To Blog or Not to Blog. That Is the Question?
G.A. "Andy" Marken
The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it -- Edward R. Murrow
Viral marketing, IM, SMS and blogging are just a few of the new avenues emerging for our globally constantly connected world. Rather than management seeing our avenues of reaching our various stakeholders as shrinking, the routes are actually being expanded. CEOs and senior managers have to understand what they are, the strengths and weaknesses of each and how you can leverage them best.
If not you could be the friend of Hawkeye's in one of the M.A.S.H. shows who was critically wounded. He looked up and said, "I didn't hear the one that hit me."
The first three we mentioned are relatively easy to understand. If you aren't familiar with them then go to google.com or yahoo.com, type them in and review widely available information.
The final avenue - blogging, weblogs or simply blogs - is more difficult to understand and not without its share of risks. It is also one that provides management what they need in today's world - a fast, effective and economic means of carrying out two-way communications with a firm's many audiences. Blogs also represent a long-term commitment to reaching out to educate, inform, influence and obtain inputs/feedback directly from your market.
It is also a concept and means of communications that won't go away. It is a viral communications program that is going to become important to all organizations that are interested in growing.
If you don't think you need to address the area it would be wise to find out how many blogs originate within your own organization. HP has more than 2,500. Microsoft has more than 3,000. IBM has more than 4,500. Proctor & Gamble.Coca-Cola.Pfizer.Dell.firms large and small have blogs being written by employees.
In its simplest terms a weblog can be an online (very public) diary. It is a way for management to talk directly to customers, business partners and every stakeholder (including the board of directors). Blogs provide an opportunity for you to convince them that the positions, directions and actions that you are taking are in the best interest of all concerned.
For the first time, every head of an organization has the chance to interact on a daily basis with every segment of his or her community. The president/CEO has the unique opportunity to set the agenda, lead the commentary and shape opinions.
If it sounds too good to be true. It is!
Blogs are not one-way. They are two-way communications that can be observed by millions. Michael Dell has used the feedback very profitably - good and bad. He has used the information to hone Dell Computer's products and processes. This immediate and open communications has enabled the company to gain the #1 position in the PC industry.
As with Dell's and other corporate executive weblogs, the sites also provide a fast and direct means of conducting research of direct customer experience, company perception and review policy and programs in near real-time.
Granted, not all of the comments are favorable and many are downright negative but layers of managers don't dilute the responses. As a result Dell management is able to evaluate the inputs and respond - internally and externally - as required.
Does Dell handle all of the feedback himself? Of course not! Nor does Microsoft's Bill Gates, GE's Jeff Immelt, AMD's Hector Ruiz, Home Depot's Robert Nardelli, the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban or the growing number of CEOs who maintain weblogs.
All of these executives monitor their blogs. They also have one or more members of their organization scanning, summarizing and focusing the information for the multitasking executive so he or she can respond and react accordingly.
While company/CEO blogs are not without their dangers, the alternative is that company blogs are being carried out by disgruntled employees (as was one highly covered Yahoo blog) or unhappy customers (there are hundreds of negative company/product sites on the web).
However, the CEO blog provides a blank canvas for management to state and explain their position, their actions. It also provides management with an opportunity to immediately and directly address issues and concerns. In some instances management can nullify the attack and in others they can turn detractors into supporters.
Blog vs e-newsletter
While newsletters, especially print, have been used by companies for tens of years to get their messages to specific stakeholders - shareholders, employees, channel partners, market segments. They have been expensive, time consuming and .one way.
Even when we take advantage of the power, speed and ease of the Internet; an HTML newsletter suffers from the same shortcomings. In addition, once it is published and sent out you are never certain the newsletter will make it past the recipient's spam filters. It is also less immediate than today's growing blog community.
Using one of the many blog templates your executive weblog site can be quickly established. Rather than broadcasting your message it can be fed to readers using today's widely used RSS (Really Simple Syndication) format. The blog can be an extremely effective means of directly getting your corporate and product message to editors and reporters in the mainstream media (MSM), the community of citizen journalists as well as the growing number of individuals regularly read blogs.
