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Top 10 Dumb Excuses for CEOs Not to Be Leaders in the Social Web

By on Jan 21, 2008 Editor's Pick 10 Comments

By now, everyone within reach of a newspaper or web site has heard about the rise of the social web. You might have heard other terms used, like “Web 2.0,” “social networking” or “consumer-generated media.”

Millions of people are now using the social web to spout off on every topic you can imagine—and some you’d rather not imagine. Or to build networks of hundreds or thousands of “friends” and share photos and videos with them. Or to read and exchange information about what they like, or don’t, about all kinds of products and services, from books to restaurants.

These are exciting times for the many newly empowered people. Yet most of what’s been going on has passed CEOs right on by. Solid statistics are hard to come by, yet it seems that few CEOs are personally spending their time on the social web, especially when the subject turns to blogging in larger corporations. Just try to find them!

If your business is struggling or you are newly in charge, blogging could be just the ticket to help you communicate your turnaround plans with all stakeholders.

If you’re one of those who are staying on the sidelines during this most important phenomenon, you’re missing a unique opportunity to engage on a personal level with all your stakeholders: customers, employees and partners. So what are your reasons for not personally diving into the rapidly rising and swirling social web waters?

Whatever they are, in the following 10 points I’ll explain why these imagined obstacles are really just poor excuses for not leading this revolution.

Excuse No. 10: You don’t have enough time.
Seriously, would you accept this excuse from one of your employees? Last I checked, everyone has the same number of hours in the day. It’s all in how you decide to use them. So, what you’re really saying is that the social web is not important enough (yet) for you to invest your time in it. But consider this: Some very busy CEOs are blogging regularly, like Bill Marriott of Marriott International. You can, too.

Excuse No. 9: You don’t know what to write about.
If this is your excuse, then I have an idea of what you could write, instead: your résumé. As a captain of industry, you’re called upon to communicate frequently, to everyone from employees to shareholders to conference attendees. What are you discussing with them? Blogging is a good way to reinforce some of things you’re already talking about, except that, unlike typical one-way pitches, you can really engage with people. Quick tip: Get a blank sheet of paper and write down 10 topics that you are personally passionate about. That’s your blogging plan for the year. If you’re really stuck for ideas, then ask your readers periodically what they’d like you to blog about.

Excuse No. 8: You don’t like criticism and negative comments.
Who does? Yet we all have relationships with family, friends and colleagues, where feedback is par for the course. Leadership is not just about telling, it’s also about engaging with others. If you run a big company, there’s a very good chance that some of the bad news you should be hearing is being filtered by middle management. Would you rather hear about it on a “Dell Hell“-like blog posting that hits CNN or in comments on your own blog? One way or another, customers will have their say on the social web. As a last resort, you could consider starting your blog with comments disabled, but I don’t recommend it. That’s like saying “no comment” to the media, which just means that bloggers will comment on your not allowing comments. You don’t want that.

Excuse No. 7: Web 2.0 technology is immature, so it’s better to wait.
Maybe your CIO has been whispering in your ear that this new-fangled “Web 2.0″ is not ready for prime time. Not true. Major software vendors like Oracle and SAP are introducing collaborative features into their software suites. As I mentioned in Web 2.0 Powers Up People, my recap of a 2007 Web 2.0 conference, well-known technology brands like Adobe, AOL, IBM, Intel, salesforce.com and WebEx are embracing Web 2.0 concepts and providing more integrated solutions. And there are many other market-proven solutions that provide great function and ease-of-use, at a low cost.

Excuse No. 6: The chief marketing officer should be the one blogging, to promote your company.
If you really believe this, then for heaven’s sake, don’t blog. (And tell the CMO not to blog, either.) By promoting only the company line, you’ll do more damage than good. But it’s still a dumb excuse because marketing is not just about promoting. Anything a business does helps to build a brand and is, therefore, part of its marketing efforts. Your open and transparent communications could help create a more positive and authentic image about your company. That’s marketing without marketing, if you catch my drift.

Excuse No. 5: Your writing style makes the dictionary seem entertaining.
Hmm. Thought you had me on this one, didn’t you? Well, it’s true that, if you can’t write so good … er … well, then your blog won’t be a big hit. But before you give up, take a look at your emails. Are they short, chatty and engaging? Then you, too, can be a blogger! Check out Success & Motivation: Don’t Lie to Yourself from Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks National Basketball Association team) for a good example of a message likely to “go viral” in the blogosphere. All that said, if writing is not your thing, then try podcasting: Record an audio message and post it on your web site. You may need some help with this one, but it’s not difficult.

Excuse No. 4: Your lawyers say you can’t blog because you run a public company.
Then fire your lawyers. Yes, you have to be careful about “forward looking” statements and SOX compliance, but that’s not a good reason for leaving a vacuum in what should be your space on the social web. Jonathan Schwartz, president and CEO of publicly traded Sun Microsystems, is a prolific blogger. Somehow he’s managed to keep his job, and, more importantly, blogging has help spread the word about the new Sun. If your business is struggling or you are newly in charge, blogging could be just the ticket to help you communicate your turnaround plans with all stakeholders and give the press something to read, too. And that’s not all. Comments from your readers could help clarify and improve your business plans. That’s how Dell realized that it should continue to offer Windows XP. Tell that to your lawyers.

