I guess .04 percent is better than nothing

A Randall Stross column (subscription required) in yesterday’s New York Times revealed that only two, count ’em two, of the Fortune 500 chief executive officers maintain a blog. Of the two, Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems and John Mackey of Whole Foods, only Schwartz blogs with any regularity.

Even though he is alone in his convictions, Schwartz could not be more adamant about the Schwartz_2 importance of blogging in a CEOs life. "My number 1 job is to be a communicator," said Schwartz. "I don’t understand how a CEO would not blog if committed to open communication." In fell swoop, says Schwartz, he simultaneously reaches shareholders, software developers, and current and prospective customers. He says a single blog saves him countless hours of time that would have been spent composing individual e-mails to these very same groups.

So, why don’t more CEOs blog? It’s not because, as some suggest, blogging is a passing fad. It’s because CEOs fear the loss of control that comes with blogging. Unlike a letter in an annual report, a prepared speech to an industry trade group or a print advertisement, blogging demands open, two-way communication. And, for an authoritarian, top-down manager surrounded by sycophants, that concept is way too scary.

But, as Schwartz pointed out in a Harvard Business Review article, one day all CEOs will blog. They’ll wake up to its efficiencies and its ability to create new and different relationships with core constituents. It may take a few years, but I totally agree with Schwartz. Why? Because market competition and good ol’ peer pressure will force the CEO to adapt or die. Once Schwartz’s competitors realize how his blog pre-empts the types of traditional relationships they’ve been trying to nurture with the same prospective customer base, you’ll see them pick up the keypad and start banging away.

There was one other key point in the Stross article that I wanted to share. Schwartz says he’s dead set against ghostwritten CEO blogs. I totally agree. My good friend and competitor, Ken Makovsky, has gone on record as disagreeing, saying a ghostwritten blog is no different than a ghostwritten speech. Conceptually, he may be right. But, the blogosphere has its own rules and regulations. Bloggers want to have direct, one-on-one conversations with one another, and not have to deal with a designated member of the corporation’s palace guard. As a result, ghostwritten blogs get deleted faster than those unsolicited requests from Ethiopian widows looking to deposit $15mm in your bank account.

So, here’s a virtual tip of the hat to Mr. Schwartz for having the brains and the guts to go where no other CEO has gone. Let’s hope future text books and manuals on business acknowledge his visionary act.

29 thoughts on “I guess .04 percent is better than nothing

  1. Steve,
    A belated comment. I agree with your contentions about CEO blogging and its future, but I would like to correct the statement you attribute to me in this post.
    “My good friend and competitor, Ken Makovsky, has gone on record as disagreeing, saying a ghostwritten blog is no different than a ghostwritten speech.”
    In our joint podcast I was specifically addressing CEO blogging when this subject came up. I never suggested ghostwriting. Rather I suggested an identified surrogate writer where the CEO felt his writing ability was limited. Here is the direct quote: “There are individuals (CEOs) out there, particularly in blogging, who may not feel particularly capable of writing effectively. And I think that you could use a line (in the blog) such as ‘as told to so-and-so’ in the company and that protects the integrity of the attribution, but it still gives that CEO an opportunity to communicate.” I concur that bloggers want to have direct one-on-one conversations with each other.
    I believe this clarifies my position.

  2. Yikes! where to begin? I-Man, et al, simply because a technology or in this case a communications channel enabled by a technology, has a low target audience usage rate in the early adopter phase, is absolutely no indication of its future viability. In fact, the technology enabled media of the last couple decades has taught us that senior executives are not generally early adopters, but overwhelmingly embrace communications technologies as they mature.
    Look at the growth curve of e-commerce, in the early to mid nineties do you know which company was featured on the cover of Wired Magazine as an e-business pioneer in online commerce? Amazon, ebay, Yahoo? The answer was none of these, it was a porn company, Danni’s Harddrive. When major businesses were shunning the Internet as a sales channel, the underbelly of commerce embraced the emerging technology much as it did and built the home video market. It took years and a boom / bust cycle before the Fortune 500 began to embrace this “new” channel, and all the while the detractors were many and loud as to the viability of the Internet as sales channel.
    In any industry the established and dominant players are slow to embrace change, change is hard, it costs money and creates nightmares in processes which took years to refine. And with CEO communications there are many concerns, many established processes and many legal minefields to be navigated, but it will happen, it is inevitable because CEOs must and want to communicate with stakeholders and the fewer filters, media or otherwise between a CEO and any publics the better.
    Blogging is first and foremost about direct and symmetrical communications. Nothing will stop the push for increased communications. The US Government is talking about plans to spend millions in upgrades to the briefing room; the main purpose, so the government can communicate directly to the American people, no filters, no media editing. Direct communications is the future.
    And, I can’t resist, but as a former cop, I can tell you that motor vehicle law allows for something called maintaining a uniform traffic speed. So yes, if they guy ahead of you is speeding, you may very well not be guilty of speeding.

