Web Strategy: The many Challenges of Writing a CEO blog

So often do I meet clients that instantly want to check off the “CEO Blog” inventory for their marketing mix, little do they realize that the CEO blog may be the most difficult to create an maintain, and will likely be under the most scrutiny of any other employee. I’ve met and worked with many Fortune 5000 companies on the topic of social media, and think it’s time to release this list of reasons why CEO blogs are so difficult.

I know many CEOs that blog, and I hope they chime in and perhaps share what they’ve done to overcome these challenges.

The Many Challenges of Writing a CEO blog:
While not every CEO blog will be afflicted with the following, here are of the common diseases I’ve seen.

Time
Probally the biggest challenges that all CEOs have are the limited amount of cycles they can spend on communicating. As we know blogs are conversational tools, they are not press releases or memos, they often require dialog, reading responses, even if you don’t have comments enabled. Blogs that don’t abide by rules simply become irrelevant.

Legal Scrutiny
John Schwartz, CEO blogger of Sun has his legal team read and watch his blog, he often is recommended to add safe-harbor provision, boilerplate statements to prevent from lawsuits. With increased legal eagle monitoring and the potential of saying something that could backfire, the CEO blogger has to be very careful in what they say, and may not be able to give strong opinion.

Not Authentic
Large companies (and some small ones) are afraid to make mistakes, I’ve heard of a few cases where the CEO blog was started by the CEO then handed over to the communications group to write. Although these things are absolutely traceable and timing can be watched, we’ve got to wonder what’s the point of maintaining this blog, perhaps the team should pour the efforts into another tool.

Abandonment

Clare Hart was Factiva’s former CEO and active blogger. She reached out to me when I talked about her product (I was a customer) and has since moved on to a bigger position at Dow Jones. Sadly, her blog is now a ghostly figure, I’ve been up close for this too as there are Hitachi blogs that have been left unattended too.

See, I’m cool too
Far too often, I hear tacticians (not strategists) suggest they want a tool without realizing the business reason to use it, it’s possible they saw this list of CEO blogs, saw a competitor doing it, or just decided to jump on the bandwagon. Coupled with the need for image freshening; for some CEOs, they may want to shed the yacht club reputation and have realized a great way to tap into the latest trend is to join the conversations of customers. Deploying these tools to join the ‘cool’ revolution is never a great idea, people see through it way too quickly.

The Party Line/Rogue Blogger
This has to be one of the worst diseases of CEO blogs, when you see a CEO announce his own product, shout out the marketing line, in an attempt to boost the latest release. While we love enthusiasm for one’s passion, when it comes from the chief, deep down, we filter out some of the hype. On the flip side, a rogue CEO blogger who speaks his mind and shares his beliefs that the corporation may not agree with could potentially damage deals and client relationships, a true PR nightmare.

Should be doing other things?
Shareholders and disgruntled employees may not understand the benefits of communication tools and may be asking themselves and others; “Shouldn’t the CEO be doing something else besides blogging? Like running the company?” While the strategic CEO blogger incorporates these tools for internal and shareholder communications, when things go south, criticism will go up.

Long term commitment
Many bloggers, CEO or not, fail to realize there is only one exit strategy from blogging, and that is you stop. Unless the return on investment is clear, if blogging becomes a task and not a passion, the dreariness will also cascade into the writing.

Boring
Last and worst, many CEO blogs are carefully written, sometimes reviewed, edited or polished, thus removing the humanness that we know. Often, CEOs are media trained not to say things that will be used against them in public or private. The world, as I know it, is not polished, but rough, bumpy, and I’m ok with that. Often, the job of Corporate Communications is to remove any jagged edges, thus removing the humanity of a natural human blog.


Keeping it Real

Please don’t think I’m down on blogging, in fact, I’m one of the biggest advocates of joining the conversation. I really want you to think about the ramifications of CEO blogs before you start, this post is intended to help you. If you’re wanting to think about other tools, I’ve often though video is great for executives.

Talk Back

If you’re still inclined, be sure to respond to me from your own blog or in the comments on 1) the benefits of CEO blogs and 2) how to overcome these challenges.

