It's enough to drive a PR guru to drink: The company president is writing a blog about corporate vision, the stock price, his vacation to Colorado, and his new golden retriever puppy. What will the shareholders think?
Sound far-fetched? Guess again. Some of the highest-ranking managers at companies like Sun Microsystems, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, and Boeing have entered the blogosphere, writing weekly or semimonthly entries in their online diaries. Any curious reader can learn why Sun's President and COO Jonathan Schwartz suffered two months of bad hair days (hint: Never let your 2-year-old's barber trim your ponytail). Or find out what Bob Lutz, vice chairman of global product development for General Motors, has been driving lately (preproduction models of the Pontiac Solstice and G6 Coupe, and a Hummer H3). You can read the thoughts of Randy Baseler, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, about why Airbus's strategy is dead wrong (come on Randy, tell us what you really think). And you can find out how all of these executives view important trends in their industry.
What's driving these busy executives to carve hours out of their busy week to cast their views into the sometimes hostile world of Web logs? Partly it's the appeal of a bully pulpit to promote their views, unfiltered by the media. Partly it's the desire to create a new kind of dialogue with customers, industry observers, and employees. And partly it's the hope of crafting a more human face and voice for the company.
High hopes, indeed. But can executive blogs really pull it off? Blogs, after all, are known for being spontaneous, raw, and controversial--while many corporate executives have spent their career being everything but. "In some respects," says Michael Smith, professor of communication at La Salle University in Philadelphia, "the image of an executive blogging is akin to the image of a portly person in a Speedo bathing suit--something doesn't quite fit."
Still, many executives are finding that the benefits of opening up outweigh the risks of too much exposure.
For Carole Brown, chair of the Chicago Transit Board, her blog offered a way to respond to public criticism over budget problems and service cuts that were under consideration. "The Chicago Tribune allowed readers to post comments online about what we were considering," she says. "I read all the comments and got frustrated that I couldn't respond to them." On her blog, launched in April, she's posted details about the organization's budget struggle, as well as topics of general interest to transit users--like why, after someone waits an hour at a bus stop, five almost empty buses show up at the same time. On its busiest days, she says her blog attracts as many as 1,000 visitors.
"When you talk to a reporter, they report what you say, but they have limited space and their own point of view," Brown says. But in her blog, "I don't have to be balanced. I can just tell people what I think."
In focus. Blogs also appeal to senior executives seeking to create a dialogue with readers. Most blogs allow users to post their own comments, offering feedback that doesn't exist with press releases or other communications. "It helps you fine-tune how you're going to use your messages," says Boeing's Baseler. "If we say it this way, do people understand, or will they look at us glassy-eyed? It gives you an idea how to shape your other communications."