  3. lunch box-
    i don’t know what world you live in but the ceo of a public company is not going to answer a question from joe putz about a product. he also isn’t going to respond to ms. smith writing to say her chunky soup was as chunky as it usually was.
    when investors of a public company hear from a ceo they are looking for something of substance on how the company is doing, where sales are going etc etc. they dont want their ceo blogging about stupidity.

  4. if a customer has a question about a product, how could a dialog about that be perceived as bad? if i were a customer and given attention from the man in charge, that would do far more better things about how i felt about him/her//the company than bad.
    just because someone forms an opinion on their own, that can’t be the fault of the CEO. look at it this way: you’ve made some valid points on this blog over time, but i am smart enough to know that you are not the medical supply exec that i would send my business to. see how that works?

  5. lunchy, sure ceo’s “can” blog if they don’t release material non-public info. but heres the problem- that line is extremely blurred. anything the ceo writes can be taken completely out of context and cause huge headaches for the company. so its not worth it for a ceo to blog. period!

  6. Gee, Andrew, sorry for being a bit late. I’m not online 24/7 and do have a life after 6 PM. You would be happy to know that I’ve done my homework – well, actually, IR did it for me. And I checked with three seperate folks.
    It is perfectly legal for CEOs of public companies to blog as long as they do not release “material, non-public information.”
    So, CEOs can Blog if they choose to. Debate over.
    PS – Med Guy, I’m glad you have a new favorite site/friend. So are my tired eyes.

  7. lunchy- thanks for the advice on checking on the bio- b/c i have a new favorite site!
    amanda- great points. funny how repman talks about a “little bit of knowledge” b/c that is what he seems to have in this area and what he is proposing is dangerous.
    rep- again, a ridiculous comment about “If CEOs can’t blog, someone better tell Bob Lutz of GM, as well as the CEOs of Whole Foods and Sun Microsystems.” first of all you named 3 people out of THOUSANDS of ceo’s of public companies that do it. 2nd, if cooking the books was illegal, someone should have told lay and company. what type of stupid argument is that???
    the next time you get pulled over by a cop for speeding, why don’t you tell the cop “it can be illegal, b/c the guy in front of me was also doing it.”
    maybe you should read up on the sec rules that goverh public companies before advising them on what to do.

  8. Amanda,
    Is your bio for real? There is nothing like self promoting and the fact that you’ve admitted to sleeping with bosses and clients.
    You do have nice roster of experience and it makes sense that you’re now in the food and beverage industry now. Because if I were at any of those companies you’ve listed as past clients, I would drop you in a second. Stick to the booze and snacks, dear, and let us grown ups handle corporate and external communications.
    A perky set, huh? What in the hell does that have to do with anything? Unless those are your credintials for gaining entrance into the C-suite?
    I advise all of Rep readers to seek out Amanda’s bio for some shock and awe.

  9. Med guy,
    Exactly. Companies are, and have been, variously involved in the marketplace “conversation.” But what the blog evangelistas propose is to cede control to the mob.
    Here’s a way to look at it. Open Source Communications, like OS Software, requires that the “company” accept legal responsibility for the work product of individuals outside the “company.” THAT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN!
    Finally, the evangelistas have NO CLUE as to the potential risks in that. As such, what they are proposing is frankly irresponsible and in my opinion malpractice.
    – Amanda
    PS Steve, I’ll take my little grammar faux pas to your figuratively smokin’ crack in public anytime. 🙂

  10. If CEOs can’t blog, someone better tell Bob Lutz of GM, as well as the CEOs of Whole Foods and Sun Microsystems. I-man and Amanda: a little bit of knowledge can indeed be a dangerous thing. I-man: you and your financial analyst buddy need to enter the 21st century. Soon. And, Amanda, poor grammar and punctuation can be a career killer in the PR world.

