Yes and no, says Argenti. "It's naive to think these blogs are anything other than carefully planned communications. Because of regulation and the possibility of attacks from antagonists, companies can't be off the cuff in their communication." However, he adds, "it's a good thing that there's more communication from senior executives, because people don't want these folks sitting in an ivory tower."
Cease-fire? Some executives are more than happy to descend from the tower and engage in the kind of frankness--even controversy--that makes blogs compelling. Boeing's Baseler seems eager to demonstrate how Airbus's strategy misses the mark. And Sun's Schwartz, whose blog receives about 5,000 visits a day, never hesitates to point out where IBM, HP, or other tech companies are making strategic mistakes. In fact, one posting in August 2004 prompted HP to send Sun a cease-and-desist letter objecting to his blog statements. Schwartz's response? He posted a link to the letter on his blog but didn't change his statements.
Yet to earn credibility in the blog world, executive bloggers need to be able to take it as well as dish it out. That means allowing readers to post their own comments--positive and negative. And it means owning up to bad news about the company, at least obliquely. For example, although GM Vice Chairman Lutz hasn't directly alluded to GM's struggles with its stock price or its overall profitability, the company has at least nodded to its troubles. "There's no denying that we're going through some tough times right now," a GM executive wrote on May 5.
Executives launching blogs should also be prepared for a chilly initial reception on the Web. "We got negative comments from the guardians of the blogosphere, saying, 'You're a corporate hack. Turn your blog off,' " recalls Baseler. He was also chastised for not allowing readers to post their own comments on the blog--a blunder that Baseler says wasn't an attempt at spin control, just a lack of the right software, and which has now been fixed.
"It takes a little bit of a thick hide," he admits. His perseverance paid off, though: In June, his blog received 26,500 visits.
To avoid initial missteps, some companies turn to public-relations firms to advise them on blog strategy and sometimes to set up and maintain the technical aspects of the blog. Others rely on their in-house communications staff to post their entries. Both options allow executives to write entries on their BlackBerrys, E-mail them off, and be done with it. However they do it, every executive interviewed claimed to write his or her blog personally, with little or no editing from the public-relations staff.
"Every once in a while, I'll run it by someone if I'm worried about a nuance or legality," says Sun's Schwartz.
Still, "I don't think you'll see more than a handful of CEO s doing this at public companies," says Alan Meckler, chairman and CEO of Jupitermedia, whose blog on Internet trends gets about 5,000 page views a day. "There's so much litigation and it's so easy to get a lawsuit filed against a company or get the SEC involved."