used to pay authors to write articles which discredit some of the others to whom we've also linked. This ecstasy of cross linking and confusion is meant to clearly drive you into a mental state of coercion, the results of which may or may not benefit one or all of the aforementioned parties.]

I want to tackle the main implication of the article at hand. Although this is a very tired issue to see raised in our mature environment, let’s get to it. Once again we are forced to discuss transparency.

The authors are questioning whether HR bloggers have done a good job of disclosing potential conflicts of interest. And guess what, transparency and disclosure are big issues in the world of new media. In an “oldie” (but goodie) from the experts at ProBlogger entitled, “The Rules Behind Creating a Great Blog“, transparency is right up there at #1. As rightly stated by the author:

“At the end of the day, trust is the only real currency in the blogosphere, and people who read blogs have the expectation that they’re getting at the truth — in whatever form the truth is to them.” ~ Tony Hung, Problogger (Jan. 9, 2007)

Could trust and transparency increase in this market? Absolutely. Should HR bloggers be held to a higher standard? Absolutely not. Whether “old” or “new”, transparency is an issue in all media and monetary relationships can have a significant influence on agenda, focus and purpose.

I’ll hit Workforce with a example from their own world. This past Wednesday, Workforce Management editor John Hollan wrote a blog post featuring research by Adecco Group North America. Now, John didn’t disclose that Adecco is a client of Workforce’s, yet I see that Adecco is the primarily advertiser on Workforce’s Recruiting and Staffing homepage. So, is this really a conflict? Should I stop reading John’s blog? Should I not believe that his intent was to convey good research? You be the judge.

My point is this. In a time when HR is struggling to find trusted voices, do not discredit those who are breaking new ground. In an era when saying “no” is much easier than “yes”, don’t offer an already skeptical audience a reason to ignore the opinions and perspectives that just might help get them through these difficult times. And finally, do not use the threat of increased regulation or the guise of journalistic integrity to hide your fear of possible extinction. Instead, find your place in the new world order and make the most of it. I welcome any and all comments and look forward to keeping this particular conversation going.

20 Comments

  1. Mark- I absolutely could not have said it better. Thank you for speaking out in defense of all the HR bloggers. Our community is growing in strength every day and that is precisely why Workforce Management is striking out against us. Job well done sir!

    Trish

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  2. Right on Stelzner!

    Media such as workforce.com (and several others) hates the impact blogs are having on their own readership. Why should be opinion of a blogger be any more biased than their own journalists? You hit the nail on the head with the Adecco example. Blogs are stealing the eyeballs from traditional media, and weakening their ability to command advertising revenue. The Adecco issue is a clear example that they want to have their cake and eat it too. Traditional media no longer owns opinion – it has to compete with other media avenues these days for eyeballs – and established blogs are one of those.

    As Jason Corsello rightly points out in his quote, the main blogs were established a whlie back, and there few ones coming along to steal the limelight (this concept that anyone can blog and impact the industry overnight is incorrect). When you break down the true number of blogs that have large followings and genuine impact in HR and related industries, it’s really a small handful. However, I do not agree withg Jason’s view that blogs are “past their prime”… more and more senior executives are visiting a select number regularly. Blogging’s here to stay, so Workforce magazine needs to get used to it – especially if it wants to profit from the increased media activity and revenue potential it creates. More on this topic here:

    http://fersht.typepad.com/the_outsourcing_bloghorse/2008/03/how-is-the-blog.html

    PF.

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  3. The Workforce article was way out of line and mean spirited. Thanks for stepping up to the defense of your colleagues with your post. You are a man of uncommon character. Even if you are a blogger. (kidding!)

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  4. okay… did i read this with different lenses on? because i’m not sure if the article was way out of line.

    Workforce doesn’t hate HR bloggers, they don’t hate the impact blogs may have on their readership – in fact, they have been extremely, extremely supportive and have used an integrated approach in broadcasting HR and recruiting news by explicity being supportive of and working closely with bloggers.

    as WF maintains in the article, there are several bloggers featured on Workforce Management’s website, which also maintains four staff blogs and features two blogger networks, Fistful of Talent and Benefits Buzz. through Fistful of Talent, i can say that i’m a direct product of the support WF has shown to the blogging community – and i’ll stand by that in a heartbeat.

