Category Archives: CEO blog

Whole Foods blogging problems–the bird comes home to roost

I commented earlier (June 26) about Whole Foods and CEO John Mackey’s use of his CEO blog to attack the regulators who were taking a little less optimistic view of the proposed merger with Wild Oats than what Mackey thought appropriate. Here’s what I wrote about this clash of cultures:

What makes this interesting is again the intersection of blogging–in this case CEO blogging–on the business environment. And the clash of cultures that exist. Government regulators want you to play nice with them or else they will use the only power they really have–the power to say “no”–against you. Get pissy with them and they have ways of getting back.

Well, it looks like they found an even stronger way of getting at Mr. Mackey. Now apparently the SEC is investigating Mr. Mackey to see if he violated the law when he blogged under a pseudonym. This revelation about blogging under a different name is causing problems for him in both the blog world and the regulatory world. He violated the first principle of blogging–transparency. And, now they are looking to see if he also violated the Regulation Fair Disclosure law.

Suddenly, a CEO blogging hero, known for his openness, outspokenness and being in tune with the blog culture may be fighting for his job–and some of it for the very reasons that made him a blog hero. Hmmm, a clash of cultures can get ugly.

2007–The Year of Authenticity?

It’s always fun to look toward a new year. One of my hobbies is painting so I think of the new year a bit like a blank canvas. It  is ripe with possibilities, but there is a certain apprehension about whether things will emerge as you hope they will. And like painting, it usually takes more effort for the best to come out than you think it will. But as a canvas, the new year mostly paints itself. It’s like working on a canvas in which new colors, forms, shapes, objects are appearing even as you try to do your own thing. The year has a  mind of its own, and the art comes in not trying to control what cannot be controlled but in turning what emerges–whatever it may be–into something beautiful, graceful and meaningful.

Looking back on the changes in crisis communication and the world of public opinion making, I see some fundamental shifts underway. Much of my work in the past six years or so has been aimed at helping clients and communicators understand the accelerating pace of public information. Most it seems to me, still do not understand, the depth and dimensions of the instant news world. So that word needs to continue to go out, but I think there is something even more significant emerging. And it comes as a direct result of the emergence of the blog culture as a powerful force in our society.

The blog world has a culture. No one has dictated it, and no one that I know of has really tried to define it. Yet, I think we all sense that it is there and we know somehow the boundaries of that culture. We have a sense for what the blog world considers right and wrong, just and unjust. One of the fundamental rules not just of the blog culture but the internet itself, is the strong desire to minimize the rules. So while there have been some rule making and enforcing mechanisms, mostly the internet world and blog culture in particular rely on social convention t0 enforce values. And those values I believe are spilling out beyond the blog culture into the broader world of main stream media, politics, business, advertising, and almost all aspects of culture making.

The blog culture values immediacy, that is certain, and that connects it to the instant news world. When bloggers see or hear something of interest, their first thought is to send it to the world. Mistakes can be made and often are made, and then the blogger is mightily flamed and says he or she is sorry. But it does not slow anyone down.

The blog culture values personality. Bloggers have little or no tolerance for the bland, impersonal language of much of the academic, professional and business world. If a CEO blogs, they want not just to see what he or she has to say about the company or its latest products, they want to have a clear picture of who that person is. They want to see warts and all. They want to see emotion.They want to see beyond the screen of packaging and vetting that normally accompanies corporate or professional communication.

The blog culture tends to be impatient and even angry. It doesn’t take much of an offense to set them off and get them to express raw language and raw emotion. There is variation here and you see a more mature and moderating influence coming in, but the rash, angry response still lives and to some extent dominates. Those who live in this sphere and who do not appreciate it learn to have a thicker skin.

The blog culture is highly political. While again it is shifting as more and more people enter this culture, it has been strongly dominated for some time by those whose primary motivation for blogging has been to participate in some way in the political dialog. It is definitely left-leaning, but again changing as more people become involved. But for a great many bloggers, the polarization of left and right and the desire to somehow influence political direction of the nation and the world is a primary part of their online persona and their reason for actively and aggressively participating.

The blog culture despises profit for profit’s sake. I am careful how I describe this because it is rich and complex. There is a strong anti-large, anti-powerful element in the blog world, and that applies not only to businesses but to any person, institution or organization which is large and has strong influence. Bloggers tend to be highly skeptical of any entity which impacts their lives and over which they have little or no control–so some of this extends to businesses. Their criticism of them tends to focus on the profits they generate, but I believe the underlying concern is not the profits themselves but the way in which power is exerted and the perceived failure of the organization to change based on the values and ethics of the critics.

The blog world has high ethical standards and little patience for those who violate them. The essential standard is openness and honesty. And if you are powerful, it includes humility and vulnerability. This is in effect the sum total of the items listed above. The blog world is about authenticity and its absolute disregard for anyone or anything that is less than authentic. People who buy things routinely over the internet do not want to be fooled by a scam artist. To do so is to undermine the whole potential for online economics. To engage in a lively debate or share interesting information with someone, only to find out they have a hidden agenda, a profit motive, or an economic stake in the outcome of that discussion cuts to the very bone of the reason why bloggers spend their time engaging in these conversations. It is vitally important to them, and therefore they will protect the authenticity of discussions with all the vehemence they can muster.