Excuse No. 3: Bloggers have to post every day.
Says who? Perhaps this myth was started by bloggers with no life. What’s important is consistency and quality, not frequency. Find a schedule that works for you. I’d suggest a monthly blog post to start and a weekly check-in to answer a few questions. And then add a new post occasionally during the month when you’ve got something to say.

Excuse No. 2: Only the kids are using social networking.
Did you know that 148,000 executives sign in to LinkedIn every day? Maybe you’d like to connect with some of them. Or, they with you. My own LinkedIn network is modest (less than 100 connections), but still, without breaking a sweat, I found 500 CEO contacts that I could potentially contact directly or as “friends of friends.” As head honcho of your business, you got to your exalted position through relationships and networking. Maybe Facebook is not your style (especially if the numnuts running it continue to abuse user privacy), but you can expect that LinkedIn and other industry-specific business networks will be springing up to serve executives like you.

And finally, …

Excuse No. 1: Setting up your own blog is too much trouble.
Then don’t. Get involved in online community sites where you can network and communicate with others with a shared interest. It’s more fun than blogging solo, and all of the technology “heavy lifting” is done for you. At CustomerThink, for example, anyone can set up an account in just a few minutes. You can add comments to other posts to get your feet wet and then blog when you’re ready. If you’re passionate about customer-centric business, we’d love to hear from you!

Many of your customers are already on the social web; the rest will be coming soon. Even if no other CEO in your industry is blogging or using social networking, it’s an opportunity for you to be a leader.

Isn’t that what CEOs do?

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10 Responses to Top 10 Dumb Excuses for CEOs Not to Be Leaders in the Social Web

  1. Graham Hill January 19, 2008 at 1:50 pm #

    Bob

    The question of whether the CEO should be blogging isn’t as straight forward as you suggest. Nor are the excuses. It all comes down to the good old issue of Ricardian comparative advantage. Faced with a limited amount of time in any one day, and different levels of ability amongst C-level executives, the CEO must decide what he does himself and what he delegates to others.

    I am not so sure that the CEO should invest so much time in blogging (or other social marketing) when he is likely to have other things to do where he has an advantage over other C-level executives, such as formulating strategy or dealing with capital markets. And where others are likely to have an advantage over the CEO in wordsmithing, such as the CMO or the CCO. The theory of comparative advantage suggests that all other things being equal, the CEO and other C-level executives should allocate work up to those with the greatest comparative advantage in doing it.

    Perhaps, the dismal science has much more to teach us about the effective division of work than we often recognise.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Readability Index: 12

  2. gtimpany January 21, 2008 at 12:33 pm #

    In most cases I would agree with Graham’s use of the Ricardian comparative advantage. However, having seen more than a few CEOs who hadn’t a clue about who their customer base really was I have to agree with Bob. Perhaps Mr. or Ms. CEO does not need to blog everyday, but they need to be regularly involved in activities that connect them with their customers and prospects.

    I am sure dealing with capital markets may be more fun, but I am going to side with Theodore Levitt, “the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” Everything else is secondary.

    Greg Timpany
    Research Director
    Wilkin Guge Marketing

  3. Bob Thompson January 21, 2008 at 3:49 pm #

    I wrote this article to give CEOs something to think about. At one time not many years ago, CEOs used secretaries and wouldn’t use email, because it was new or perhaps “beneath” them. These days, even CEOs of large corporations personally use email.

    The social web is another communications method, that spans organization boundaries. I believe it will follow the same adoption pattern. Some CEOs will lead, but many (most?) will wait.

    So, yes, CEOs should consider how to invest their time. Shouldn’t we all? But I suspect that, especially as organizations get bigger, there is no end of internal meetings to fill up the day–each that can be justified no doubt because it’s critical to the company’s survival. Does engaging with customers fit in that agenda, or are customer relationships always “someone else’s” job?

    Whatever the rationale, how the CEO behaves will set the tone for what the rest of the organization does. I can’t think of a better example to set than engaging with customers on the social web.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  4. Malcolm Wicks January 21, 2008 at 5:27 pm #

    They were a great idea at the time but for most people that time has gone. Blogging is about someone assuming that they have something interesting to say. Most people don’t. Web 2.0 is about commenting, sharing, listening and finding who has something interesting to say on a specific subject at a specific time. You then decide to come in and out of the connection as you wish.

    In my view smart CEO’s don’t blog but they do make sure that their staff know what is going on in web world by listening and acting appropriately based upon what they have learnt. Blanket denials, sending round the boys and trying to manipluate web world always ends in tears so is becoming a thing of the past. Learning about customers and their needs is what its all about for CEO’s and their staff and web 2.0 is the best ever invention to help them.