    to say a blogger is being “targeted” is a bit extreme. i don’t think Lance or Jason are being picked on by any means nor is this a traffic stunt. i think what the article calls for is greater transparency, and for HR pros to look at blogs – just like any other media consumption we do – with a critical eye. follow the money, as they say, and you’ll learn some interesting things. transparency in blogging is an issue all industries are facing whether you’re a PR blogger, a mommy blogger or an environmental blogger. specifically within the HR blogosphere though, you’ll find a very tightly knit community – and once you’re in, you’ll begin to unwind the quasi-incestuous relationships.

    we should all look at blogs critically. that’s the takeaway message for me. but then again… WF sponsors Fistful of Talent! full disclosure on that so you may think i’m biased. :)

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  5. The great thing about blogs is the reader can choose which site she/he visits, and whom to believe/trust. Why should a media site be more trusted or credible than a blogger’s site? I watched Bill O’Reilly (by accident) last night for a few minutes, and was appalled by the level of twisted opinion and b****t he had on his show. Suggestions that blogs should be scrutinized / regulated, are not that far from the censorship we see in some countries such as Iran and China. Trust and credibility is earned over time by whatever journalist/blogger/dolphin-trainer is reporting the opinion.

    Long live the freedom of the blog and all forms of social media. The HR industry, in particular, is in desperate need of new ideas, new energy and controversial debate to awaken itself from it’s slumber. The willingness of several HR bloggers to break out of the old mold and get the issues on the table is the closest thing the HR industry has to changing itself right now…

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  6. You note TRUST as the #1 principle in the Blogosphere. Dov Seidman wrote an interesting piece in Business Week (Sept 7) called “Building Trust by Trusting.” It was about the relationship between employers and their employed and how showing trust to the peons is often rewarded with greater commitment and productivity. A timely topic for HR Professionals that are contemplating cyber-auditing expense reports, etc.

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  7. The Workforce article is mostly naive.

    In a small town, which every business community is though spread across the country, anyone with power has conflicts of interest. That includes industry analysts (like my friend, Phil, above) who simultaneously analyze vendors for corporate subscribers, while enjoying consulting contracts with the same vendors. All analyst firms do that, not to single out Phil’s. And like Knowledge Infusion, they *never* disclose their vendor business connections in their reports.

    The same can be said for consultants speaking at conferences; journalists writing for print; or bloggers. The industry is just too small. Everyone knows everyone else and does business with them. So the question is never whether powerful people have a conflict of interest, but how much integrity and good judgment they bring to managing it. I think most do.

    WF chose to single out bloggers because of the possible legislation. That was the story’s “hook,” and its main weakness, besides focusing so much attention on Cheesehead. How about all the other people in the other categories? BTW, the company does support bloggers and has moved online from print more successfully than other HR magazines. So I don’t see the motivation for writing it as fear on online.

    As for the central point — whether revealing associations is a valuable thing — I’m not sure. The only people who write and publish and are required to make those disclosures are on Wall Street, and they’re still the biggest crooks of all!

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  8. Kutik nails it. Anyone in the know is there because of their interconnections within an industry, and ours is no exception. That said, I do believe that those of us, like me, who consult widely and with many different industry players, from end-users to vendors to private equity firms, should make our breadth of interconnections known — and most of us do so via our LinkedIn bios or other published sources — but not by naming individual clients. For one thing, any such client listing would be out-of-date before it’s published. For another, many clients require confidentiality because of their own business interests. But there’s another point raised by the article with which I also disagree, and that’s the suggestion that blogs are so yesterday. While I love Twitter, anyone following me knows that I’ve struggled to convey really meaty opinions in less than a string of tweets. So I’ve decided to launch my own blog in Q4 and am hoping that the content will be sufficiently valuable to attract a small but high quality readership. Once I’ve said all that I’ve been meaning to say, I’ll slip my tent.

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  9. Great comments thus far everyone!

    @Trish McFarlane – Thanks for the comments, although I certainly hope it doesn’t end in an “us” versus “them” discussion. As some others have pointed out, Workforce has embraced portions of the HR blogging community. This is why I found the article so perplexing.

    @Phil Fersht – Two great comments Phil, thanks. You hit on several important issues, but two important points stand out – trust and competition. In our increasingly fragmented world, the former is going to trump the latter.

    @Bob Corlett – I should have disclosed that I am a blogger Bob. Alas, it’s a terrible fate. :)

    @Jessica Lee – Workforce has been selectively supportive of certain bloggers Jessica, and Fistful is a great example of that. However, if transparency is the key it’s then reasonable to ask Workforce to disclose every advertiser, sponsor and underwriter that currently cuts a check. Would that benefit anyone? Somehow I doubt it, so to ask bloggers to live up to higher expectations is a bit of a double standard. And yes, you are biased, but you are totally up front about it and I respect that. The bottom line is that we’re all biased in some way. Thanks for your thoughts.