For more info on business blogs, read Shel Israel Co-author of Naked Conversations, Debbie Weil author of Corporate Blogging, and the Business Blogging Summit. Alternatively, I give advice to clients, my contact info is public.

Update: Seth gives a few requirements for CEO blogs.

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  • http://uxbeyond.blogspot.com deziner

    Great arguments. I think part of the reason companies gravitate to the CEO blog as their first toe in the water so to speak is the constant information push about how “easy” blogging is. Helping clients understand that there needs to be as much dedication to a blog undertaking as anything else is often in conflict with what they have “heard.”

  • http://feeds.feedburner.com/personalbrandingblog Dan Schawbel

    Great list here. I’m glad time commitment made it to the first spot. I think customers or users trust information that comes from the bottom rather than the top. Would you rather hear about a product by the engineer that developed it or by a CEO that overlooks 1,000′s of products?

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  • http://bernaisesource.blog.com Dan Greenfield

    Good post —
    A while back http://bernaisesource.blog.com/1504872/
    I posted my top ten reasons why CEOs should not blog:

    10: Your CEO heads up a start-up and wants more people to pay attention to his or her company.

    9: Your CEO heads up a Fortune 500 company but wants to stand out from the pack.

    8: Your CEO thinks he or she should because his or her employees are blogging.

    7: Your CEO thinks blogging is less expensive than hiring professional PR and marketing teams.

    6: Your CEO does not have the time to write his or her own postings.

    5: Your CEO is not a good writer.

    4: Your CEO is not comfortable with candid feedback or criticism.

    3: Other CEOs are blogging, and he or she doesn’t want to cede a competitive advantage.

    2: Other CEOs aren’t blogging and he or she wants a competitive advantage.

    1: Your CEO thinks he or she should.

    CEOs need to realize that there are many ways for them to participate in social media. A CEO blog is only one of them.

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Dan, good additions.

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  • http://geekmommy.wordpress.com GeekMommy

    Wow.
    You know, from a non-CEO perspective, this list has a lot of insight.
    I would think any company considering having a CEO blog should consider these points carefully.

    One of the things that occurs to me when I see a high-level executive blogging is how hard it must be for them to find a balance between providing interesting content and coming across as yet another Sales cheerleader. Obviously, a CEO has to be vested in the success of his/her company – but pushing it too far comes across as disingenuous.

    It’s not a task I would want to take on – unless the blog were more of an industry-centered commentary rather than a specific-to-my-company focus.

    Whatever the case, fabulous list Jeremiah!

  • http://www.deirdrebreakenridge.com Deirdre

    Jeremiah, I think you have some very valid points about why CEO’s and their legal and/or communications teams may want to really think about the CEO blog. Your advice is good but it still makes me very leary about the topic. I’m all for higher ups blogging, but when it comes to the CEO, I’m still on the fence. Can you give me some of your personal favorites (CEO blogs) that you think are excellent communication vehicles and add value to an organization (other than than Sun, Cisco and BMC).

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Deirdre

    Charlene Li did a formal report, and calculated a positive ROI on GM’s fast lane blogs, it was a success.

    Also, many startup CEOs are using blogs as a great way to respond to the marketplace in quick manner, it’s effective for a smaller organization that has few communication resources. My former boss John Furrier at PodTech was a regular blogger, and it was helpful for me to see what he was thinking (or what he was missing, so I could go over and remind him)

    The challenge with many startup CEO blogs is that they tend to pitch their products (I guess CEOs of any company are prone to that) so you have to put your filter on when reading.

  • http://www.deirdrebreakenridge.com Deirdre

    Jeremiah, thanks. I will check out Charlene Li’s formal report and John Furrier. I agree with you that many CEO’s use a blog as a marketing forum. You’ve been very helpful.

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  • http://www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

    I think this is a great post with a lot of valuable insight for CEOs considering adding blogging to their agenda. I authored a post a while back entitled “Why N2growth Blogs” which states the logic behind my blogging initiative. If you’re interested it can be viewed here http://www.n2growth.com/blog/why-n2growth-blogs

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