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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2005, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
Why bosses blog - and why it's cheesy
Stephen Evans
By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

Men with computer
Too many executives talk shop while blogging

Can bosses blog?

They certainly think they can - or at least someone not far from corporate communications seem to think they can.

The list of boardroom bloggers is now long and distinguished: Bob Lutz, vice president of General Motors; Randy Baseler, vice president of Boeing's commercial aircraft division; Jonathan Schwartz, president of Sun Microsystems.

We should welcome the fresh new voices, shouldn't we?

Blogs are the medium for soul-baring and straight talking. They're readable because they're gossipy and dangerous and the antithesis of officialdom. They're the place where the unspeakable is spoken. They're the vehicle of loopiness and truth.

But just as you know something's not cool any more when your granny starts doing it (like using the word "cool"), isn't the point of blogs that they're meant to be the site of unofficialdom, and so forbidden to executives?

Corporate blogs

They don't think so.

How, then, do they do? How do they perform in this shadow land?

Here's a frank comment from Mr Baseler about one of Boeing's aircraft:

"For airlines looking at rising fuel and other operational costs, this airplane is a clear winner. I have to believe that a big part of the remarkable appeal of the 787 is its super-efficiency. Not to mention that passengers will love it".

Man with computer
Executive bloggers find it hard to build trust

Or this controversial comment from Mr Lutz of General Motors about one of his company's products:

"I am enthusiastic about the Buick Lacrosse," he confides. "It's wonderfully executed, has fabulous workmanship, is dead-quiet, and, with the sport suspension and the four-cam V-6, has sensationally good dynamics."

Or this, on a completely different tack, from Rich Marcello, one of Hewlett Packard's vice presidents:

"When in your life did you stop singing? When in your life did you stop dancing? When in your life did you stop being fascinated by stories, especially your own life story? And when did you stop being comfortable with the sweet territory of silence? Food for thought. Rich."

Which has to be better than regulation corporate speak (though the vice president of Hewlett Packard does take occasional swipes at rival IBM).

Some of the executive blogs do manage not to sound like press releases.

Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems uses geeky language in his blog, but then that's the business he's in. Of course, he doesn't slag off his own products, but you wouldn't expect him to, and he does engage in debate and revelation about the way he thinks the industry is going - and that's worth reading (if you can get past the jargon).

Cyberspace waste bin

Here's some advice to executives who want to blog:

Don't soft-soap your audience - they won't believe you and the blog loses credibility.

Mr Lutz of General Motors, for example, does not dwell on GM's sea of woes, and that undermines his blog. Employees can spot guff from a million miles, so don't use it.

That doesn't mean you can't blog.

Obviously, statements made by executives have legal and commercial implications, so steer away from areas you can't talk frankly about.

How you really do see the broad industry (or rock music, or the local road system, or the latest Star Wars, or the last Detroit Red Wings game) might well be worth airing.

Thoughts on how wonderful the new product is and how the management team have got it exactly right in all conceivable ways ought to go straight into the cyberspace waste bin.


What would it take for you to trust an executive blogger?

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The comments below reflect the balance of opinion received so far.

The only way one can really trust an executive blogger is by knowing whether or not the blog was constructed solely to promote the underlying company's bottom line.

Since no chief executive will admit such a thing, we're led to believe blogs are "pure fun". Yeah right. A blog is a source of PR and it doesn't matter whether it is good or bad; PR is PR. The advent of the blog is in my humble opinion a supplemental way to drive attention towards the company from which the blogger emanates. It's not rocket science.
Dan, USA , New York City

What would it take for me to trust an executive blogger? Selective use of the F word would do the trick; maybe even some truth. Yes, silly me.
Roland Inman, Ashburn, Virginia, USA

An executive blogger is an oxymoron. Any such manifestation is the product of the Sales Department.
Steve Saunders, London

Executives should try to keep corporate and sector detail out of blogs, we will never truly believe any of it. Tell us something personal, talk about something that interests you. Blogs can be dangerous, they have got people fired and are generally only true for the person who writes them while they are being written. They are all too easy to do these days and in the heat of the moment things that should not have be said are let loose on the web. Executive blogs are generally no more interesting than corporate memos, people read between the lines and dream up their own meaning. Bosses who let everyone know about the numerous and far flung holiday's they've been on merely confirm most people's belief that they earn far too much and don't do much to reward their workers, but nevertheless such blogs make for much more interesting reading.
Peter, Leeds, UK

What would it take for me to trust an executive blogger? Uhhmmmm. That would be his immediate sacking, beheading, career guillotination or check-in at the nearest Asylum.
Feroze Roman, London

Blogs are generally kept by either exhibitionists, people who have issues communicating on a personal basis or people trying to broadcast a particular message or set of messages. I suspect any corporate Bloggers are a combination of all three! Of course bosses know that their blogs will be read - they will be self-conscious when writing them - so everything on these corporate blogs will need to be taken with a shovel-full of salt
Steve Lockwood, Norwich, UK

Wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them.
Ian Leonard, Bracknell, Berkshire

Having read some of the here recommended executive blogs I totally trust that what they blog is what they believe, and isn't that what every blogger does? I would be worried if the Vice president of GM didn't believe in GM products. What would it take to make me read an executive blog? Stay clear of anything company related.
Christina, Hampshire

How can you trust the content of any blog, regardless of the author?
Martin, Halifax

What's there to trust? Aren't these blogs just another spin? If some fat cat corporate guy wants to seriously blog, then do it anonymously, and include bad stuff about your own company!
Dawn, London UK

Bosses are bosses and human. Let them have their say at times. It is only natural.
Firozali A. Mulla, Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania

If I was to read a blog from a chief executive, I would like to hear about what makes his or her blood boil. What really upsets them and then also something that makes them happy. Too often they are hidden behind the mechanical PR machine it would be nice to see some of the person showing up.
Ian, Rotherham, UK

My PR company advises execs on how best to set up and write a blog. Our golden rule? Relevance to the target audience. No one wants to read marketing puff and corporate windbagging, but a company's customers and prospects often value the knowledge and ideas of its leaders. Blogs are simply a medium of expression and, thanks to them being low-cost and utterly controllable, they're ideal for straight-to-the-point information sharing that's either difficult or expensive to achieve any other way.
James Ollerenshaw, London, UK

Big corporate leaders like myself didn't get where we are today on bullspit and moonshine. I trust my fellow high rollers' blogs implicitly as it is, why would the chief executive of a multinational globalised economic powerhouse lie? After all, it's not like we care what the plebs think anyway, they're just stepping stones to the heaven of $ucce$$ful bu$$inúss.
Johnny Corporate, Global, baby, global

If the executive names the company she works for then I don't trust her blog. She should be taking the same risks as the rest of us an posting anonymously, leaving us guessing which blue-chip company she represents.
Nick, Preston, Lancashire




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