    @Rick Lee – Thanks Rick, and here’s the link to the article you mentioned: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_36/b4145076753447.htm

    @Bill Kutik – You’re right Bill, everyone is inherently conflicted in some way, shape or form. I’d love other people’s thoughts on “whether revealing associations is a valuable thing”.

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  10. Conflicts exist everywhere -

    Magazines which sells advertising space to vendors next to articles that promote their products has been commonplace for decades;

    Analysts who write case studies for their paying vendor clients another common practice;

    Consultants who take money from vendors while they run client evaluations and declare their independence – another common practice;

    Magazines having paying vendors guest blog on their websites etc is also another conflict, which is becoming more widespread.

    etc etc etc

    Singling out bloggers is defiitely naive and caused this reaction.

    Just for the record, WF does a much better job that many other media outlets in promoting some blogs (although how it selects which blogs to promote is not dislosed either…)

    PF

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  11. Some HR bloggers are getting on almost equal footing with many traditional news and information outlets, and that certainly is going to rub some people the wrong way. As Jessica commented, WF has embraced blogging, and SHRM has also moved in that direction. But if the bloggers want to be ‘at the table’ then they have to expect and deal with scrutiny as to their motivations, relationships, and business deals. To me, it is part of the bargain. The best way to remove any doubt is disclosure. And in than spirit let me say I am receiving nothing at all for this comment.

    Great discussion Mark!

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  12. Good post, Mark.

    I think the article is late to the game on the FTC news. My grandmother was talking about this back in July. I also think it’s a careless attempt to capitalize on the growing popularity of HR bloggers. You can hear the discussion around the Workforce editorial table. “Based on Compete.com data, our traffic is down. Let’s write about bloggers and provoke them. They’ll link back to us and increase our traffic and SEO ranking.”

    Barf.

    I’m also suspicious of the editorial intentions behind the article. Jessica is right that Workforce doesn’t hate bloggers. They just cast dispersions on those whom they don’t sponsor. Lame, IMHO. Very lame.

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  13. Like Jessica, I think I was wearing a rosier lens than most of you when I read the WF article. I didn’t see that article as an anti-HR-blogger post. I saw that article as a(very poorly written) attempt to analyze how HR blogging would fare under the new FTC rules. Did they go look for those HR bloggers who were perhaps most likely to be violative of the new rules? Of course. If you are going to discuss the legal implications of a given rule, you don’t look at those groups who are in no position to violate the rule anyway. Any analysis of a new law means looking at who can get caught breaking it, what behavior is at risk, and how to prevent gettng sued or arrested.

    But the article fell down on it’s face because the discussion of the bloggers it mentioned was all over the map and not focused on how or why those bloggers would be in trouble based on the proposed regulations. I don’t see that as malicious, just untalented.

    I disagree with Laurie that it’s too late to be discussing those proposed rules. They are not finalized yet, and while the time for public comments has passed, it would benefit *all* HR bloggers to know what the rule says, how it affects your blog, and how you may have to change a few things. Based on my reading of the rule, I don’t think it will have that big of an impact. But just like new employment rules – be prepared. :-)

    I think this is a great discussion; thanks to all of you.

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  14. WF has done this before, and they will do it again. Maybe if they started producing some well written & thoughtful posts they wouldn’t have to stoop to thinly veiled jabs at (selective) HR bloggers.

    I have $5 that says my friend and Portland neighbor Lance will say he doesn’t feel jabbed at at all and welcomes discourse. That is because Lance is an honest and straightforward guy with a heck of a lot of class. WF could take a few lessons from him.

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  15. Great post.
    As a reader with the intent of staying informed , I appreciate this forum more. Why? It is interactive and quicker. I think that is fantastic. Having a community of expertise and support during these times fits for these times.
    In the 24 years that I have participated in the community I have not given nor received trust more quickly as I have within this environment . It has value. The content is helpful, informative entertaining and appreciated.

    Innovation has a need for speed. So does trust. They go hand in hand.

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  16. Great post and great discussion Mark. I have been reading HR Blogs and HR Social Medias for few years now and I am also convinced that they are a great source of information. Biaised or unbiaised, this might be the question. But how is this different from other media? Any search today on Google will result in a big amount of information we will have to choose from. As Jessica said, we should look at blogs with a critical eye the same way we would do it with other media.

