Why Bosses Should Blog

March 6th, 2007   •   13 comments   


Jonathan Schwartz , CEO of Sun Microsystems and avid blogger

Calling all Chairpersons, CEOs and Managing Directors! We’d love to read what you think so start blogging now.

Wait a minute, I hear you say. Why on Earth should the head honchos of organisations open themselves up to public scrutiny and ridicule by blogging?

Let me explain what I think here.

As a corporate publicist, I have been involved in profiling both my organisations and their CEOs for the longest time. People are always interested to read about and hear from the top dogs.

This includes the usual corporate information like their vision, key thrusts, 5-year plans, ideas to revolutionise the industry, and management style, to more personal and intimate details – their favourite local dish, weekend hobbies, or reading material.

As industry or public leaders, bosses exert inordinate amounts of influence on the future destinies of their organisations and stakeholders. This can be as macro as a country’s destiny, or as micro as a product’s bottom-line.

Famous Bosses Who Blog

Increasingly, at least in the Western world, more and more corporate chieftains are blogging.

Prime examples are Bob Lutz of General Motors, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban, and Sun Microsystem’s Jonathan Schwartz. More recently, Vice President of CSR in McDonald’s Bob Langert has jumped into the fray, and so has Bill Marriott of Marriott Hotels.

In Singapore, the only CEO blogger I know of is Tan Kin Lian. Yes, the one and only Mr Tan. Unfortunately, he retired as NTUC Income’s chief so that will bring our total score to zero for now.

I hardly hear of any senior management bloggers out there, though I am quite sure Mr Wang isn’t just a junior flyboy. Most tend to be consultants or trainers, with the occasional tech-related entrepreneurs.

There are a couple of politicians who blog though – Foreign Minister George Yeo (who blogs at Ephraim Loy’s blog as well as Beyond SG), and the P65 MPs. More recently is lawyer turned Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong who attracted fans with his candid and transparent approach towards politics.

Benefits of Blogging Bosses

I wish more captains of industry would blog though. Here are the reasons why.

#1 Convey corporate culture

Blogging helps to demystify what your corporate culture is all about. It makes you more directly accessible to your various publics while drawing them closer to you.

#2 Improve customer communication

Many of your customers would also be keen to hear what goes on behind the scenes, and be involved – if not in helping to create the next product then at least in voicing their wishes, inputs and feedback.

#3 Strengthen employee relationships

Blogging head honchos can also connect more directly to their employees. Your colleagues would certainly be interested to know your thoughts on various matters so that they know how they can better work with you.

Indeed, blogs are more informal and friendly than your regular staff conference or corporate newsletter.

#4 Grow personal and corporate brand

Another benefit I see in blogging is what it does to your personal and corporate brand.

Blogs provide an added dimension to one’s brand identity and positioning. It tells people what you and your organisation’s values are, and helps to shape public perception in a more direct, conversational manner with a figure that they can identify with and trust.

Blogs help to humanise CEOs and senior managers. Too often, the public has a nagging perception that senior corporate guys live in ivory towers and are totally out of touch with their constituents.

By blogging, you can reduce the distance between yourself and the guy next door. Doing so forces you to write in the informal human language favoured by the online community, and allows you to express your frank and candid opinions more easily.

#5 Improve stakeholder trust and likability

The flip side however is that blogging may take off some of the sheen that corporate communications has bestowed on head honchos for the longest time.

Being believable and trusted, however, may be far more important than all the accolades and awards that one can muster. Especially in this day and age where transparency and honesty are valued.

PS – This post resulted from a series of email exchanges between Ivan Chew, Kevin Lim and a couple of other media socialists. The basic idea is whether it makes sense for people in positions of authority to blog, and if so, what benefits or drawbacks do they bring.

Tags: , , ,

13 comments

  1. Benjamin Koe
    posted on Mar 06, 2007 at 1:19 PM

    Hi Walter, I totally agree with your points on CEO blogging. But with all actions one has to be prepared for the reaction. A few possibilities come to mind that may make a CEO blog less than helpful.

    1. If in the case of a crisis, where your customers are using the comment platform to not just feedback but demand an answer, it may create a difficult situation for the CEO himself. We have to remember that the CEO nor the PR folks are customer support. But if too little “help” or information is given from the blog, the customers can feel a lack of love from the company.

    2. Again in a crisis, no well trained PR manager will allow his CEO to respond without planning and crafting a message. But when that happens, the human aspect is again replaced by the corporate voice thus defeating the purpose of the blog.

    It may then be wise, depending on circumstance, that some CEO blogs not allow or at least moderate comments so that things don’t get out of control.

  2. posted on Mar 06, 2007 at 12:17 PM

    Hey Walter,

    I feel one the greatest reasons why people ever love their job is when they have a good boss – the boss is the one that sets the tone and culture, and if they blog, you know for sure, they are transparent and authentic.

