But whom, exactly, are you reaching? "I have no idea," says Richard Edelman, president and CEO of public-relations firm Edelman, regarding the readership of his own blog on industry trends. While most executive bloggers can tell you how many page views they receive (Edelman's blog draws about 6,500 visits a month), few can tell you who's actually reading the online musings.
It's probably not the general public: Only 27 percent of Internet users read blogs (and only 38 percent of Internet users even know what a blog is), according to a 2004 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. But based on comments posted to their blogs, most executive bloggers conclude their audience is a mix of industry insiders--customers, industry analysts, journalists, employees, and competitors.
"Blog readers are a small but very influential group of people," says Mark Hass, CEO of public-relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee. The firm's BlogWorks unit launched and maintains the technical aspects of FastLane, GM's executive blog where Lutz and other executives post their Web journals.
Whoever the other readers may be, it's a safe bet that employees are perusing their boss's online entries. And that can make blogs a valuable management tool.
At Intel, CEO and President Paul Otellini writes about company initiatives, new accounts, and other news on an internal blog available to Intel's 80,000 employees. And at HP, Rich Marcello, senior vice president and general manager of business-critical servers, views his public blog as a way to promote a whole new style of management.
"A lot of the traditional Management 101 you might have read 10 years ago doesn't apply anymore," he says. "It's much more about leading in a way that's a good balance between who you are as a person and what you're doing at work, showing that you're just as comfortable dealing with poetry as with profit and loss."
Marcello's blog, launched in December, includes entries that are all business--celebrating a good quarterly result or the completion of an important project. But some are far more philosophical musings on management style. And some, like a poem he wrote about his late father for his Father's Day posting, are strictly personal.
Marcello feels his frank and wide-ranging blog, which had drawn 32,000 visits as of May, ultimately promotes better relationships between managers and employees: "In traditional management, the boss knows stuff and the employees don't. I'm trying to say, 'Hey, you can see it all.' "
Promoting a new sense of openness--whether with employees, customers, or the public--is one of the most important things that blogs can accomplish in this age of mistrust. "What people think about businesses right now couldn't be any worse. As a result, you want to be as open and honest as you can," says Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.
But for all the advantages that executive blogs may offer, they still pose daunting questions for corporations. One of the most critical: Can executives, ever cognizant of the need for discretion, really sound credible in the raw, straight-talking world of blogs?