The Executive Bloggers of Boston
The Cluetrain Manifesto, the classic book on how the Internet has changed the way consumers relate to corporations, was published in 1999. The word “blog” appears nowhere in it. (While the term “weblog” had been coined a couple of years earlier, it wasn’t until late 1999 that the short form “blog” caught on as a noun and a verb.) But if you had to boil down the “95 Theses” offered to corporate marketers by Cluetrain authors Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searles, and David Weinberger, the summary might be: “Get a blog, and keep it real.”
Consider some of these gems from the manifesto:
- “Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.”
- “Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.”
- “Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.”
- “Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall.”
- “If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.”
- “We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?”
The idea that companies need to communicate with their existing customers and potential customers in authentic, human voices—crystallized so clearly in Cluetrain—has now had plenty of time to sink in. At many firms, the natural response has been to launch a CEO blog, and/or to allow lower-level employees with the blogging bug to publish their own views. And here in Boston, quite a few corporate execs have come out to play.
A few of these writers still don’t get it—they want to hawk all that’s good about their company or its products. They don’t communicate when they screw up, and they sound too much like their own PR firms. But there are also some who seem to take to the medium naturally—who understand that a blog is more like a conversation than a lecture.
Some of the best business bloggers find ways to focus consistently but not nauseatingly on their own companies, using their blogs largely to give readers a look under the hood. In this category, one of the most worthwhile local weblogs is Chuck’s Blog, written by EMC vice president of technology alliances Chuck Hollis. In his frequent, very conversational posts, Hollis shares revealing insights into EMC’s short- and long-term corporate strategies—blogging recently, for example, about the company’s intentions in the cloud computing space.
Other local executive bloggers write more about their industries than about their own organizations—Paul Levy and John Halamka, the CEO and CIO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, respectively, are prime examples, frequently writing about the big issues that affect healthcare. And still others write about whatever new product or service happens to catch their fancy, even if it’s from a competing company. Here, The Next Big Thing from Don Dodge of Microsoft’s Cambridge outpost is one of the grooviest local examples.
Though the Boston Business Journal declared in a March article that “The Corporate Blog’s Dying Off,” there’s little real evidence of a dropoff in executive blogging. It’s true, as the article pointed out, that blogging takes more time and commitment than many executives have to give. But if anything, with mainstream media readership and viewership continuing to drop, it’s clear that companies have to engage with their markets through other channels, including the blogosphere. That’s especially true in the high-tech world, whose customers dwell largely online and have learned from high-profile corporate bloggers like Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz and former Microsoft employee Robert Scoble to look for human faces inside the companies shaping the computer and Internet industries.
“Blogs allow corporate bloggers to converse with their audience directly,” writes Arlington, MA-based marketer John Cass in his 2007 book Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging. “Such online conversation can demonstrate a company’s ideas, abilities, and, in the final analysis, brand to customers and the world.”