Whitespace: The blogging future of CEOs

Issue 40: August 2008

User generated online content is growing, and growing fast. In a trend that’s also occurring locally, recent estimates suggest as many as 60 per cent of Americans create new media content in the form of blogs, Facebook pages or Linked In profiles, to name just a few options.

Is there a place for CEOs in this so-called Web 2.0 world? Most definitely, according to a chorus of new media commentators who claim a well-written, regularly updated blog is a powerful communications tool no chief executive should be without.

The business of blogging

Corporate blogging advocates say CEO blogs work best when they provide an insider’s view of an organisation and engage with consumers on what feels like a peer-to-peer level. But blogging isn’t just about the end-consumer; it’s also an opportunity to engage with journalists, investors, future employees and suppliers.

Blogging can be particularly handy for networking. Googling the name of a new business contact and researching their background before a face-to-face meeting is now a common practice… giving people a series of interesting blog postings to read can result in numerous icebreakers and help new contacts better understand your goals.

The writing process itself is a good opportunity for CEOs to crystallise their thoughts. And because of its more conversational style blogging is often a more palatable way for leaders to communicate a company’s direction to staff as well as an opportunity to receive feedback.

The relatively low cost of blogging is another advantage. In terms of branding, a blog can build engagement and goodwill at a fraction of the price of a mainstream advertising campaign. Blogs also help in the area of search engine optimisation: quite simply, the more you blog the more chance you have of turning up in search engines.

While ROI might be difficult to measure precisely, some businesses have found a direct link between CEO blogging and sales figures. For instance, Marriott CEO Bill Marriott claims his popular web presence has generated US$4 million in hotel bookings.

But CEO blogs aren’t just for large companies. According to Consumer-generatedmedia.com author Pete Blackshaw blogs are emerging as valuable tools for smaller enterprises. Blackshaw says blogs give SME owners the ability to community directly with disgruntled customers before they head off to one of many influential (read: damaging) SME complaints sites.

Avoiding the Web 2.0 traps

Before you start blogging there are a few potential pitfalls to consider. The first possible mistake is falling into the trap of rehashing media releases or indulging in hackneyed corporate-speak. Blogging is a new medium that requires a new approach. Good corporate blogs are conversational not constrained, candid not cagey.

Blog experts warn against publishing ‘ghost written’ posts, as it is highly likely a lack of CEO input will be discovered. It is, however, completely appropriate to have your blog edited by a professional. Not all CEOs are skilled writers; a little spit and polish is usually all that’s required to turn your ideas into an engaging read.

Another challenge is finding the time to blog. Although being time poor isn’t stopping a growing number of CEOs from entering the blogsphere and building a solid readership in the process. The following blogs – taken from The New PR Wiki’s‘ Best of CEO Blogs List’ – show how it’s done:

Jonathon Schwartz – Sun Microsystems
• Robert Scoble– PodTech
• Mark Cuban– Dallas Mavericks
• Rohit Bhargava– Ogilvy PR
• David Sifry –Technorati

The local blog scene

When it comes to blogging it appears corporate Australia is well and truly behind the curve. The New PR Wiki’s international listing of CEO blogs includes just lonely one Australian blogger. However, this lack of interest suggests an opportunity for Australia’s senior executives to enter the fray and build a reputation locally as a Web 2.0 trailblazer. Being the first to gain a loyal following could see your blog at the top of thousands, perhaps even millions, of readers’ blogrolls in no time.

Tips for CEO blogging

• Be relevant – choose topics your audience will finding interesting
• Reflect yourself – write in a way that your shows personality
• Get interactive – foster conversations with your readers
• Offer advice – package what you write: e.g. 10 tips, five rules, etc
• Go places – add links to your blog that extend the narrative
• Write for the web – keep it short and sweet
• Think about SEO – use key words that will come up in Google searches
• Keep on posting – blog regularly, at least once a week
• Don’t be boring – take calculated risks with content topics
• Enjoy yourself – your attitude will show in your writing

Tips inspired by Debbie Weil, author of The Corporate Blogging Book

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The Australian Institute of Management's Whitespace discusses emerging business trends, and represents a 'space to think of the future'. Register now to have this monthly feature emailed to you.