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What should the CEO blog about… or not?

21 September 2006 3 Comments

Talk about opening a can of worms with the first two questions on the theme of this week's discussion: Should the CEO blog?

1. Is it OK to ghostwrite a CEO blog?

2. Should a ghostblogger for a CEO reveal him or herself?

Suffice it say that there does *not* appear to be agreement on these two questions. The writer/copywriter types generally weigh in on the side of, “Of course it's OK to ghostblog; that's what executive speechwriters do.” Those who are not writers, per se, but who work in a corporate environment (see comments here) disagree. If the CEO doesn't write it, they say, then it ain't a CEO blog.

I tend to agree with the later. But am willing to stake out a middle ground where the CEO gets editing help. How “heavy” that editing is gets stickier…

Question #3: What should the CEO blog about… or not?

Let's get the obvious out of the way. What can't CEOs and other senior execs blog about?

- proprietary company information (which could range from new products or strategies to competitive intelligence to water cooler gossip)

- financial information (forward-looking statements, anything the SEC would frown on)

- anything he/she doesn't want to reveal

With that out of the way.

The topic/style of a CEO's blog seems to be driven by the CEO's personality, writing ability, size of the company and nature of the business. Some of the best CEO bloggers, so far, run privately-held companies. Their approach seems to be I'll write about whatever the hell I want to – it's my company and my brand dammit.

Private Company CEO Bloggers

GoDaddy founder/CEO and blogger Bob Parsons is deliberately provocative. He likes to circumvent the media by telling his side of things (about GoDaddy's rejected Superbowl ad, for example). Doesn't mind being politically incorrect (see my interview with Bob shortly after he blogged about the use of torture in U.S. interrogation techniques). And is happy to tell us about the newest Go Daddy Girl (“sexy, hot and blazing fast”). Clever blog title as (well sex always sells, right?) it attracts readers and Danica Patrick is in fact an Indy car racer .

He also writes about business. A recent entry is a long and detailed explanation of why Go Daddy withdrew its IPO filing.

As to whether Bob actually writes all this stuff himself, I have no idea. He told me he did (that was over a year ago). But his blog postings seem to have slowed down a lot since then. Anyway, his blog is fun to read, well written and he often gets hundreds of comments in response.

So there's one side of the scale for a CEO blogger.

Also in this category is Alan Meckler, CEO of Jupitermedia and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks.

Zane Safrit, CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited, and one of my favorite CEO bloggers, probably also fits in this category. Zane isn't outrageous but his postings are always thoughtful. He writes about a bunch of stuff that interests him from current events and health care policy to the challenges of running a small young company and things that make him laugh. His blog has a new tagline which is spot on: Thoughts from running a small company in a rapidly changing industry.

Public Company CEO Bloggers

At the other end of the spectrum are public company CEO blogs. There are fewer of them. The worst is probably Whole Foods' John Mackey. His last blog entry, as of this writing, is dated June 26, 2006. The best, hands down, is Sun Microsystem's Jonathan Schwartz (the first Fortune 500 CEO blogger). He's a terrific writer with a light touch and seems to have an uncanny knack for taking really techie stuff and turning it into something meaningful for us non-geeks. From a recent entry:

“As I mentioned, Thumper (sorry, the x4500) is built atop a 2 socket
Galaxy server, it leverages Solaris/ZFS (but doesn't require it -
Thumper runs Microsoft SQL Server quite well, too), and has 24
terabytes of serial ATA disk inside. So it's part server, part
application platform, and part storage product.”

Huh?

But then he writes:

Customers pay only one price, but in the pursuit of transparency, how
should we categorize the revenue? – as server, storage or software
product? It obviously contains all three. Going forward… The more we
open up, the more you'll see we're built from common components and
infrastructure – which complicates answering the question, “how much
revenue do you generate from x, y, z.”

More later but please dive in and add your two cents (or more) on what CEOs should blog about – or not – and why.

3 Comments »

  • Anonymous said:

    IMO it would be inappropriate for a CEO to write any posts that single out an employee. A CEO can write about a department or a group, but to write about a particular person or employee would be either showing favortism or the opposite. Keep the posts about business and any personal things shold only be about the CEO himself.

  • Anonymous said:

    Debbie–Nice segue from polemics to instruction. And good intro to why and what in the world a CEO should blog.
    Maybe CEO bloggers or bloggers in training should take a look at their own company newsletters. The same kind of stories that would fit a newsletter could be material for a blog. Just less formal and more shmoozy.
    Morty

  • Anonymous said:

    Debbie,
    Fabulous work on this post — good blog examples, good analysis, keen understanding of the real rules. By which I mean, the real rules are those set by governments or corporate policy. There's blog etiquette, but it's loose and not likely to lead to legislation.
    I'd like to thank you, Debbie, for leading our discussion this week. For those who have not yet purchased Debbie Weil's new guide, “The Corporate Blogging Book” (Penguin-Portfolio), maybe the review written by IAOC President Don Dunnington will help convince you of its merits:
    http://www.powderandbulk.com/blog/archives/2006/09/the_best_new_gu.shtml
    You can find Debbie's book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and 800CEORead.com
    I think you will gradually see CEOs blogging as a way of giving marching orders to the executive team. People will need to log into the blog to keep up to date on schedule changes, breaking news, and progress reports. CEOs will use blogs to publicly hash out issues among an authorized group of participants. For example, it is often more efficient for all of us at IAOC to communicate with each other through the blog rather than private e-mail.
    I don't think CEOs will be comfortable with the amount of transparency headed their way. If it is, indeed, more efficient to do your decision-making in public rather than in private, an uncomfortable level of transparency is inevitable.
    Thanks for a Stimulating Week,
    STEVE O'KEEFE

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