Should Your CEO Really be Blogging?

When blogs and social media really began to take off, there were some who argued that businesses should put their top executive’s face out there and get their CEO blogging about the company. Over time, that’s worked for some folks, and not so much for others. PR Daily offers further analysis on why it remains a challenging communications topic for many:

Mark Schaefer of Schaefer Marketing Solutions and the blog Businesses Grow says most CEOs will never get to that level of ease and comfort. Charismatic executives such as Steve Jobs and Richard Branson are atypical, he says, though that level of authenticity would certainly be an advantage for a CEO.

However, Schaefer says the interviews with the 10 bloggers show that they’re “out of touch with reality” in terms of what CEOs can and can’t say. “It’s naïve to believe that CEOs are going to be as authentic as someone who’s blogging about gadgets,” he says.

A key reason for that difference, he says, is the law. For example, a CEO whom Schaefer knows tweeted about a meeting with shareholders only to find he had broken a Securities and Exchange Commission rule. That CEO ended up paying a fine and having to appease angry investors.

“CEOs are under a tremendous amount of scrutiny,” Schaefer says.

The public isn’t the only constituency to consider, Olson says. Being critical of another company, another CEO, or the business environment in general may go over well in the public eye, but it “may threaten a CEO’s standing with his contemporaries or perhaps be read as disloyalty,” she says.

Likewise, saying doesn’t make up for doing, Olson says. Expressing sympathy for employees who lose benefits doesn’t mean much when a CEO is taking home a big salary or huge bonuses.

“PR can’t fix an inherently and systemically flawed corporate structure,” she says.

Bernstein points out that some points the bloggers make are contradictory. It’s hard to be fearless and authentically human at the same time, he says.

“Even Seal Team Six members feel fear,” Bernstein says. “However, coming across as confident despite any fear is admirable.”
 

Should CEOs Send Mass Responses to Criticism?

The question in the headline makes me think of the recent Netflix flap, in which its CEO emailed the company’s customers basically apologizing for some unsuccessful moves. As Best Buy now battles online retail giants like Amazon and faces criticism about annoying upselling and not meeting order demands around Christmas, company CEO Brian Dunn offered the following response on his blog. Here’s the post in its entirety (below). From a PR perspective, was this the right move?

Best Buy has been taking some criticism lately. As CEO, I know that criticism goes with the job, and I’m well aware we have some challenges. I also know that errors we make often translate into a poor experience for our customers, and that is simply unacceptable.

Still, while I agree with some of the commentary on areas we need to improve, I feel it’s important to set the record straight on statements about our company that are, in my opinion, not completely grounded in fact. And I feel the need to do so, in part, to make sure our 180,000 hard-working employees understand the whole story – and have the full context that allows them to develop their own opinion about what’s written and said about Best Buy.

Let’s start with a couple of examples where I think the critics got it right.

The cancellation of some internet orders just before Christmas was our fault, and it’s not representative of how we EVER want to treat our customers. I’ll spare you the technical explanation of how and why it happened, but we know we did not deliver a good experience and we’re truly sorry. We’ve worked to make amends with customers whose holidays were made less happy because of our mistake, and we’re working diligently to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Another area where we have received fair criticism is the overall speed of the transformation of our business model – something we are working hard to address. We’ve accelerated changes to key elements of our model already (the significant expansion in the number of products available on Bestbuy.com and the launch of our online Marketplace are two recent examples), but we need to move even faster, particularly in creating a more seamless experience between our stores, web sites, call centers and services teams. We recognize people can and do shop from anywhere, and they expect thoughtful, helpful interactions from us every step of the way. We continue to invest in a number of areas – from employee training, to critical system enhancements – to ensure our customers always receive the kind of experience they deserve and expect from us, wherever and whenever they choose. But, simply put, that work needs to happen faster – and we’re taking significant steps to accelerate the pace.

Now, onto a couple of topics where I disagree with the critics.

First, some believe the internet has made physical retailing (i.e., stores) irrelevant. There’s no doubt that the internet, and the mobile web in particular, have changed the way people shop, but there is strong evidence that consumers continue to value the experience of shopping in stores. A recent study by the NPD Group, a leading market research company, notes that nearly 80% of consumer electronics revenue still moves through physical stores. Additionally, approximately 40% of customer purchases made through Bestbuy.com are picked up in one of our stores. And the truth is, traffic in our physical stores increased in our third quarter and has been trending positively for most of the year.

