ARE CEO BLOGS VALUABLE TO STAKEHOLDERS?
“Blogging and tweeting from the CEO are nice in theory but in reality these blogs are little more than vanity projects, with little value for stakeholders.” Each month, we ask two communications practitioners to debate an issue via an exchange of emails.
Opposing the motion is Richard Rabin, CEO and cochairman of Alpha Software. Arguing in support of it is Neil Bayley, director and corporate practice leader at Porter Novelli.
No CEO should invest time, energy, or money in a vanity project. 100% of a CEO’s time should be invested in pursuits that have fundamental benefits to the company. Depending upon the size of the company, the CEO’s role can be different.
The way that every CEO uses social media varies. But at the end of the day, efforts made through social media are measurable, and should be aligned with the company’s goals and objectives, and baked into the annual planning.
I started blogging after years of urging from my PR guy. He was insistent that we needed to give customers insight into the goings-on of our company. He said customers needed to know about the work being done to improve the product, and that the blog would foster a dialogue between customers and those building the products.
I started our blog in 2007, and the audience has grown ever since then. We’re a small business - an application development tool vendor that provides RAD platforms letting developers build applications that run on today’s five major platforms: tablets, smartphones, laptops, desktops, and the web.
It’s a competitive business, and we compete against giants like Microsoft.
But I have example after example where I’ve provided transparency into something that we were working on inside the company. I’ve worked on things called to my attention by what customers posted on my blog - that dialogue influenced the direction of our company’s product.
Try that with Microsoft. Can you talk directly to Steve Ballmer?
At Alpha Software, customers speak directly to the chairman through social media. I would argue that Microsoft’s advantage over me is a huge war chest, but my advantage is that I talk to customers every day.
That’s just how I use it. If you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, your use is different. But at the end of the day, it should be about value to your readers who are your customers.
Best regards, Richard
Many CEOs have been badgered into blogging by advisers keen to tick the ‘we do digital’ box in their corporate communications programme. I think they’re often seduced by the perception that it’s less risky and time consuming than traditional channels like media interviews and speaker platforms. But it’s clear from research we’ve recently done at Porter Novelli that social media is not an influential channel for CEOs, because just one in 10 people in the UK feels executives who share important news via social media are more trustworthy than those who don’t. 1
CEOs rarely have time to be consistent bloggers, so many delegate the task resulting in content that doesn’t offer any real insight or value. Take the Marriott CEO blog for example. Why would you turn to the CEO for this kind of general commentary? Surely a CEO needs to demonstrate the same passion, hunger for innovation and sharp insight in blogging as they do in running a global business?
Social media for the CEO doesn’t work unless they have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. They also need to be confident that the audiences they’re seeking to engage see social media as useful because it varies greatly by sector. CEOs in technology and software probably stand the greatest chance of making some impact. But for many other sectors, blogging still has virtually no impact and even if we see a few successful individuals that’s unlikely to change in the future.
Most CEO blogs are indeed boring and it’s for one main reason: they’re written by guys like yourself. And by that, I don’t mean to be critical of you. I mean that you are a public relations guy. CEOs delegate the responsibility of investing time to communicate with their audiences - customers, employees, investors, industry analysts, and the press - by outsourcing the role of producing their blog to their public relations department or agency.
The result is that their blog reads like it was written by the public relations department. It has no substance - it’s all positive, it’s all safe, and it’s all boring. So yes, Neil, you’re right. Why would anybody read the Marriott CEO’s blog? It’s written by its public relations department! The fact of the matter is, if you’re not willing to make the commitment to writing the blog yourself, then don’t do it. Instead, tell your public relations department to start a blog in their own name. That would be a much more authentic approach.
The reality is that this is not a problem with the blogosphere. This is a problem with how CEOs and corporations approach the blogosphere. If you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all. And the way to do it right is for the CEO himself to write this stuff, and not allow the public relations department to take away any of the provocative things that the CEO might say. As I said in my original argument, be yourself. Write to give the readers the same personality that you would give them if you were speaking with them around a lunch table, or at a bar.
I guarantee that if Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or any other well-known corporate executive were actually writing their own blog, people would be hanging on every word. And that is how blogging becomes a major channel of communication, because you can ensure that your truthful point of view is being received by your audience.
Best Regards, Richard
“CEOs need to be confident that the audiences they’re seeking to engage see social media as useful: CEOs in technology and software probably stand the greatest chance of making some impact. But for many other sectors, blogging still has virtually no effect”
If they are doing their job right, PR guys actually help connect the CEO with their audience more effectively. Good ones give objective feedback so that blog posts can be made more relevant and appealing. CEOs do value the advice of good PR guys, even if they don’t always follow it.
I don’t think that it’s outsourcing blogposts that’s the problem. It’s the lack of insight into what the audience might be interested in. Take the King of Shaves CEO for example. Here’s one CEO that takes great pride in his posts, but you have to question who he’s aiming at. On just a single page, the posts range from CSR and product news through to campaigning for small businesses and the appointment of corporate financial advisers. Is this an exercise in value or vanity?
Visionary CEOs who offer real insight are rare. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are great examples - what they say has genuine influence because they’ve established reputations for visionary leadership and shaped markets (even economies). But they haven’t done this over their blogs. Steve Jobs didn’t launch Apple products through a blog, he got out in front of his audience.
Before any CEO thinks about a blog, I’d challenge them to question whether that time would be better spent face-to-face with their audience or with an opinion leader who has proven influence. That way they can get instant feedback and engage in dialogue. And they won’t need to guess who the audience is and what the majority thought, which you’re often left wondering when assessing how many people have read blog posts.
“You mentioned that real CEOs who offer real insight are rare. That’s because visionary CEOs are rare. And unfortunately, truly visionary CEOs like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett aren’t blogging, and never will blog”
It looks like you and I have come full circle. I wholeheartedly agree with your opening statement that PR guys help connect the CEO with their audience more effectively. The problem is that most companies don’t want their CEO to blog, or the CEO doesn’t believe he has the time to blog.
Therefore, the entire writing process gets outsourced to an agency or freelance writer and what you end up with is something that’s not authentic. You end up with a ghosted blog, or as the true social media mavens would say, a ‘flog’, or fake blog.
Where you and I agree is that PR consultants or agencies should be consultative, and help the CEO learn how to blog, not do the blogging for them.
You mentioned that real CEOs who offer real insight are rare. That’s because visionary CEOs are rare. And unfortunately, truly visionary CEOs like Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, aren’t blogging, and never will blog.
The reality is that social media is the great equalizer for smaller companies who need to go up against the Bill Gates, and Warren Buffets of the world. So in a nutshell, I think we’ve gone full circle. We both agreed that CEOs should blog. We both believe that it should be the CEO who’s blogging. We agree that it should be the role of the agency to train the CEO on how to blog, which means showing them how to make good use of their time and how to take their thoughts from mind to blank sheet of paper, and of course, how to be authentic and deliver value to your readers.
Finally, we also agree that the wrong thing to do is to completely outsource your blog to some PR agency, freelance writer, or communications firm, because if you’re doing that, you’re not blogging.
Best Regards, Richard
1 – Data taken from EuroPNStyles, a survey that providing insight into the attitudes of consumers across seven European countries including the UK where the sample size was 1700 adults.