Not every CEO should blog, but the ones who do should heed to lessons learned since the practice hit it big several years ago. The elusive question still remains, how do executives like Sun Microsystems' Jonathan Schwartz and Zappos' Tony Hsieh garner so much buzz with their blogs?
Of course there is no single formula – but there are ways CEOs can increase their chances for success that belie conventional wisdom. The first, a CEO's blog doesn't need to be representative of the entire company.
“You have to be a person and shouldn't even try to be the entire company,” says Leslie Farnsworth, CEO of FrogDog Communications. “[If you try to speak for the whole company], you'll be too general. You should be from the CEO's vantage point only.”
Farnsworth, who works with a medical director at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic to manage a blog on healthcare reform, says even though the CEO blog shouldn't represent the entire organization, it's smart to shape the content around a topic that it's associated with.
“If you're the CEO of GE, then you're a good person to write about best management practices,” Farnsworth explains.
But CEOs have the challenge of being looked to by various audiences for different purposes. While the blog can serve multiple audiences, Julie Freeman, president of the International Association of Business Communicators, recommends that CEOs decide whom their core audience is when shaping content for the blog.
“If your business is consumer facing, the CEO should use the blog to establish a dialogue and trust,” she says. “But if you're b-to-b, you might want to address industry concerns.”
CEOs shouldn't neglect their employees, as studies show employees yearn to have a stronger communications line with senior management, she adds.
Also, thanks to RSS feeds, time-crunched CEOs don't necessarily need to update their blogs with the frequency that was once assumed.
“Now when people get an alert that a blog has been updated, they can just scroll down and look at it,” Freeman says. “[Updating frequently] was more of an issue when readers had to go directly to the site and check it on their own.”
And blogging doesn't have to mean just writing. CEOs like Sun's Schwartz use video to dive into weighty topics that could fall flat in print. Schwartz conducted a four-part series on the evolution of the IT sector and Sun's corresponding journey.
“It would have been dense written out,” says Karen Kahn, VP of global communications at Sun. “But when explaining it as a narrative, it's interesting.”
Taking on ambitious endeavors has its risks. Schwartz, like many CEOs, has a tendency to sound professorial, Kahn says. It's the communications professionals' role to steer them back on course.
“He's so prolific, so we're always trying to shorten what he has to say,” Kahn adds.
Keep CEOs from being too verbose
Try to speak for the entire organization
Overwhelm CEOs with demands for unnecessarily frequent updates