  11. lunchy- blogging is nothing new, its been around for years. so the fact that it hasnt been embraced by ceo’s yet tells me it never will be. which bring me to my 2nd point…
    amanda, you make an excellent point. an analyst friend of mine told me today that ceo’s are essentially NOT ALLOWED to blog b/c it can violate any number of sec rules and the like. his next comment was anyone who tells ceo’s of public companies that they should be blogging, clearly has no clue about public companies and the sec rules they are governed by. now i wasn’t going to write that earlier, but since you brought it up, i can say your points are certainly valid.
    by the way rep and other blog fans- the yahoo and bull dog message boards for public companies were all the rage in the late 90’s and you can certainly compare those boards to a blog. not only did ceo’s NEVER post on them, employees at those companies, as well as analysts on wall street were not allowed to post on them.
    it might be time to pack up the blog hype machine and start banging the drums to another beat.

  12. CEO’s blogging in all likelihood violates their fiduciary duty. Period.
    Now, let’s here more from the cheerleading squad as to how the coach should manage the team.
    Seriously, I cannot tell you how much all this blog hooey coming from my PR brethren embarrasses me. Of all the harebrained nonsense our industry has embraced, this takes the cake. Bottom line: It definitively demonstrates just how far away from the C-Suite we are, and just how irrelevant we are to the client’s business.
    – Amanda

  13. No One Is Blogging

    According to an article in the New York Times as posted on this blog, only two CEOs from Fortune 500 companies blogs – only one of those blogs on a regular basis. So, is CEO blogging at these huge companies ever going to happen?
    I asked my good frien…

  14. Even though the RepMan asked for this discussion to be put to rest (with good reason), I would have to argue for his position.
    I’m sure that there have been hundreds of inventions, thousands even, within the medical industry that at first were considered hobblegosh.
    Any business owner, large or small, must be ready and willing to take into consideration all new developments, tools, vehicles, etc. – whether they be in manufacturing a product or communicating its’ benefits. Didn’t Henry Ford shock the world when he first mass produced the auto? What about Alexander Graham Bell?
    Inventors become heros, Mr. Medical Supply Guy. Followers are simply lemmings (although they would like to position themselves as ‘early adopters’).
    Geez, I guess you must be waiting for this fad we call the “internet” to pass???

  15. I think they desparately need another frontline pitcher if they’re going to go deep into the playoffs. As much as I’d hate to see them give up Lastings Milledge, I say trade him for Barry Zito asap…..

  16. sounds good- thats fair.
    whats your opinion on what the mets should do today?

  17. I-man: Let’s call it a day and re-visit this topic again in the future. I’m totally convinced your views on blogging’s importance (as well as your views on traditional advertising’s importance) will be proven dead wrong.

  18. andrew, again, its like you folks are so stuck in your spin cycle that you forget about reality. you pasted a quote from an article that represents ONE PERSON’s OPINION! that would be like me taking repman’s opinion and pasting it as fact somewhere else.
    the FACTS are black and white. look at every study that rep has posted…they all say the same thing. and 499/500- what can be clearer than that?
    forget the topic was blogging and pretend this were sports. if u had a team that lost 499 out of 500 games, would it even be logical to say “that one win is what shows you they are a good team- the other 499 were just errors, bad games, bad calls, etc.” come on andrew, lets be real.
    are there some that think blogging is a real tool- sure. but they are the clear minority, and if i had to make a bet today, i would put my money with the 499, rather than the 1 who lost over 300 million dollars in a quarter. so stop posting joe shmucks opinions about blogging and instead come back with facts. if you show me facts that show 250 or more of fortune 500 ceos believe in blogging as an important business tool, i will say you might be right.
    until such time, the facts prove your opinion to be in the clear minority!

  19. From a recent Harvard Business Review article titled: If you want to lead, blog.
    “Remember when, not long ago, CEOs would ask their assistants to print out their e-mails for them, and they’d dictate responses to be typewritten and sent via snail mail? Where are those leaders now? (The last of my contacts of that breed just retired.) In ten years, most of us will communicate directly with customers, employees, and the broader business community through blogs. For executives, having a blog is not going to be a matter of choice, any more than using e-mail is today. If you’re not part of the conversation, others will speak on your behalf-and I’m not talking about your employees. Blogging lets you participate in communities you want to cultivate-whether it’s your employees, potential employees, customers, or anyone else-and leverage your corporate culture competitively.”