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  17. More terrific comments. And yes, I’ll confess I went too far on the “old media” rant, but you might say I was a little worked up.

    @Naomi Bloom – Both you and Phil touched on that erroneous position that blogs are dead. To the contrary, blogs are alive and well in this industry. (And in complete transparency to other readers, I did not charge you to advertise your new blog in your comment.)

    @Steve Boese – I agree 100% with your point that equal footing requires equal scrutiny. This is why I was quick to call out the “faults” in WF’s own disclosure. However, this all assumes that readers are being duped to some nefarious end. I’d like to believe that consumers of content (traditional or otherwise) have a working brain and know how to use it. Kevin Grossman does a great job of describing the market’s ability to sort this out in his post yesterday (http://tinyurl.com/nj8dnh). Thanks for the comment Steve.

    @Laurie Ruettimann – The editorial intentions are a bit questionable and the entire issue is so very tired. Apparently your grandma is way ahead of most Laurie.

    @Joan Ginsberg – Perhaps you’re right Joan, but unfortunately I was too distracted by the poor writing, blogger attacks and story line to really get the point of the piece. If the intent was to further the conversation on the issues you’ve raised, it was a miss on all fronts. I really appreciate your thoughts, so thank you.

    @Jenn Barnes – First of all, how great was it to see your name here Jenn!! And yes, Lance will likely shrug it off, take the high road and not lose a minute of sleep. Because he’s such an upstanding guy, it’s hard to watch someone take shots at him. Hope you’re well.

    @Debbie Brown – Great quote Debbie… “Innovation has a need for speed. So does trust. They go hand in hand.” You’ve said it all succinctly so thanks for stopping by.

    @Yvan@DiscussHR – In today’s environment, we have an endless number of choices for content and a short attention span to consume it. And as you’ve stated, we do have a choice, so if we’re not comfortable we are free to choose from hundreds of other sources. Thus, the critical eye should be applied to all media. Great comment.

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  18. To be honest, I found some of the information cited in the article interesting. I found it somewhat ironic that HR bloggers have become enough of a force to stimulate reports of scrutiny by the FCC.

    I liked this point more:

    This loose community of journalists, pundits and practitioners has grown in importance in the world of people management in the last five years or so. As a group, HR bloggers are breaking news, stimulating discussion and challenging the stronghold of traditional media organizations that cover human resources, including Workforce Management.

    That is what doing this shit is all about. If anyone makes money or builds business, good for them. If they are dirty or unethical, they will eventually get outed, although preferably not by the competition.

    In order to maintain full transparency, I revealed my full earning via blogging on Twitter last night. That amount is $300 so far this year.

    Some have suggested I must change my twitter nick to @HRMoneyMachine

    I am still doing the marketing research and other due diligence on that branding idea. ;-)

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  19. Great conversation. Perhaps intentionally or unintentionally WF did its job. I’m a fan of transparency but not legislation.

    As the impact of “HR” blogs increase as a mainstream source of information, knowledge and opinion, serious journalists among bloggers and other media will see an opportunity to “out” those who haven’t outed themselves. Self-regulation in the media works.

    While I respect and, for the most part agree, with Bill Kutik’s premise that we all have conflicts of interest, some are perceived, some minor and some have very real consequences. Certainly it is an issue well beyond blogging, but transparency is a growing issue.

    If you advise someone to buy stock you are selling and don’t disclose it, (legality aside) you have a serious problem once hat becomes known.

    If you are touting a startup in the Staffing arena and you are on their board of advisors with the potential for turning your options into cash, you need to own up to that. ALL advisory boards should be disclosed.

    If you are dissing an ATS and are consulting to a competing ATS, I think it is worth noting.

    If you represent yourself as a consultant but the only solutions you’ve offered are coincidentally the ones that offer you a “commission”, accepting money from both sides needs to be outed.

    At the moment, few bloggers follow journalistic standards and few journalists attend to our space (despite the fact that 10 to 100 billion dollars is moving around -depending on who you are talking to). That could change.

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  20. @Michael VanDervort – I agree that the market will vet those who are less than truthful. Blogging is very self-governing in that regard. And congrats! You’ve made $300 more than I have. :)

    @Gerry Crispin – All great points and examples Gerry. I question whether blogs would be as compelling if they did follow a more traditional journalistic approach, and my sense is that more journalists are moving to blogging than the other way around. Thanks for stopping by.

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