So when I suggest that 2007 may be the year of authenticity, it is not just in the blog world. A previous post pointed to another blog that reported that this year will be the first year when more people get their news online than from traditional news outlets. Last count I saw there were over 60 million active blogs tracked on technorati.  But it is not just the blending of the sidestream and the mainstream that will result in a significant movement toward greater authenticity. It is how the values of the blog world are becoming some of the fundamental values of the rest of the world. We tend to see history as broad sweeps of changes that are not visible while you are in them. But historians find those individuals and specific actions or activities that are both representative of those broad sweeping changes and who help drive them. Who knows who history will credit with the lighting the spark that changed the world’s value system forever. My vote might be Robert Scoble and Shel Israel because of the impact their book Naked Conversations had on me and the understanding it helped me come to about the importance of the blog world in the greater world of opinion making. And from that standpoint, I guess all history is personal. May it be authentic.

What does the blog world look like?

Technorati has been tracking the growth and changes in the blog world for over four years. They just issued their new report and it is fascinating.

For those who want to skim the highlights (don’t because you’ll miss lots of cool graphics):

  • 57 million blogs now
  • number doubles every 236 days, although the growth rate is slowing
  • 55% are active (posted  at least once in past 3 months)
  • 100,000 were created EACH DAY in Oct, 2006
  • 1.3 million postings per day
  • There is a fascinating correlation between events of major public interest and the number of postings
  • Blogs are the long tail of media (but surprising how far up the tail some go now) with MSM representing the short tail
  • Languages: English 39%, Japanese 33%, Chinese 10%, Spanish 3%

(By the way, via my CustomScoop trial subscription, I just found out that Sacha Baron Cohen shares one thing with my sons and daughter: Their dads’ names–almost.) Here’s the story.

SEC Chief Cox suggestion about blogging: tipping point for corporate blogging?

SEC Chief Christopher Cox, according to this AP story, thinks blogging would be a good form for corporations to discuss financial matters. Although the movement of companies and executives is becoming almost a flood, this kind of announcement may very well take corporate blogging to the next level.

Earlier today, I was on Shel Holtz’s blog “A Shel of my Former Self,” and read this sadly humorous account of a speaker at a conference touting the benefits of company podcasting. It demonstrates that those entering this world need to “get it” if they are not to embarrass their organizations or clients. Part of “getting it” is understanding that the blog world has an exceptionally high standard for authenticity.

Clara Potes, who commented earlier today on this blog, also makes a strong point for authenticity re the Wal-mart “flog” controversy on her blog:

So, when it comes to corporate commenting about financial matters in a way that satisfies SEC rules and the blog world, it will be an interesting show. The language has to be that of the casual blogger, commenting about the world while drinking coffee in his pjs, while the information has to be unassailable and fully legal. Seems the two worlds will have a hard time fitting together. But it will be interesting to watch.

Government blogging–Houston Metro launches

The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Metropolitan Transit Authority, the public transportation agency of Houston, is launching a blog. George Smalley, the VP for Communications for the agency, and former communications director for Shell Oil is one smart guy, and certainly understands the value of “joining the conversation.”

A blog in this case is particularly appropriate since the agency is in an intense public debate over the development of a light rail line through Houston. Bloggers who are opposed have been having their say for some time and now Metro will be joining in and making certain information is correct, rumors are addressed and the public gets their questions answered.

The Chronicle article indicates that a number of other government agencies are looking to get their own blogs. Great idea. I think they should keep a close eye on what Metro is doing as Smalley and company will no doubt lead the way with appropriate and effective use. (Full disclosure: I think a lot of George because he was one of the pioneer purchasers of PIER, the online communication management technology I created and which is now used by many government agencies (including Metro) as well as leading companies. No wonder I think the guy is smart!)

Best of luck, George with your blog. I’ll be watching.

How viral blogging works–fascinating case study by Eric Kintz

Previously I blogged and posted a link to a posting by Eric Kintz about whether or not posting frequency mattered. Eric took that posting and followed it around the blogosphere, tracking where it got linked and turned it all into a most fascinating case study of blogging’s power. It is viral marketing at work.

Here’s the case study. 

Kintz goes on to explain some of the secrets to accelerating the conversation, such as getting it linked on tier 1 blog sites (those with 1000 or more links.)

And obviously he’s working the system since he just commented on my blog since I was one of those who referenced his article in my blog and now am doing it again. Thanks Eric!

Verizon blogging–admittedly late

Verizon has decided that blogging is a good way to converse with customers and others about all kinds of issues. That may not be news, but what is interesting is that while a great many companies and organizations still consider blogging to be a sort of fringe thing, an unnecessary nod to the 12 year olds who spend too much time online, and that sort of thing, Verizon is admitting that they are entering this game from behind. Here’s what they said:

It’s one of the biggest things we’ll be launching this year,” said DeVard, who acknowledged that Verizon is playing catch-up in the fields of online and social networking. “We were asleep at the wheel a bit,” she said. Verizon will spend 15 percent of its marketing budget online this year, and she said that may not be enough.

This is one of the clearest signs yet that corporate blogging is suddenly being recognized as not only legitimate but necessary.

While at a conference last week I spoke to the head of one of the nation’s largest public transportation systems. They will be launching a blog soon. Good idea. It is one–only one–of many ways that organizations need to engage those people who desire to communicate actively and directly with them.

If you’re not there yet, what are you waiting for?

What CEOs know and don't know about crisis management

The Burson-Marsteller research report CEO’s views of crisis management strategies is one of the most interesting documents to come around in a while. Burson-Marsteller Crisis Mgt Study

It is as interesting for what it indicates CEOs don’t know about crisis management as what they do know.  One finding that is very interesting is that it takes 3.2 years for a company to recover from a crisis.  If that isn’t a justification for preparation I don’t know what is–especially when you realize that most crises are “smoldering” in the sense that the reputation damage can be largely averted by dealing with it aggressively early on. Here are a few other key findings about what CEOs think. These are rankings of strategies in order of importance:
— Quickly disclose details of the scandal/misstep (69%)
— Make progress/recovery visible (59%)
— Analyze what went wrong (58%)
— Improve governance structure (38%)
— Make CEO and leadership accessible to the media (34%)
— Fire employees involved in the problem (32%)
— Commit to high corporate citizenship standards (23%)
— Carefully review ethics policies (19%)
— Hire an outside auditor for internal audits (18%)
— Issue an apology from the CEO (18%)

For the most part, it appears that CEOs “get it.” I certainly question why only 18% believe that issuing an apology from the CEO is important–me thinks a blindspot there. But what is truly remarkable and demonstrates a level of ignorance about the instant news world and the importance of the internet for communication these days is this finding:

One of the more surprising findings of the market research conducted by the firm is that only 5
percent of senior executives believe that updating their website can be an effective tool in their crisis
management and corporate reputation turnaround strategy.

I can only conclude from this that either I and a lot of crisis management folks I know don’t get it and place too much importance on using your website for conveying information to the public, or we as an industry have a very very very long ways to go to get the word out to CEOs that their website and all the internet communication technology is critical in emerging from a crisis. Maybe they can even avert some or shorten that recovery time. Seems they’d be interested in the cost savings there.

Bitter bloggers and more backlash

What comes up must come down–and that’s true most of all about things that are hyper-hyped. it also seems that the time between hype and anti-hype keeps shortening–part of the instant news world I guess. Or the influence of blogs. Here are a couple of rants about the over-hyped nature of the blogosphere.

First, from Nicholas Carr who in a rather erudite fashion calls blogging and its presumption of power vs. mainstream media an “innocent fraud.” You judge for yourself.

The other is a more bitter complaint from a blogger who apparently has discovered that for the most part when he blogs nobody pays much attention. Apparently he thought that his words would be the equivalent of a better mousetrap and the world would beat a path to his door. (I’ve thought about that better mousetrap theory a lot as I put one of those old fashioned kind with the spring on it in my little barn–apparently no one has a better mousetrap or else we can’t find that elusive door.)

Here’s what commentator Seth Finkelstein had to say–note the cruelty of blog evangelists

To be more personal here, I wrote because:

1) I was suckered into the idea that blogs were a way to “route around” media power, and to be HEARD.

2) I had delusions of influence.

3) The random-payoff of attention makes it seem far more effective than it actually is.

4) It’s painful to admit that you’ve wasted so much time and effort and pretty much nobody is listening.

Blog evangelism is very cruel, as it preys on people’s frustrated hopes and dreams.

My blog is read by a few dozen fans, and, inversely, some “opposition researchers”. I’ve come close to shutting it down at times, and will finally reach the breaking-point eventually.

Well, it ought to blow BBC's mind…

Robert Scoble on scobleizer apparently had some folks in the BBC in to have a look at his blogging. Here’s his post from scobleizer. What blew their mind was his stats on his blog. They said their stats weren’t much bigger on their website. Interesting, huh? One of the largest, most prestigious news organizations generates similar traffic to one guy writing with nothing more than a laptop and a Ford Focus. OK, so he doesn’t need the Focus for writing. The point is we are in a “post-media world.” A term I coined or at least used in my book Now Is Too Late back in 2001. When a single person can generate global audiences with as little investment as this–along with good writing, savvy SEO, a best selling book and all that–it means the media no longer dominates as they did.

That’s a no brainer to a lot in the blog world, they are there already. But as I work with lots and lots of communicators and executives in the world of large government organizations, global corporations, large non-profits and the like, I can tell you that it is news to them. And it is going to take a long time before the reality of what this means to them really hits them. When it does, as I like to say, it may be too late.