  20. and just in case you needed any more stats/surveys to confirm that your views about the growth of online vs. traditional relationships, the following news just came out:
    WASHINGTON – Some solace for traditional news outlets worried about how to compete with the Internet: A survey finds slowing growth in the number of people who regularly go online for the news.
    Almost three in 10 adults, or 31 percent, regularly log in for news, a rate roughly the same as two years ago, according to the survey released Sunday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. People in their 40s were more likely to go online for news than the younger adults.
    “The online news audience is maturing and at this point is wider than it is deep,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

  21. repman, you remind me of that weather forecaster that goes out and calls for a crippling blizzard even as every forecast model and every other meterologist calls for flurries at most. and the more the models say different, the more they hype the blizzard. said snow event passes as flurries and the forecaster just dismisses it as “it musta blown out to sea or something.”
    the facts are in black and white…there is no gray area other than the one you are working so hard to create. your blog a few weeks ago about communications pros showed it and this article makes it crystal clear- blogging is just not important to real business people as anything other than an entertaining read.
    if you want to debate the topic then come armed with some facts and figures that show blogging to be important. all you have done so far is prove the opposite to be true and instead, use lots of empty words like the “citizen journalist” to bolster your side. sounds to me like you are calling for a blizzard when the rest of us see a full blown heat wave!

  22. You are so, so wrong, I-man. Just because a bunch of middle-aged white guys are late to embrace a new communications medium doesn’t mean they’re right and the medium’s wrong. It merely means that their classically-trained minds can’t cope with a non-linear form of communications (i.e. top-down and one-way). This will change, I-man, as the “citizen journalist” and technology-empowered consumer continues to flex his and her muscles. As those dual trends become more and more pervasive, even the most backward-looking CEO will be forced to change his/her ways.

  23. “You simply have no clue as to the power a blog provides to a CEO looking to clearly and consistently engage in a dialogue with stakeholders.”- yes, me and 499 out of the top 500 must not see it. i’ll stick with the 499- not a bad group to share an opinion with.
    499 out of 500- that number has got to mean something to you! the fact that 1, count em, 1 thinks the way you do should tell you something.
    if you ask 500 people about nucleur war being a good thing, you would probably find more than 1 that woudl say yes.
    if you ask 500 people about pediophilia, 1 would probably not think it was so bad.
    do u realize how insignificant 1 out of 500 is????
    499 and myself aren’t wrong. come on rep..even you as a spinner can not find a way to spin this one!

  24. Your backward-looking thinking never ceases to amaze me, I-man. You simply have no clue as to the power a blog provides to a CEO looking to clearly and consistently engage in a dialogue with stakeholders. When the CEO of a Fortune 500 company blogs, the content is far more than “sharing thoughts and opinions.” The blog is an immediate way to simultaneously engage all stakeholder groups. It’s powerful, I-man. One day, when most of your competitors have passed you by, you’ll wake up and realize what’s going on. Btw, I’ll bet that, in the aftermath of the airplane’s invention, very few CEOs saw its many benefits either. It always takes a few forward-looking CEOs to lead the way. And, yes, Jimmy, Schwartz is the only pony-tailed CEO to my knowledge.

  25. once again, it seems like the more you write about this topic, the more you prove my point- that blogging has zero importance in the business world. oh, i/ sorry, not zero, 0.4 to be exact.
    when will you begin to understand that blogging is simply a person sharing their thoughts and opinions, and while it makes for an interesting read (as this blog is) its nothing more than that. same way i read the sports pages or the cigar afficianado- pure entertainment!
    this article makes it crystal clear that CEO’s just don’t see it as important. and guess what, Sun Micro isn’t the wall street darling and industry leader it used to be. its stock price hasn’t really moved in the past 4 years and they just posted a 301 million dollar quarterly loss, despite a 29% increase in sales! i don’t know about you, but i don’t see a company losing 301 million per quarter as something most others would want to follow!
    the fact is that blogging has been around for years now and if 2 (really 1) of the Fortune 500 are doing it tells me it just isn’t important. these companies are the fortune 500 for a reason, and they must be doing something right. so if 499 out of 500 of the top companies in the world agree, they must be right! i do find it amazing that you found a way to spin this one to the one out of 500 that agrees with you!
    maybe schwartz and co. should spend less time blogging and more time trying not lose 301 million dollars per quarter! then they might actually be on par with the rest of the 499.

  26. Wow..that is a small number. Not only does Shwartz run a blog, but he is the only Fortune 500 CEO with a ponytail, right?
    I, too, don’t see the point in a ghostwritten blog.