    An example of acting appropriately. My son has been saving up airmiles to fly business class to Japan for his honeymoon. He had the number of miles but there were not frequent flyer seats available for the time that he wanted. Apparently these go about a year in advance. He raised the question of what he could do on a web 2.0 website and was contacted by a very friendly Customer Services woman. The short version is that she was “listening” to sites like this and got him those seats. Guess who tells this story all the time and praises British Airways. Might even include at the wedding speech. On the other hand if Willy Walsh (BA, CEO) wrote a blog I’d never bother reading it.

    Malcolm Wicks

  5. Graham Hill January 21, 2008 at 6:10 pm #

    Here is a wiki of Fortune 500 firms with a corporate blog.

    It would be interesting to see how many CEOs in these companies are actively blogging. Most appear to have other things to do.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  6. Vandana Ahuja January 22, 2008 at 4:13 am #

    Here is Mario Sundar(linkedin)’s list of the Top 10 CEO blogs …I like David Utter’s(from webpro news) take on this…which happens to be in exactly in line with what Graham said above….

    “Anxiously awaiting a high-powered CEO to enter the so-called blogosphere? Keep waiting. CEOs would have to defy their company’s policies on transferring information to the public. And what corporate chief would want to jeopardize a job with a rich compensation package and lavish perks just to talk candidly in a blog?”

    Dot on target???

    Maybe,….but an interesting case in point is Jonathan Schwartz’s blog, CEO,Sun Microsystem, which showcases his profile as an inveterate blogger, who has led Sun’s drive toward transparency and openness and an outspoken advocate for the network as a tool for economic, social and political progress. With substantial hits and respectable technorati rankings, seems people do want to read what he has to say..be it sun employees or otherwise…

  7. Bob Thompson January 22, 2008 at 10:58 am #

    Vandana, thanks for sharing the link to the “top 10 CEO blogs.”

    And for submitting dumb excuse No. 11: “Not taking any risk to protect my compensation package.”

    The quickest way to lose a job is to stop taking risks. Especially with the world competing at Internet speed these days.

    I think Graham’s point was maybe CEOs shouldn’t blog (better things to do), and in some cases he could be right. The point of my article was to focus on the excuses.

    Some CEOs like Schwartz at Sun are blogging successfully, to the good of their companies and themselves.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  8. Graham Hill January 22, 2008 at 4:49 pm #

    This is an interesting topic. So I did a bit of searching.

    Here are a few interesting viewpoints from some well known bloggers and some not so well known. Don’t forget to look at the electronic paper trail in the form of comments and trackbacks.

    Seth Godin
    Beware the CEO Blog

    Ted Demopoulos
    Will CEO Blogging Ever Take Off?

    Should CEOs Blog?

    Debbie Weil
    CEO Blog Coaching

    Shel Israel
    Maybe Your CEO Shouldn’t Blog

    Perhaps the best of the lot

    Jeremiah Owyang
    The Many Challenges of Writing a CEO Blog

    And my personal favourite.

    Harshavardhan
    Fake CEO Blogs

    Happy reading.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  9. Vandana Ahuja January 23, 2008 at 3:41 am #

    Graham…u’ve made this even more interesting!!!!Well…another example of a Fortune 500 CEO who blogs….his blog has actually been my favourite when i say that Corporate Blogs help build good customer relationships…Now whether this is a Marriott Corporate Blog or a CEO blog is a subject of another discussion…but considering that the Profile section on the blog says “I’m Bill Marriott, Chairman & CEO of Marriott International.”, I’ll go for this in the CEO blog category…

    Bill Marriott, CEO , Marriott InternationalMarriott on the move-The Marriott Blog

    As per the company’s message on the blog,
    “The purpose of this blog is to give you a forum to interact with Bill Marriott. We believe Marriott is more than just the world’s largest lodging company with nearly 3,000 hotels around the world.
    We’re proud of our culture, history, service excellence, and especially our 143,000 associates whose Spirit to Serve makes us so successful. Part of what makes us great is our belief in service to the customer and “Success is Never Final.”
    This blog allows us to hear from you and build on the community that we’ve nurtured for 80 years. We are delighted you have decided to visit us, and we will do our best to make it a valuable experience for you.”

    Connecting with the CEO of a company to share your satisfaction/dissatisfaction of a product or any other cause for customer dissent was not easy earlier….not so anymore…think from a customer perspective….. Instant connectivity to the top boss…..sounds good if i’m a customer…doesn’t it…

  10. Graham Hill January 23, 2008 at 5:30 am #

    Vandana

    I had come across Bill Marriot’s blog through other posts. It does seem to be a good example of a well-written CEO blog.

    It would be interesting to see what actually happens to comments, suggestions and complaints addressed to the CEO. Does he read them all himself? Does he have a small staff that deal with responses? How do real problems identified by commenters get fixed? How is the loop closed after a commenter’s problem is fixed, particularly where this is a structural problem that takes some time to fix.

    And the $64,000 question. Is it really worth it to Marriot. It is not as though the blog is the only source of these insights. Or even the best one. All Marriot needs to do is to hang around on-line communities like FlyerTalk and to engage with frequent stayers. Just like Starwood Hotels does through their customer evangelist, the ‘Starwood Lurker’, in real-life employee William Sanders.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Readability Index: 8

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