**** Update: watch the recording of the live debate (20th Feb 2014) on this topic with me and David Amerland up on the Forbes site – click here ****
There is an interesting article that appeared on Forbes Brand Voice last week (CEOs Who Blog) that looks at the role CEOs play in blogging. It focuses on high profile CEOs like Richard Branson (Virgin), Jeff Immelt (GE) and Alan Mulally (Ford) who incorporate blogging as part of their personal communication strategies, and it outlines the value that their blogs bring to their organizations. The author, David Amerland, proffers five eminently sensible guidelines for executives who want to blog. It is well worth the read.
But for me the question is, do I want my CEO to be blogging at all?
Immelt uses his blog to keep GE employees up-to-date and treats it like another internal channel. That seems to me to be entirely appropriate and of immense value. He isn’t externalizing his blog, what he writes is for internal consumption only. It is when a CEOs blog becomes a public channel that problems can arise.
I got into blogging in 2003 and back then it was in its infancy. The two major IT vendors who were embracing the medium throughout their orgs were IBM and Sun. IBM really pushed the needle and essentially allowed anyone in the company to blog if they had a good enough story to tell or a position to take.
Sun however was led from the top. Jonathan Schwartz was the poster CEO for blogging. He was probably one of a handful of Fortune 500 CEOs that were blogging at that time and certainly the highest profile. During the acquisition of Sun by Oracle he kept not only his employees, but also the general public (and by inference his competitors) up to speed on what was going on at Sun. I remember reading them almost with prurient interest. He didn’t hold much back. It always seemed to be to be more “stream of consciousness” than a carefully controlled communications channel to me. I really wondered whether it was wise to be airing so much of what seemed to me to be proprietary information in public. When he eventually sold the company to Oracle after a few disastrous years post global financial crisis, my rather simplistic view was that if he’d spent more time on chartering the company through those choppy waters and rather less on describing the boat and the conditions in which he was sailing, Sun may not have succumbed so easily to being bought.
In the Forbes article Tom Mendoza, the Vice Chairman of Netapp, discusses the importance of authenticity in social media. He is absolutely right. To his point, if a CEO is going to blog externally then he or she must be authentic. Therefore in theory they should be writing their own posts. And this is where it gets difficult. I would rather my CEO was keeping the company’s strategic intent within the C-Suite or at least within the company, and definitely not sharing it or elements of it, with the public. I want my CEO to be focused on leading the company from the front, not writing blog posts in his office. An hour or two writing a post is an hour or two lost in talking to customers, clinching deals and so on. I know it isn’t black and white, but if he or she does blog externally then I would wonder whether it really was the most sensible course and whether the shareholders are quite so enamored with it. The other alternative is to have a ghost writer – but that flies in the face of the authenticity mantra.
So I am of the opinion that CEOs who blog are like schoolboys playing with matches – potentially they could shed some light but also they may start a bonfire that gets out of control. Leave the blogging to the domain experts and to some senior execs and keep the CEO focused on the stakeholders that pay the bills.