In an earnest, but characteristically silly article of recent vintage, USA Today demanded to know why CEOs refuse to get “tangled up in messy blogs.” Given that 8.5 million people are now writing blogs somewhere on this planet, and given that many “outspoken” CEOs genuinely enjoy mixing it up with the competition, why is there not a single Fortune 1000 chairman or CEO regularly recording his or her thoughts on the Internet?
USA Today, which fulfills an informal vox populi, vox dei function in this society, advanced numerous theories as to why CEOs are reluctant to join the “Wild West” of the blogosphere. One reason: CEOs, generally Brahminish in disposition, don’t feel particularly comfortable in the Wild West. A more obvious deterrent to blabbing on the Net is the legal issue: Anything you type can be used against you, especially if the SEC gets its hands on it. Moreover, anything too “inside” could give competitors an advantage. Last, but not least, writing a blog takes time: A vice president at Boeing Commercial Airplanes told the paper that writing his blog sometimes eats up as much as two hours a day. But time is money. In the case of publicly traded companies, other people’s money. I hope he does this on his own dime.
Oddly enough, several seemingly obvious explanations for this high-level disinclination to blog were overlooked by the nation’s McPaper of McRecord. One is that a lot of CEOs can’t type. A second is that a lot of CEOs who can type don’t like to type. A third is that even when a faithful and fastidious amanuensis transcribes your bloggings from a Dictaphone, the net result is something that looks like it was typed. Or worse, dashed off.
When CEOs express their ex cathedra opinions, usually via talented ghostwriters, their comments have been reviewed by the finance department, fact-checked by the public relations department, vetted by the lawyers. Unfortunately, op-ed pieces that look like they’ve undergone a lot of editing are the very opposite of what a blog should be, because the entire purpose of blogs is to shoot from the hip. Yet, perhaps the single most important explanation for the refusal of CEOs to blog can be summed up in four words: CEOs have a life. If a CEO is doing his job properly, he doesn’t have time to spend preparing the type of glorified online diary that is associated most intimately with gas bags, blowhards, navel-gazers, crackpots, conspiracy theorists and lonely guys. CEOs are expected to make important decisions about products and policy, not to ramble, rhapsodize, rant, blue sky, build castles in the air, muse out loud or bloviate. That’s what bloggers are for.
Shareholders and management alike are justifiably incensed when high-profile CEOs spend too much time traveling, appearing on television, giving speeches or doing anything that does not pertain directly to the business at hand. CEOs are expected to be at the helm, guiding the ship, not socializing or hawking their ghostwritten memoirs.
A CEO who has the time, or even worse, the inclination, to blog has too much time on his hands. And that time belongs to the shareholders, not to him. True, CEO-written blogs could make for terrific reading. We’d all love to hear the unbuttoned digressions of Warren Buffet or Larry Ellison or Lee Scott or Michael Eisner when they’ve let their hair down at the end of the day. But CEOs, no matter how charismatic, how witty or how brilliant, were not put on Earth to provide entertainment for the rest of us. They were put here to maximize shareholder value. Full stop.
Much has been said about the threat posed to the media by bloggers, who bypass traditional communications channels and go directly to the public. But let us never forget that the United States of America is an emphatically capitalist society built on the notion that products and services are sold to the highest bidder, not given away. Stripped to the core, blogging is a charitable hobbyist’s activity, a public service offered to the public pro bono. But as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Donald Trump and even Matt Drudge will tell you, if you’re not getting paid for it, it’s probably not worth a whole lot. In this sense, encouraging CEOs to blog is like encouraging them to clean up the local lake or remove graffiti from public transportation. It’s a nice thought, but CEOs have better things to do. If you’re running a company and you have time to write a blog, maybe it’s time to find someone less chatty to run the company.