CEO Blog: Good for the Executive Brand and Thought Leadership?

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Seth Godin recently wrote a blog post titled: Beware of the CEO blog. He writes:

“It’s apparently the newest thing. I just got off the phone with one CEO who’s itching to start, and read an email from another who just did.

Here’s the problem. Blogs work when they are based on:
Candor
Urgency
Timeliness
Pithiness and
Controversy

(maybe Utility if you want six).

 Does this sound like a CEO to you?

 

 

Short and sweet, folks: If you can’t be at least four of the five things listed above, please don’t bother. People have a choice (4.5 million choices, in fact) and nobody is going to read your blog, link to your blog or quote your blog unless there’s something in it for them.”

This kind of statement is warranted given the role and demands of a CEO and it’s clear that a lot of CEO blogs are for the most part ghost written by someone in the marketing department or a third party ghost writer. Let’s face it: most CEOs don’t have the time nor patience to write  blog posts on a consistent basis. While the demand for more CEOs and senior executives to join and engage in the online conversation, they have greater pressures at hand: growing the business, meeting or exceeding profitability for their shareholders and managing the overall business goals and objectives for the company. There are some exceptions to the rule – a few high profile CEOs who have been blogging for an extended period of time, most notable among them, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com and Guy Kawasaki, founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures, among many others.  These CEOs among others are utilizing Web 2.0 technologies, social networking, and social media to push their agenda, educate the market, and use their blogs as a platform to highlight industry trends, challenges, and bring insight by combining personal experience and industry expertise. Why? Simply put, they understand the need to adopt new ways of communicating with the online communities beyond their internal groups such as employees and shareholders.   

My personal experience with launching our own blog and our CEO’s blog brings me to this topic. I believe that executives down to employees should take a top down approach when it comes to blogging and if a company decides to take this on, it needs to be implemented with the right strategy and plan in place.  Our CEO Pat Clawson is a great example of how he leverages the blogging platform to communicate a clear message on the industry trends and challenges but how certain issues impact the market as a whole.  It’s not just about engaging but educating as well.  Here is an example of what not to do in a CEO blog in a CEO blog – McAfee CEO David DeWalt’s blog of using the platform to promote the company and its products and services.  People aren’t interested in coming to your blog to read more about your company and your products, they want to learn and gain insight into your expertise and knowledge about what’s going on in the industry and how it will be impacted.  While this isn’t the worst example of a bad CEO blog, this is just one to demonstrate some common mistakes CEOs make when it comes to blogging.

Getting back to the point, out of curiosity I took this question to several CEOs and executives who are active on  Twitter and blogging and posed the question: Should CEOs blog? Why or why not? This blog is to shed some light for those who are looking to start or already have established a blog, what are some of the dos and don’ts?  This will be a rolling series to provide different perspectives on this topic – first of which begins with my Q&A with Guy Kawaski who was named as one of the top CEO bloggers to provide his perspective. At the end of this series, I will provide an outline of key steps to achieving a successful CEO blog and dos and don’ts.

Q&A with Guy Kawasaki:

Do you think CEOs should or shouldn’t blog and why?

It’s hard to provide a definitive answer to this because there are several key factors at play. First, is the company publicly traded? If it is, then the CEO must be very careful to limit the information in the blog—so much so, that the blog may be rendered boring. Second, can the CEO write well? If not, is she or he willing to use a ghost writer? Third, does the CEO truly have something significant to say? This is a “duhism,” but not enough CEOs as themselves this question.

How important is it for CEOs to blog?

On a scale of 1-10 where 10 = “you’ll get fired if you don’t do this,” blogging is about a 4 or 5. Fundamentally, a CEO is paid to lead, and that’s what she or he should focus on. Blogging can be an aspect of leading (specifically, communicating), but it is by no means to that end. It’s not an end in itself.

Should you get other senior management to blog? Why or why not?

The same questions apply to the CEO as senior management.

Do you think blogging by a CEO has a positive or negative impact to their overall brand?

The best case is that the CEO’s blog is mildly interesting. The worst case is that the CEO’s blog is deadly boring. The worst case is much more likely. What the CEO should truly do is ensure the creation of great product or services so that OTHER people blog about the company.

What other ways can it benefit the Company and its overall business objective?

CEOs should focus Twitter versus a blog.  What CEOs should do is tweet, not blog. Or have a ghost tweet as her or him. Blogging requires a carefully crafted, legally and HR cleared essay that shows intelligence and insight on at least a weekly basis. Good luck. Tweeting requires a good link to something that the CEO (or ghost) finds interesting. These tweets should point to articles, blogs, etc that the CEO thinks his or her audience would find interesting. This is a lot easier to do and a lot safer too.

Top 5 dos and don’ts for senior management and CEOs when it comes to blogging?

Sponsor a company blog as opposed to a blog or blogs tied to specific people because the overall purpose is to communicate with the company’s customers, provide tips and tech support, and engender loyalty. Good examples of this type of blog are here..

Can bad blogging kill your brand? Any examples?

Kawasaki says: “If blogging killed your brand, you had a pretty weak brand already, and it probably deserved to die.”

President Barack Obama sets a great example on how he uses social working and Web 2.0 technologies to educate and forward his agenda. He is considered an Internet marketing maven who has used platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace to market his message across to millions of individuals.

First and foremost, I believe CEOs should ask themselves whether they have the right ideas, content, and dedication to create and share their content/message with the world. Second, what is the overall objective?  As Godin mentioned in his blog, there are key components to launching and maintaining a successful blog that others will want to read and follow. If you don’t meet the criteria, then it might not be your cup of tea. But rest assure, if it’s not you, the CEO blogging, be sure to get your company behind a corporate blog to create a competitive advantage.

While it sounds like a “me too” approach, the way we communicate has significantly changed. My belief is that CEOs should definitely blog and every company should have a blog because it’s not about the return on investment (ROI), but about the return on influence within your industry. By adding your voice through a blog, you’re putting a face to the company and humanizing your brand, not to mention elevating your thought leadership. And, if you don’t have the time to blog, get a ghost writer to meet with you on a weekly basis, brainstorm on some key topics, and voice your opinion and why people should care. While the option of using a ghostwriter might not be ideal, as long as they can take YOUR message to your blog, it’s a step forward in moving the needle and getting your company front and center in the market. The article on cbsnews.com Why Most CEOs Who Blog – Blog Badly sums it up nicely: keep your posts short, clear, educational and most of all, compelling. Don’t become the poster child for “Why CEOs shouldn’t blog” but take a leadership role and drive a message that can change the market perception, interests the readers (journalists, buyers, bloggers, etc.).

My blog: How to Achieve Return on Influence Through Corporate Blogs

David Meerman Scott: The Future of PR: should your CEO blog?

Jeremiah Owyang: The Many Challenges of a CEO Blog

Guy Kawasaki is a founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures. He is also the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web.  Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. Guy is the author of nine books including Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, and The Macintosh Way. He has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College. You can read completed coverage of blogging at http://blogging.alltop.com/.

Be on the lookout for Part II in Should CEOs blog. This one takes the perspective on why CEOs should stick to internal blogging with Chris Hewitt.

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