"We've had an interesting couple of weeks as a company, that's for sure. But none of that has made a bit of difference down here on the ground. The focus at Commercial Airplanes is, as always, on our customers and on the future."
With these innocuous words, Randy Baseler, vice-president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airlines, supposedly addressed the blogosphere about the marital indiscretions that had brought his boss down and were blasted across the country as headline news.
Baseler's blog, Randy's Journal, is supposed to provide an insider's view of Boeing. If so, he blew it on that blog entry, but perhaps raised the issue of who should really be authoring a company blog.
There are several ways to go. A blog written at the top has the potential of providing news straight from the decision makers. It can also communicate the vision of the organization, much like Richard Edelman's blog.
The downside is that CEOs and senior executives are also wary of stockholders' perceptions and don't provide the bare honesty expected of a decent blog.
A blog written by those at the lower rungs of the organization also has its perils. As evidenced by recent events at Apple Computer, those in the rank and file may feel imbued with a new sense of power and want to either "tell it like it really is" or, even worse, reveal company secrets.
But such risks can be avoided if staffers blogging on company time have clear guidelines and rules. What's more, it's a tremendous boost to the company culture to give the regular staffer a voice.
Of course, there's the happy medium. Mid-level managers are conscientious about their loyalty and generally stay on message. They won't make good bloggers, however, if they're accustomed to submitting their work through layers of approvals. A mid-level manager told to "blog away... but with caution" would understandably suffer some amount of paralysis.
So what's a company to do? It's best to start with a company-wide understanding of why there's a blog (or a plethora of blogs) in the first place. It makes sense to launch your company blog with some fanfare directed at both internal and external audiences. Be specific about the purpose of the blog and why you have chosen the blog author. Include his or her responsibilities as the blog author and address how you are handling reader commentary.
If it's senior management or the CEO who's blogging, consider the following:
- A blog is not a press release. General Motors should be commended for blogging, but the content is lackluster. It's a series of announcements from executives that might have been handled more adeptly in press releases.
- Be reflective in tone, not folksy. CEOs and senior executives are expected to contemplate the "big ideas." Baselor's blog for Boeing strives too hard to be folksy. Everything is "great news," he's always "thrilled to announce" and executives at other companies are called "folks."
- Have themes. Executives who blog should check in with their public relations professionals to review messages and themes that can be communicated via the blog. They should also consider how these themes can be approached in an interesting and thoughtful manner.
Mid-Level managers who blog are in a different position. Although not privy to many closed-door meetings with top brass, they are more likely to be directly in touch with the customer. Consider these tips:
- Write what you know. Follow this sage advice given to writers in all forms of media. If you're the director of marketing, research or even purchasing, you have something interesting to say about your line of work. Don't try to be the all-knowing CEO. Your insights from your own perspective are valuable.
- Check in with front-line staff members. Find out what those who deal directly with customers are hearing. Address customer concerns and insights on a regular basis.
- Use pictures. People love to see photos, not just of new products but of the work colleagues who get the job done. Mid-level managers should be walking the halls and talking with staff anyway... why not make stars of "the people who get things done"?
- Know your role. Blogging for the company is different from blogging for your own amusement. Don't abuse the privilege and use the blog for your own soapbox. Better yet, encourage the top brass to approve a blogger's code of ethics (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/terms) so everyone's on the same page.
For blogging staff members, here are some tips:
- Consider an internal blog that focuses on a specific company goal. For example, Google has an internal blog called Google Love Notes on which the customer service staff posts thank you notes from users. The notes are intended to be inspirational pick-me-ups, including messages from people who have been helped by information or products or have found long-lost loves on Google.
- Adopt a friendly tone. If you're on the frontline staff and dealing with customers, avoid buttoned up language. Customers will benefit from reading about you and knowing that you're available to help them.
- See the other rules above. Follow your company's bloggers' code and know the purpose of your blog. Don't think that you can get away with posting inappropriate material for very long. In the blogging world, what you write can come back to bite... hard.
Good luck, and let me know how your blogging fares!