Blogging and CEOs: Oh, boy

It’s Sunday afternoon. And I should be outside enjoying the warm weather. Or at least be inside and gripping the gin bottle. But no. I’m writing about CEOs and their blogs. Again.

The Akron Beacon Journal had two business page stories this morning about CEOs and blogging: “CEOs take case to the public.” And “Blunders get attention.” Margarita Bauza with the Detroit Free Press wrote both articles.

I not sure that there is anything really new in either article. But here’s my take.

First, Bob Lutz, vice chairman of General Motors, is the featured CEO blogger. As usual. And since a reporter for the Detroit Free Press wrote the stories, the local connection makes sense. But is Lutz and his FastLane blog really the model? Or was he just one of the first — and now his name comes up in every Google search that reporters make for these kind of stories?

His blog is designed to talk to customers and others who are interested in GM products. And that’s great. And Lutz should be congratulated for taking the time and making the effort to keep customers and others informed. I’m all for that. The more communication the better.

But the subhead for the article says: “Corporate America uses posts to relay message, address concerns.” And if that were true, I would be a stronger advocate for CEO blogs. But I don’t think it is true today — and doubt that it will be in the future. Good for marketing and internal communications. I guess. Good for talking about financial performance, developments that may affect employee jobs and futures, potential mergers or divestments. Doubtful. Although John Mackey the CEO of Whole Foods is featured in the second article. Mackey distinguished himself by using a fake name to post anonymous comments on a Yahoo site criticizing a competitor, Wild Oats. Whole Foods eventually acquired Wild Oats. I digress.

Here’s why I’m skeptical about CEO blogs from the standpoint of corporate communications — news versus marketing — issues. Last week, Lutz wrote about the start of the Chevrolet Volt program, which I take it is some form of an electric car in the initial stage of development. That’s great. And important for a host of reasons. But less than two weeks ago, The New York Times reported that 19,000 GM wage employees have agreed to a buyout; that’s about 25 percent of GM’s current unionized workforce.

I imagine that’s important for GM to get its costs in line with competitors (and maybe with its own operations) in other countries. Yet I don’t know about anyone else, but it concerns me we’re continuing to witness the slow but steady decline of manufacturing — and well-paying manufacturing jobs — in this country. If Lutz and others start addressing these issues and concerns on blogs, I’ll become a believer.

And then I’ll use these stories to jump to another troubled industry: newspapers. The two stories about blogging took up a large part of the the ABJ’s business section. But there is absolutely no local connection. I would have found it interesting to know if any local CEOs are blogging. Making those calls takes resources that I’m not sure the Beacon Journal or other newspapers have these days. In fact, there are no stories in the business section today written by a Beacon Journal staff reporter.

Maybe at some point we’ll have to depend on CEOs and their blogs to report the business news. Oh, boy.

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2 responses to “Blogging and CEOs: Oh, boy

  1. Bob. Great post. My guess would be — and maybe some of your other readers can confirm it if they have first hand knowledge — like most communications vehicles coming direct from a CEO, blogs have to pass a pretty high legal and regulatory hurdle.

    It’s likely that they are barred from discussing issues with potentially huge liabilities attached… like union contracts and workforce reductions.

    CEO blogs also likely create heartburn for PR people. Witness in the first Free Press article how Lutz had to furiously back pedal on his “total crock” comment… saying that his company was

    “dedicated to the removal of cars and trucks from the environmental equation, period. And, believe it or don’t: So am I! It’s the right thing to do, for us, for you and, yes, for the planet.”

    How does that square with saying global warming is a crock? Why would you be committed to “removing cars and trucks fron the equation” if you don’t believe they’re part of the problem?

    It doesn’t square at all. And the “it’s all a crock” remark undermines the company’s “gas friendly to gas free” marketing tag line. So a PR person had to reel him back in a succeeding post.

    I am in agreement with you on the limited utility of CEO blogs. If the CEO is a loose cannon it creates huge potential dangers. And if you keep him corralled on the farm, then the blog is obviously just a marketing tool of limited range.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I agree totally. The regulatory and legal hurdles, in my opinion, make it impossible to a CEO to talk about anything really substantial or of consequence to the business, stockholders and employees.

    And Lutz says one day that GM is moving ahead with an electric car. Some marketing guy the next day says the Hummer will still have strong sales. Sweet.

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