Finally, there are those who question the validity of Best Buy’s business model. This misguided perspective is especially troubling for me, because it blatantly and recklessly ignores overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Best Buy is a financially strong and profitable company that has generated more than $2.6 billion in cash flows from operating activities in the first three quarters of the fiscal year. We also delivered positive operating income in each of the first three quarters of fiscal 2012. We grew total market share in the third quarter according to the most recent public data available. We have closed down certain operations that were not profitable, which we expect to have a positive impact on our earnings going forward. And we are focusing the company on areas where we see the greatest opportunities for growth and profit: mobile devices and connection plans; enhanced digital and e-commerce strategies; growth in our services business; and expansion of our established business in China.

As I mentioned earlier, we fully expect to receive our share of criticism – we’re a big company and we don’t always get everything right. But this is one of those times when I felt it was necessary not only to acknowledge our shortcomings, but to set the record straight on issues where facts are being obscured by rhetoric.

Brian J. Dunn
CEO
Best Buy Co., Inc.

Your Company Should Probably be Blogging

Unless you’re in the espionage business or something where you don’t want people to know what you’re up to, your company should probably be writing a blog. The blog Journalistics offers some advice on the why and how. Here’s a blip, but I’d recommend you read the whole thing:

There is only one thing that keeps most organizations from blogging…FEAR. The most common fears include:

  • Fear of People: your company is scared of people. If you write stuff on your blog, people will hold you to it (or hold the info against you). Worse, maybe competitors will get the upperhand – since information might leak out through the blog? And of course, people will say bad things about you in the comments. More good than bad will happen, trust me. Get over your fear and try a few posts – you won’t look back.
  • It’s Too Technical: HTML, CSS, RSS and PHP? Sounds like a bad game of Scrabble, right? A lot of organizations get hung up on the technical side of things. It’s too much work or will cost too much money to get a blog up and running. Honestly, it’s cheaper than almost any other type of marketing (and a lot easier to get a return). If you can type an email, you can probably figure out how to set up a basic blog. Custom programming and design costs more (but not as much as you think). And it will be well worth the investment.
  • Who’s Going to Write the Stuff? This is the biggest challenge in my opinion. It’s a lot of work to produce high-quality content on a regular basis. And if you succeed, you’ll also need to interact with your community (a topic for another post).

How to Make It Work

The last thing you want is to launch a blog and then have no content there. Your blog becomes a ghost town, and nobody comes to visit. You don’t have to crank out 100 posts a month to be successful. If you focus on quality over quantity, you can easily get away with four posts per month in the beginning (the minimum number I recommend).

Make Sure You’re Connected

Reuters Life! takes a look at the growing use of social networking. While the growth is not surprising — the rate of growth might be. Nearly doubling over the past year? Wow:

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) – Spending more time on social networks and blogs? You’re not alone, with the latest figures showing the number of minutes spent on social networking sites in the United States has almost doubled over the past year.

Nielsen Online, which measures web traffic, said the number of minutes on social networks in the United States rose 83 percent in April from the same month a year ago, but found users were quick to move on and sites could quickly fall from favor.

Nielsen Online spokesman Jon Gibs said a major trend had been the continuing popularity of Facebook, which has more than 200 million active members and has become so mainstream it now hosts Pope Benedict and a list of world leaders.

The total number of minutes spent on Facebook surged 700 percent year-on-year to 13.9 billion in April this year from 1.7 billion a year ago, making it the No. 1 social networking site for the fourth consecutive month.

News Corp’s MySpace was second most popular but the number of minutes spent on this site fell 31 percent to 4.97 billion from 7.3 billion a year ago, although it remained the top social networking site when ranked by video streams.

Blogger, Tagged.com and Twitter.com came third, fourth and fifth respectively, with the number of minutes spent on Twitter — that lets people send 140-character messages or Tweets — rocketing 3,712 percent in April from a year ago.

Hat tip to the Chamber’s Tim Brewer for the link.