Corporate blogging

Many of us who are principal investigators of academic research laboratories operate essentially as CEOs of our little empires. Therefore, I throw out to the Terra Sig readership a very interesting Sunday morning story entitled, “Bloggin’ Bosses”, by Frank Nelson of the Raleigh News & Observer.
Of course, true CEO bloggers have to contend with somewhat bigger issues and must always use their real names:

Angry customers swarmed Burt’s Bees in November as soon as the all-natural cosmetics maker announced plans to sell itself.
Critics consider the buyer, bleach maker Clorox, to be far from environmentally friendly.
So Burt’s Bees CEO John Replogle knew he needed to defend his Morrisville company’s decision. He wanted to reach out to skeptics, read their fears and respond directly and conversationally to their objections.
He decided to blog.
“We need to meet people where they are, and where they are is online,” he said.

Of course, others remain with their heads in the sand for the wrong reasons:

“Most of my stakeholders tend to be local or institutional shareholders,” said Grant Yarber, CEO of Raleigh-based Capital Bank. “I don’t think that’s how they want to communicate.
“I’m a face-to-face person, and failing that I’ll talk on the telephone,” Yarber said. “That way people can hear the inflection in my voice and understand what I’m trying to say.”

Hmmm. I’d think that people who put money into your bank who aren’t shareholders per se might be interested in what’s on your mind.
Nelson notes that about 10 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs blog. What are the barriers for the other 90 percent? Nelson says:

One challenge is that not all CEOs are interesting or effective writers. So not all executive blogs are created equal. And executives who can engage stakeholders in gainful conversation must sometimes wrangle with legal and PR departments to get a message out unadulterated.

Ah yes, legal and PR – those folks charged with making sure you file six layers of paperwork just to visit the restroom. But if one uses the power of being CEO to do what one would like, here’s some good advice:

[D]one right, blogs project openness and transparency in an age of mistrust. That can encourage readers to share substantive feedback, said Debbie Weil, a corporate blogging and social media consultant in Washington.
For an executive blog to succeed, it must come straight from the horse’s mouth, not a corporate PR machine. Further, it must include critical feedback from readers. Otherwise it’s just more propaganda, said Weil, who wrote “The Corporate Blogging Book” (Penguin Portfolio, $17.96).

The N&O also had Weil post some blogging tips for CEOs on this sidebar.
However, some companies still don’t get it:

Some companies go so far as to filter reader feedback that has embarrassing or critical remarks.
That can seem like sanitizing, and it’s also disingenuous and defeats the purpose of starting a dialogue, said Tim Flood, a professor of management communication at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“The blog is a counterculture vibe that gives executives a chance to be regular people. It personalizes and humanizes the corporation,” Flood said. . .
. . .”You don’t want the perception of information control, because that flies in the face of the blogging mentality,” Flood said.

The rest of the article gives a few examples of the positive and negative outcomes of corporate blogging and has nice examples of CEOs blogs and their content, so it makes for a good read.
As a sidebar, Nelson provides a nice, concise description which bloggers can give to friends and family when asked, “What is this thing you call a ‘blog’?”:

A blog, short for Web log, is an online journal that is frequently updated and usually intended for general public consumption. Some corporate blogs are aimed at a specific audience, such as employees.
Blogs are defined by their format: a series of entries posted to a single page in reverse-chronological order. Blogs generally represent the personality of the author or reflect the purpose of the Web site that hosts the blog. Posts sometimes include philosophical musings, commentary on timely issues and links to other sites the author favors, especially those that support a point being made in a post.
The author of a blog is often referred to as a blogger.

And this blogger thanks Mr Nelson for some very nice reading early on a Sunday morning.

6 thoughts on “Corporate blogging

  1. Who the fuck wants to read what some shitheel CEO writes? The whole point of reading blogs is that they are written by normal people, not the same fuckwad corporate oligarchs that dominate everything else we see, hear, and do.

  2. PhysioProf: Most folks would agree with you, such as Seth Godin in his equally concise blogpost, although I must admit my fondness for your candor and colorful writing style.
    I agree mostly but do admit to a morbid fascination with the thought process of those at the top of industry. For example, I’ve really enjoyed the discourse between Whole Foods’ CEO, John Mackey, and Michael Pollan about the organic foods industry – that is until Mackey got caught posting anonymous comments about competitors and the proposed Whole Foods/Wild Oats merger on Yahoo! groups, actions that are now under investigation by the FTC (and have stymied his blog).

  3. There’s a good point you quoted above: not everybody is a good writer, and not everybody _wants_ to write even if they can. And to make a decent blog you do need both some level of ability and personal interest in maintaining it, or it’s going to end up wooden and trite, lacking that personal voice. Make it a job requirement and it will sound like it is a job requirement. A waste of time for the writer and readers both.
    I’d say that 10% sounds about right. Perhaps up to 20% – one in five – would be able to be persuaded to do it at some point. But don’t ever expect many more than that. And it’s not just CEO; I wouldn’t expect more than that proportion of _any_ profession (physician, researcher, cook, whatever) to run a blog.

  4. I am just impressed that they can find the time. I don’t run a multi-million/billion dollar corporation, yet I have a hell of a time finding the time.
    I do find myself having a morbid curiosity about this CEO blogging. I have to say, that contrary to physio-prof, I definitely approve of the phenom.

  5. Who the fuck wants to read what some shitheel CEO writes?
    People who are doing oppo research on the corporation in question, for one. I’d really like to know what the CEOs of pretty much any corporation whose name starts with General (you fill in the rest) are thinking (if they’re thinking), myself. If you want to decrease the net amount of shitheelery in the world, you have to know how shitheels think. A little discourse analytics goes a long, long way in a situation like that.

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