How to Make a Great Executive Blog

By Jack Santos  |  Posted 2008-03-21

Most senior executives know success does not hinge on having an excellent grasp of technology or even knowledge of top-notch strategy. Success relies on clear, consistent and frequent communication. Blogs are among the fastest growing forms of both mass and targeted messaging.

For teenagers, news reporters, authors, and Internet-addicted surfers with time to burn, blogs have become a cornerstone for staying in touch. While some executives have fully committed themselves to blogging, such as Sun Microsystems’ CEO Jonathan Schwartz, only a handful of executives at large corporations have publicly dipped their toes into the blogosphere.

Blogs are not a “build it and they will come” messaging vehicle. They take commitment, authenticity, and time to cultivate into a respected communications conduit. Executives that have unlocked the secret of blogging are enjoying tangible success in using the medium to communicate to employees and customers, market products and express their points of view. When it works well, executive blogs can be a form of advertising that talks with your target audience, not at them like traditional advertising.

The Burton Group’s review of executive blogs exhibits a body of offerings in various stages of repair. Many executive blogs are active, vibrant places for ideas and dialogue; many are also no longer available, or exhibit a long, slow descent into irrelevance as the result of not having been updated. Quite a few, unfortunately, are obvious products of public relations or marketing ghost writers.

Who are the most successful executive bloggers? The Burton Group evaluated 53 executive blogs from a variety of industries and disciplines for examples of blogging success. These bloggers take the time to write personable missives that easily convey copious amounts of information, keep their blogs up to date, and leverage their feedback forums for two-way communications.

The most impressive executive blogger we reviewed is Mark Cuban, owner and CEO of the Dallas Mavericks and former dot-com revolutionary. His CEO blog spans many topics—from management strategies for the Mavericks, the state of the sports industry, personal philosophy and concerns about politics. Cuban’s blog reflects the best of ad-hoc blogging; it’s direct, provocative, soap-boxish, and generates a wealth of comments (some of which Cuban replies to directly). That said, it may be too informal for the average executive, and reflects Cuban’s style—brash and no holds barred. 

Cuban, a tech entrepreneur turned celebrity, is not a typical executive blogger. For more conventional executive blogs, Paul Levy’s tops the list. The president and CEO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center uses his blog to engage his constituency—he relates equally well to employees, the general public, and to physicians and medical staff. There is no question about what is on Levy’s mind, or where he stands on certain issues. He masterfully uses the blog forum to set a sense of mission and purpose for the hospital, but in an informal and personable way.

Are there potential pitfalls to blogging by the CEO? Yes there are.  Take the case of Whole Foods CEO’s blog.  John Mackey’s blog ends with an entry in July of 2007; it was at that point that the government launched an investigation into Mr. Mackey’s other Internet activities in which he anonymously made comments about the company; as a result, his blog was also carefully scrutinized. To date no action has been taken. Mr. Mackey apologized to shareholders for his anonymous comments in other Internet media.

Finally, no discussion of executive blogs would be complete without mention of the blog of Bill Marriott, chairman and CEO of Marriott International. His blog entries are entertaining and on-point—focused on the Marriott brand and reputation. It significantly encourages brand loyalty—and it works.

The entries are dictated (audio file is available), then enhanced with pictures. There is not much that is provocative, and no real dialogue with responses—but there are plenty of responses, which are monitored and edited. Marriott’s approach works for the global hotel company, and should be considered by other retail/consumer companies that wish to establish and retain consumer loyalty. In this particular case, there is a direct tie to revenue, because blog readers are inclined to be higher value customers for Marriott than non-blog readers, per Marriott's in-house research.

If you are a senior executive that would like to stand out from among the crowd, engage your target constituency (whether customer or employee), and find effective ways to communicate company direction and philosophy, blogging is definitely an option worth considering.

Making a commitment to blogging requires rigor to ensure that regular, timely updates are made and that a process exists for reviewing and monitoring comments. You also have to be comfortable writing and reviewing your entries—or install a review process, while making sure that the thoughts and writing reflect your personality. The best blogs also allow for interaction with comments. Although this can be the dark side of blogging for an executive, the occasional attention paid to an exemplary response would earn many future benefits for you and your blog.

The nature of blogging makes it a perfect enhancement or replacement for internal company newsletters, or the convivial CEO newsletter that is the hallmark of many a company catalog or customer newsletter.

Some simple recommendations as a result of this review:
•    Write from the heart, on topics that interest you. It comes through.
•    Create entries on a regular, scheduled basis.
•    Promote your blog through other means—internally to staff, or externally via news releases or other Internet media. Use traditional (“Enterprise 0.0”) technologies (newsletters, customer letters) to promote the blog.
•    Engage your audience. Depending on time and interest, respond to exemplary comments if possible.
•    Most of all: keep it simple. Shakespeare wasn’t a CEO.

The effective executive will take advantage of blogs to communicate messages to appropriate audiences. When done well, the potential for success is enormous.

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Top Blogs Identified by Burton Group Research


Jack Santos is CIO Executive Strategist with The Burton Group’s Executive Advisory Service, a Utah-based technology analysts firm, and a former CIO of several large enterprises.