It’s conference season, and for communicators that means two things: 1. They (I hope) will be settling into a bum-numbing chair for some inspiration and possibly a well-earned nap. 2. Their CEO will be calling them from her leadership conference to announce she is starting a blog. You were warned.
Intranets across the land are populated by the ghosts of well-meant executive blogs. The first two or three are brilliant, rambling discussions about life, leadership, competition and global markets. Then they start getting a little shorter, a little more urgent and a lot less frequent. The final post from sometime in 2014 is a terse plea to submit timesheets properly.
CEO blogs have three unfortunate tendencies that we need recognize up front and either resolve or use as the reason they should find something else to do.
The Tendency to Be Pointless
While it’s certainly true that many blogs have little apparent point to them, CEO blogs have a particular habit of being about nothing. These Seinfelds of the corporate communications landscape wander from rousing calls to arms to lectures about frugality to watery holiday greetings.
Like most pointless things, they are ignored, precisely because they offer no value for the time invested. Here are a few questions to ask your excited CEO to determine if his blog is likely to be pointless:
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- What behaviour are you trying to change or encourage?
- What will be new or different about this blog (you might want to have some of your abandoned blogs from previous CEOs handy)
- How will we know if this is succeeding?
- Who’s supposed to be reading this blog?
- Are there specific groups you are really trying to reach (internally or externally)?
The Tendency to Need Resources
CEO blogs have much in common with puppies. They’re new, they’re engaging, they’re fresh. But a year later they’re just dogs and suddenly nobody’s interested in picking up poop and driving to the vet.
That CEO who found four hours on a flight to bang out a thousand words on the subject of inspiration or efficiency cannot be counted on to have those hours (or those ideas) again, at least not predictably, at least not when something more pressing needs to be looked at.
Predictably, as their time becomes less available, the communications team’s time is filling the gaps. At first it’s a light edit and some formatting, the next month it’s piecing together something coherent from scratches on a post it note. Then you’re waiting two weeks for the CEO to review the copy and then it all goes to hell.
All blogs at this level need resources. Even if your CEO is able to crank out something on her own each month or each week, somebody needs to edit it, somebody needs to format it, maybe get it translated, find an image, optimize it for search, upload it to whatever platform for you’re using and then monitor for activity. Does your team have time for this? Is your CEO thinking her assistant has time for this? Is there some startled intern who needs to be pulled in?
At a minimum, I think you need a couple of hours for someone to write the thing, another hour to edit it and fact check. An hour to get the text and image loaded up and looking nice, plus at least an hour to keep an eye on comments and questions that might need a response. So that’s five hours of someone’s time — you do the math on that one. If you need multiple languages, better add in the cost to translate and manage the translation.
Very quickly your CEO’s brilliant plan to engage the masses with a quick little note once a week, is now 20 hours of time per month.
If that sounds like a slow trip to hell, here are some questions to work through with the CEO at the outset:
- What is the budget you had in mind? (If they say zero, see above and ask again. Keep going until they have either funded five hours per post or told you you’re just not being positive enough.)
- Do you (CEO) really have two hours to write this each time?
- If not, who will do it for you?
- Who is going to edit it?
- Who has the time and expertise to get it translated, formatted and loaded up with a decent image (hint: it’s not anyone’s assistant’s job to do that stuff)
- Who’s going to monitor the piece for comments, and who will respond?
The Tendency to Run Out of Gas
Even the most focused, funded blogs can find themselves drifting to a halt because there really isn’t much else to say. In my experience it takes about eight months for the tank to empty. Once they’ve reviewed the mission, broken down the business transformation strategy, thanked a bunch of project teams, mused on the nature of leadership and wandered through a few quarter ends and product launches, there isn’t always that much to say.
Here are some questions to suss this one out:
- How often do you want to publish (anything less than monthly is not worth doing)
- Assuming a few weeks off here and there for holidays, can you come up with 48 or 24 or even 12 topics that aren’t pointless?
- At this point it is helpful to plot the topics on a calendar to confirm they are not actually the same thing said differently.
- The follow-up to this is, of course, can you put at least 300 words together on the topic? Remember, if your CEO can’t do it, you probably have to find someone who can.
Done right, all this questioning should prevent a random act of blogging and keep your intranet safe from yet another tumbleweed-filled street of forgotten ambition.