RSS is a format for syndicating news and the content of news-like web sites. These include hundreds of major news sites such as Wired and Slashdot as well as thousands of business and personal weblogs. The blog can be made available to news aggregators at no cost and people interested in specific subjects to track the information and news.
There is more information than you want to know on the subject available on the web. But we have found the best source to educate yourself to be www.oreilly.com. The publisher offers a number of excellent books on the subject including Dan Gillmor's, former influential columnist with the San Jose Mercury/New and author of We the Media. Dan recently left the SJ MN to practice what he preaches with his own grassroots journalism blog.
Weblogs are not something that should be begun without a long-term commitment. Unlike printed or e-newsletters that cross your desk or screen and can be dropped and forgotten, the blog remains.forever. The blog needs to be updated frequently - weekly, if not daily. There is nothing worse than visiting a blog or company web site that has news and information that hasn't been updated.recently.
The Effective CEO, Business Blog
The effective business-centric blog uses the combined tools of communications - computer, keyboard, focus, objectives, willingness to listen and something important to say. The executive blog has the unprecedented freedom of immediacy. The response can be developed, reviewed, massaged and posted in minutes rather than hours or days. The posting can be as long or as short as necessary to tell the story, make the point or counter incorrect information.
With full credit, we'd like to paraphrase some of the tips to an effective blog that have been presented by Seth Godin, a seasoned blogger and viral marketer-- http://sethgodin.typepad.com/.
Blogs are ideal for CEOs because the focus is on a topic you are passionate about. The blog allows the executive to address business issues and concerns, explain them and expand on key industry/company points.
Use shorter, more frequent blog entries rather than long white papers or position statements. As you study blogs around the web you will see that the best and most popular sites are a short paragraph or two and sometimes only a sentence.The goal is to show you are knowledgeable about the subject and to make one specific point. Some of the best executive blogs only have a sentence or two with a link directing readers to a relevant article in a respected business, trade or consumer publication.
The best business blogs reflect the viewpoint and voice of the executive, not lawyer talk or PR bullet dodging. This can be a tightrope because you want to be as honest and forthright as possible but you also have to write with the understanding that you are creating a very public presence of your information.
The best CEO blogs are where the executive writes out two or three key points which are reviewed and massaged by a blog-savvy staff member. Make certain you use correct grammar, syntax and spelling.
Organize the content of the blog. A blog is an elegant, easy-to-use writing and communication tool. It should also be purposeful. Plan out the corporate and industry issues you plan to cover over time. Categorize your points with key words so the site can gain the widest and most visible search engine attention possible.
Post a new entry at least two to three times a week. Since each new entry is its own web page you will increase the chances that search engines will find the blog so you can broaden your reach with key audiences. Over time you will find that an effective blog entry can be done in 20 minutes or less. That certainly isn't true when you are producing an enewsletter that can take days/weeks to develop and execute.
Include key contact information. Just as effective marketing web sites clearly display the contact information to make it easy for customers and the press, you want feedback and inputs from supporters and detractors so you clarify points or continue a meaningful and hopefully positive dialogue.
Godin emphasizes that executive blogs work best when they are based on:
Nothing expresses a company and product brand better than a CEO.especially a CEO who is smart, plugged in and can articulate issues that are important. It is not a place to simply plug your company, products or services. It is a place for executives to provide a voice and personality to an inanimate organization.
With the assistance and guidance of a knowledgeable and professional Internet and Web staff members, the executive can give voice to the company to discuss its position and place in the global community. He or she can articulate and explain business and industry activities.
Blogs are both derided and read by the mainstream media. More importantly they are increasingly being read by your business partners, stockholders, consumers and other stakeholders on a global basis. The corporate executive's weblog provides a powerful strategic and tactical tool for expanding his or her influence and growing the company.