The View From Social Media: Should CEOs Have Personal Blogs?

In the fifth of a six-part series on boosting personal effectiveness, Chief Executive explores the realm of CEO blogging. Blogging can be an informal communication channel and encourage positive employee engagement. Is blogging right for you?

September 29 2011 by John Kador


Essentials: The fith of Chief Executive’s six-part series on boosting personal effectiveness

Part I: How To Use Your “New” CFO
Part II: Managing a CEO’s Scarcest Resource -Time
Part III: Transform Your Techie
Part IV: The View from Marketing: How to get the most from your CMO

Coming in future issues:
How to get the most from your HR chief

On January 12, 2010, Royal Caribbean International faced a public relations crisis. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, a popular destination for a number of the 22 cruise boats that Royal Caribbean operates. Should the company suspend its scheduled cruise-ship calls on Haiti’s private Labadee resort, which was undamaged on the island nation’s northern coast? Or should it continue its calls to Labadee, risking the perception that it was indifferent to human suffering?

Central to the cruise line’s crisis management strategy was a blog written by Royal Caribbean International’s president and CEO, Adam Goldstein. In it, Goldstein engaged with members of the media, customers and the public in advancing the message that the cruise line’s decision to continue making cruiseship calls, far from being motivated by greed or indifference, had humanitarian benefits.

In his blog, Goldstein noted not only that Haiti’s beleaguered government requested that the cruise line continue its calls, but also offload needed relief and medical supplies every time a boat landed. His central message: Royal Caribbean was a part of the solution. The CEO blog was repeatedly cited in news reports and some media outlets took one or more blog posts as the basis of news stories, significantly amplifying the impact of the blog, according to Goldstein.

Royal Caribbean’s strategy is to connect with its guests at as many levels as possible and that includes their relationship with the CEO. It’s not that Goldstein thinks his blog replaces a formal corporate communications infrastructure. “My blog offers the CEO an informal channel to communicate the company’s branding messages,” he notes. “While news releases are a necessary element of our communications, they are to my blog what formal wear is to business casual. The blog allows me to speak in a way that was not available to our brand 10 years ago. The blog is a unique tool for me to convey news, highlight the contributions of my colleagues to our business and provide insight into the varied aspects of my life and role as CEO.”

CEOs Who Blog

For CEOs who’ve been living in a cave for the last 10 years, a personal blog—short for web blog—is a frequently updated website of personal reflections, insights, news, musings and information, all dispensed in a direct and conversational style that invites discussion. A small but growing number of CEOs have decided it’s a good investment of time to share their thoughts about the trends and issues they face, ask questions that genuinely bewilder them and, to varying degrees, talk about their personal lives, hobbies and passions. In most cases, links to the CEO web sites are prominently featured on the corporate web site.

There’s not exactly a rush by executives to publish personal blogs. Chief Executive estimates that less than three percent of CEOs currently blog in any meaningful way. CEOs who choose not to blog usually say they do not understand the medium or don’t have the time. Others point to a handful of risks—from being quoted out of context to sparking controversy—which are very real. So if you don’t have a CEO blog, there’s no reason to feel left out. Yet a growing number of CEOs have started blogging (See “CEOs and Social Media”).

Tom Glocer, CEO of Thomson Reuters, started his blog because he was personally interested in social media and citizen journalism. There are basically two ways CEOs can learn about emerging technologies, he says. One way is to hire a consultant or commission a study. But Glocer preferred another approach: he decided to plunge in and learn it himself. “As I experimented, I found I liked blogging,” he says.

Like most CEOs, he occasionally writes internal memos to employees. But when he posted these same memos on his personal blog, Glocer was surprised by how the simple fact of posting them increased their exposure and credibility. More employees offered thoughtful comments than ever before. “I came to the conclusion that in the eyes of my associates, my memos have greater legitimacy because they are hanging out there for all of the world to see,” Glocer says. The blog earns added credibility because Glocer publishes all signed comments— positive and critical.

Glocer doesn’t believe every CEO is cut out to have a personal blog. He suggests CEOs ask themselves if they are comfortable writing their own staff announcements, news releases, etc. “If you find the act of writing short messages a burden, then you probably shouldn’t take on a blog because it will be painfully obvious to everyone that you’re not having fun.”

Blogs and Thought Leadership

The CEOs who take the plunge into blogging offer various reasons for doing so. Creating the opportunity to have informal conversations with customers, employees, partners and the media is a common motivation. Some CEOs target their blogs to get in front of a situation and appoint themselves thought leaders.

Sue Allon, CEO of Allonhill, a Denver-based provider of credit risk management services, started her blog to help establish her company’s reputation as a trusted independent party in the area of mortgage securitization due diligence. With her own name so identified with the company, building trust and a close association between the company and her personal brand became the strategic goal of her blog.

Her CEO blog has delivered benefits both externally and internally, according to Allon. “As an external recruiting tool, the blog has been stunningly effective,” she says, adding “we recently hired a top-notch COO who reached out to us after reading the blog. The company found a candidate tightly aligned with Allonhill’s values and saved a hefty executive recruiting company fee in the bargain.

Much of what Allon blogs on is focused on Allonhill’s organizational culture, which she considers critical to building the company’s reputation for diligence and integrity. “A recent survey determined that more than 95 percent of employees could articulate the corporate mission,” she says, a level of engagement few companies can match. “One way I know that our analysts are going to do their job properly is to have confidence that they buy into our mission.”

“While news releases are a necessary element of our communications, they are to my blog what formal wear is to business casual.”

Penny Herscher, CEO of FirstRain, is fearless in mixing the personal with the professional in her blog, “The Grassy Road: A CEO at Work and Play in Silicon Valley and Beyond.” Based in San Mateo, Calif., FirstRain is a business intelligence monitoring company that helps executives ensure that they never miss critical events impacting their business. In her blog, Herscher recently mused about kite flying on Maui and company picnics, in addition to offering practical advice on how to run a board meeting and implementing a new vacation policy.

“It’s beneficial for potential customers, partners and associates to have a good sense of who I am, and to understand my thinking and the culture of FirstRain,” says Herscher, who gets up at each day at 5 a.m. to blog. The payoff? Negotiations with potential customers often become easier, she reports. “The blog creates a level of intimacy in negotiations that the customer controls if they choose to bring up a recent blog post.”

For the next several years, blogging is unlikely to be included in the job description of most executives. For now, CEO blogging is entirely optional, a nice-to-have supplemental channel for communicating with internal and external audiences, undertaken exclusively because individual CEOs sense its power. It’s like a high-wire circus act: With proper training, the risks are manageable but the impact is huge.

But CEOs take note: as social media becomes more integrated with traditional communications and reporting structures, blogging (in whatever form the rapidly evolving technology develops) will become more indispensable. The question, then, is whether there an advantage to starting a blog sooner rather than later?

Action Steps to Starting a CEO Blog

  • Identifying your audience
  • Be interesting and blog frequently
  • Think before you post
  • Start with an introductory statement of your blogging goals

CEO Online Exclusives

Here are some additional articles on effective blogging for CEOs: