CEOs: Blog or Die

Tim Dyson. David Geller. Anne Stanton. These are three of the most recent CEOs to begin expressing their opinions in Web journals, a.k.a. blogs. Not exactly household names. If the blogosphere is so hot, and joining it so important, the silence of the high-profile CEO is telling. But telling us what?

First off, it’s telling us that only CEOs who are comfortable with (a) technology and (b) speaking out are joining digital conversations with the world at large.

If you look at the list of business leaders who have begun posting, you might think these bloggers come from two lines of work. They are heads of technology companies, disposed to use and evangelize new forms of digital processing; and public relations companies, with a vested interest in teaching existing or potential clients, a.k.a. corporations, how to get messages out.

The big news will be when a CEO such as Lee Scott at Wal-Mart or Rick Wagoner at General Motors begins to blog.

These are CEOs of companies that have a fundamental effect on lives and economies everywhere. They are CEOs who, IMHO, need this no-cost, readily accessible and universal means of communicating directly, heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind, with customers and other constituencies they must convince of the rightness of what they are doing.

The same can be said for CEOs of any company of any size that matters. Or wants to maintain or grow market share and profits. (Could your company be one of those?)

This is the first time in the progress onward from the Gutenberg press that every head of a corporation has the chance to interact every day with every part of every market he or she deals with. Whether he or she leads the commentary, sets the agenda and shapes opinion—or leaves those tasks to someone else—is up to each CEO. Who do you want in charge of public opinion? Lawyers? Regulators? Disgruntled employees or customers?

Learning to blog may not be enough. Steinert-Threlkeld warns CEOs they may have to be prepared to resign as well.

The precedent for CEOs to step to the mike has been set in the other medium that reaches every American every day: broadcast television. Remember Victor Kiam, picking up the image of Remington razors by famously saying he was so impressed with the one he purchased that he bought the company? Or Lee Iacocca, who saved Chrysler in the early ’80s and made an on-air campaign for his company’s products a central part of the rescue?

Of course, television is a one-way medium. You speak. Others listen. You don’t have to deal with feedback around the clock.

Well, Michael Dell has made a fortune dealing with feedback around the clock. Every comment about his products that comes across the transom, by phone or computer, he feeds into refining what he does.

Do you think this man, who just turned 40, handles all the feedback himself? No. He has set up his organization to do it.

A confident CEO can and should regard a blog as an opportunity akin to television, but with the benefit of backtalk. And that backtalk can be scanned, summarized and focused by staff, if need be.

You can find all the reasons why CEO blogs shouldn’t exist, succinctly stated by viral marketing guru Seth Godin.

But look around you. If you faced the kinds of labor and economy-wrecking charges that Lee Scott does, don’t you think you could and should find a half-hour once a week to set the record straight? And another half-hour a week to post your own agenda? If you’re trying to convince customers that your products really do match up with those made by the Japanese and Germans—or that they’re better—don’t you think Rick Wagoner ought to be getting the message across in a steady drumbeat? And dealing with the direct experience and perceptions of customers, instead of just the filter of formalized statistical “market research”?

Time is not the issue. You devote your time to what matters. If your business matters, sooner or later you’re going to be either defending it or going on the offensive. Where the conversation takes place.

Your choice.