    All good bosses should blog 😀

  3. posted on Mar 06, 2007 at 1:35 PM

    Ex-NTUC CEO Tan Kin Lian was the perfect corporate blogger… I found it surprising that he was that good, especially that early in the Singapore blogosphere.

  4. posted on Mar 07, 2007 at 2:13 AM

    Moderation of comments in this instance (of CEO blogging) = “We don’t actually care about what you think… we just want to give you the impression that we do.”

  5. posted on Mar 06, 2007 at 11:39 PM

    Walter
    I agree, yet some, such as Bill Marriott, appear to be screening the comment they get, even when they relate to the post

    http://sayitbetter.typepad.com/say_it_better/2007/03/the_attention_e.html

  6. posted on Mar 07, 2007 at 1:30 AM

    kian ann,

    Hear ye hear ye! Unfortunately, sometimes the corporate culture of organisations may frown upon blogging bosses or employees. Ultimately, though the top dog should have more discretion, provided he or she can get the blessings of shareholders.

  7. posted on Mar 07, 2007 at 1:40 AM

    Ben,

    I think its a matter of managing expectations from the onset. While I am a firm advocate of the benefits of blogging, I also realise that not everything can be solved this way. It isn’t always the paragon of virtue in communications that many have lauded.

    Before a CEO chooses to blog, he or she must be well trained and prepared to weather the storm, should it ever come to pass. I believe that not all PR counsel – whether internal or external – will result in the CEO speaking the stilted, corporate voice. There is a need for humanity in blogging conversations.

    Having said that, we can’t expect CEOs to converse in the same manner as say a Doc Searls, Robert Scoble or Seth Godin. These are people who have been primed by the system for many years.

    For moderating of comments, well there are schools of thought both ways. It depends on the maturity of the audience and how they choose to respond. If much of it is flaming or unreasonable, then moderation is necessary. If however, most of your commenters are genuinely interested in starting a conversation, then moderation may not be needed.

  8. posted on Mar 07, 2007 at 1:53 PM

    daniel,

    Agree man…. I think that social media brings with it a greater democratisation of societal forces and influence. Because of an unwritten rule of thumb, bloggers are generally considered equals (although we would of course have heard of elite bloggers or A-list bloggers).

    I firmly believe that regardless of whether you have a readership of 10, 100 or 10,000, you can still make an impact and a difference. And that is the greatest enabling factor of what blogging can do.

  9. posted on Mar 07, 2007 at 3:03 PM

    Walter, my opinion is that people blog more because of interest rather than who they are. Hence people (bosses included) should blog only if they have a personal interest in the activity. Even so, blogging does take time and effort and we all know what busy schedules bosses have. Hence, if bosses blog, they should be blogging about topics that they enjoy talking about, not about their corporate affairs and careers. This is not to say that bosses generally do not like to talk about their work but to blog about work would be like working 18-hour days for bosses, wouldn’t it?

    If the purpose of the blog is to spread the corporate message, gather feedback and communicate with the public, then a website would do just as well, doesn’t it?

    If bosses don’t blog about work, then it is alright for them use pseudonyms to mask their identities. So I think your count of zero for blogging bosses may not be very accurate.

  10. posted on Mar 07, 2007 at 3:09 PM

    I think there are situations where blogging becomes difficult. Like a friend of mine who runs this company. He was very excited about blogging but then he realized that the competitors was following his blog and trying to figure out the deals they were making based on the account of his travels on the blog. He could always change the dates or not mention the place he was in but that would run counter to the reason why he started blogging.

  11. posted on Mar 08, 2007 at 3:26 AM

    victor,

    That’s a unique point which I have never thought of. Well, I guess when I speak about CEO blogs, it is more about their corporate rather than personal affairs, although that certainly doesn’t hurt too. If organisations view blogs as an important tool for stakeholder communication, then the CEO blog will be part of that.

    For the use of pseudonyms, there are various schools of thought about it. Personally, while I do have a nick name, everybody knows who I am and my identity is not concealed.

  12. posted on Mar 08, 2007 at 3:29 AM

    preetam, that’s exactly the reason I suspect why many local companies are not blogging. Of course, my own thinking is that entrepreneurial success is not just a result of business intelligence but a combination of other factors too like experience, drive, determination and networks. Knowing what and how much to reveal is always a challenge in any business, and this is something that communicators like myself always tangle with!

  13. Jimmy Tan
    posted on Mar 14, 2007 at 12:36 PM

    Agree with daniel man. Tan Kin Lian when he was blogging woud delete anyone’s posting which did not coincide with his thinking and point of view.

    I had a friend who worked with the guy and he behaved the exact same way at work. He asks for your point of view only because he wants to hear that you agree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *