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November 8, 2007

Corporate & CEO Blogging

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After last session’s sound debacle, I’m not taking any chances. I’m front row, on the aisle for this one. The Lisa is going to hear Every. Word. You just wait and see!

Debbie Weil is moderating this morning’s session with speakers Paula Berg, John Earnhardt, Pete Johnson, Jennifer Cisney, and Brian Lusk.

Debbie asks a room of bloggers who thinks blogging is just incessant barking like a dog? No one raised their hands. Shocking! She says that’s one of the first things you do in corporate blogging, tune into your audience and see what they think. Okay.

Executing a corporate blog takes work. There’s a host of questions you have to ask yourself. Will you allow comments? Will you run it through Legal? It’s a very creative endeavor and it’s also very strategic. This is a revolution. We’re still in the early stages. It’s really how companies speak to their customers, whether it’s PR, customer service or gathering marketing intelligence. She thinks it’s fair to say that this is at least a beginning of a revolution.

Why aren’t more CEOs and companies blogging? Because of the fear of being criticized and the fear of losing control. When you have your own blog, you control it. This is your editorial product channel that you’re creating, You set the rules.

She shows a comic about blogging that I have on my bulletin board at work. I giggle.

Most companies don’t start with a dedicated blogging team. It’s a let’s-see-if-this-works-first kind of a thing. There are very few CEOs who can write really well and have the blogging DNA and the disposition to do this. For most CEOs, they open their mouths and out comes corporate speak.

Kodak Blogs A Thousand Words

Up first is Jennifer Cisney. She works with the Kodak blog and is an information designer. She’s had her own personal blog for 8 years now. She blogs every day.

A year ago when her company wanted to start a corporate blog, she was a natural fit. When they started to blog, the idea came out of the PR & communications department. They were behind the idea but she still had to pitch it to the executives. They host their blog offsite because they weren’t interested in getting into the business of building a blog platform. They wanted to focus more on content. They have a unique perspective on their blog. They don’t do a CEO blog. Their blog is about regular people who work in the company and love photography and what they do. They have a lot of passionate people in their company. It’s a great way to get their stories out there and inspire other people.

Kodak has a consumer blog called A Thousand Words. They’ve gone through about 50-60 employee bloggers. Employees submit stuff and then the blog group puts it up for them. They don’t edit the content. Jennifer came up with the design. The best way to find out more about the blog is to go and read the stories. They’re amazing and touching.

Story Examples: A young woman who sees her premature baby through a photo for the first time, pictures of the recent California fires, a woman who was in a near death experience and then rediscovered the world through photos. There are also a lot of funny posts, too.

They’ve also launched A Thousand Nerds blog that comes out of Kodak’s R&D department.

HP’s 50 Blog Team

Up next is Pete from HP. A big part of what HP IT is about is being a showcase for their IT customers out in the market. His group provides the platform on top of which the different HP bloggers build their content. They have about 50 blogs. They take a very distributed approach to it. Anyone who can make a business case for having a blog can have one.

Their most popular blog is by Vince Ferraro, the Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for the HP LaserJet Business. There’s a broad gamut of the bloggers and their intent for using the platform. They’re at the point now where they’ve outgrown the platform they’ve been using for the past few years. They’re in the process of finding funding for a new platform. For them it’s about providing a platform so people don’t have to worry about setting up a blog themselves. They just have to write the content.

When you’re starting to open up to a wide variety of people, you have to worry about if they’re giving away proprietary information and that they’re crediting people correctly. They want the comments to be meaningful dialogue, not a support emporium. The bloggers can’t fix your printer. Hee.

Cisco and Blogging

John from Cisco is next.

He’s blogger in chief from Cisco where they use the Web to extend reach. His job was to extend that reach. They had a small global team and ask themselves how do we get the voices out there?

When they launched the blog, John didn’t know he worked with a lot of lazy people (awesome!). The blog really became a platform for John to write about what was going on and various public policy issues. It wasn’t meant to be that, but he was the only one writing and he had to keep it going. It was definitely a let’s ask for forgiveness rather than permission. He went through Legal to get the disclaimer that says he was posting for himself and not for the corporation. A year later he’s mentioned in the Wall Street Journal as a high level executive who blogs.

That notoriety helped them to realize that yes, they are already out there in the marketplace, so how can we extend our reach? Jon came back into the PR team in 1999 and really looked at what messages they were trying to push out. They have 20 initiatives this year. They called it their Blue Sky plan. They’re identifying bloggers in their division who can go out and participate in the blogosphere and say, hey, here’s what we think about these issues.

Cisco has a PR person attached to each one of the blogs. That person is ultimately responsible for whatever gets picked up and the conversations that may occur. They’ll publish anything, they don’t care. And the content, if it reaches one person, fantastic. They have about 90K page views on their corporate site. They have about 15 official Cisco blogs.

In terms of CEO blogging, their CEO is extremely energetic and actively and out there. He loves the idea of blogging and is able to talk a mile a minute but he’s not a typist. So about 6 months ago, they went out and bought a camera. The idea was that they would follow him around as he travels and allow him to give quick 3-5 minute highlights. That didn’t work out so well. Now the CEO has committed himself to creating one short video a week. He sees it as a platform that can reach a different audience. He can put his message out and it’s unfiltered. It takes him about 5 minutes to knock them out. They give him three questions to answer and he just answers them and talks to people.

Blog Girl and Blog Boy dish about SouthWest

Up next are Blog Girl and Blog Boy from SouthWest airlines. They actually have names. They’re Paula and Brian.

Their blog isn’t the first blog in SouthWest. They had an earlier blog connected with the Adopt a Pilot program so they already had a background in blogging. They knew that the conversation regarding SouthWest was already going on online in other circumstances. They wanted to add their voice and control the conversation. About 18 months-2 years ago, they began exploring the idea of a corporate blog. They moved forward and created a presentation for their planning committee, who eventually bought off on the idea.

From them, blogging was natural. They’re from a company that is known for its transparency. They’re not afraid to take risks with exposing their employees to the public. The first blog when up in April of 2006. They have a team of 30 employees from all walks of the company. They have one officer that’s regular on the blog team, mechanics, flight attendants, etc.

Paula says blogging is a major time commitment. She has a full-time job outside of blogging. They’ve seen a huge media benefit from it. They’re constantly pitching bloggers to the media and their beat reporters are looking to the blog for information. They went into this with pretty pure intentions. They wanted to give employees a chance to interact with customers. It’s become a virtual focus group.

As an example, Dana talks about SouthWest’s open seating policy. Their CEO announced they were going to open seating and it blew up. There were about 700 comments with 85 percent of customers wanted assigned seating, NOT open seating. That post caught the attention of their executives.

(I have to say, I’m with the majority. I few SouthWest for the first time on my way up to Vegas and the open seating thing totally confused me. I had to text my BFF Tamar Weinberg on assistance. Could I sit anywhere? Like anywhere anywhere? I was confused.)

Dana almost mentions the mini skirt issue that hit the airwaves where a woman was kicked off a flight because her outfit was too revealing. It generated probably 1500 comments on the blog in a weekend. Sex sells.

They learned to have thicker skin because people got very personal and attacked Brian. Dana says they didn’t handle that situation as well as they could have. They didn’t do a good job of expressing their point of view and allowed brush fires to break out all over the Web.

The SouthWest blog is completely moderated. They feel like they have to do it to protect their brand. Brian says when they started the blog they had to worry about protecting intellectual property. That was the reason for the moderating. They have no problem posting extremely negative comments. They moderate out individual customer service questions (where’s my bag?) or personal attacks.

Question & Answer

So, SouthWest doesn’t allow any posts that are customer service issue to be up?

Brian: Not a specific individual. If someone has a concern in general, they’ll post that. It has to be of interest to everyone.

Dana: If it’s something that needs personal research or resolution, that’s not something we can answer on the blog. If it’s policy based, than that we would post.

Brian, explain your blogging users guide.

Brian: It lays out that it’s a moderated blog and offers the guidelines for what they will and won’t post. It’s also a "welcome to the blog". They thought it was important to be upfront.

To John of Cisco: The PR person assigned to the particular blog post, do they edit or are they in charge of getting out in the blogosphere?

John: They push the content. They’ve gotten to the point where people are seeing the impact for what they can do with the blog. We don’t edit anything other than grammar.

How do any of you reach out to other bloggers?

John: We don’t have them blog on our site but we treat bloggers like reporters. We do outreach to them. We include them in announcements and pitch to them. We treat them similar and interact with them and give them a heads up if something’s coming.

Brian: We link out to other blogs too. We even have a link to the Delta airlines blog and they link to ours, as well.

We consult with a lot of Fortune 500 companies. How do you get an organization to make the investment to build the infrastructure and then feel compelled to join the blogosphere?

John: We’re cheap. We don’t pay for anything. We use Movable Type. It’s not a full time job for anybody. Everyone is contributing to the effort, from the blogging side, the IT side, to just looking for content. Yeah, it is kind of scary. We’re doing a real big push on internal blogs. From a workplace standpoint, we use them as a platform to have almost real-time conversation about a concept and turn it into a collaborative effort.

Pete: One of the cool things about blogging is that you can start for virtually no cost.

Dana: She thinks some their most contentious posts have been the best ones.

John: You have to be careful from a legal standpoint. You have to be able to accept some of that risk.

Do you have to have an inside evangelist?

Everyone says yes.

Brian: Not everyone should blog. The blog isn’t going to change your culture. It will just expose you. (Excellent point.)

Do you think it’s been easier for SouthWest given the culture of the company from the very beginning?

Dana: Yes. Our blog matches our culture. But Delta doesn’t have that same reputation and their blog seems to be doing okay.

Brian: Our legal department hasn’t even been involved in it because they’re used that kind of risk so it’s not a big deal for them.

Have you been asked by your organization to measure the result of your blogging? If so, how?

Jennifer: We get traffic reports, but that’s not what we were in it for. For us, it’s about the comments. If other blogs are picking up links off of our blog, that’s more what we’ve been looking at. Another big benefit has become that internally the blog is this place where employees can go to learn more about their own company. It’s become a mouthpiece for them.

Dana: A lot of the benefit for measurement is that nobody knows. Take all the great things that have gone on that month and show the execs. You define what success is.

What about internal blogs? What tricks have you learned are great for getting people interested in participating?

John: We don’t ask people to blog. People ask to blog. That’s kind of how we approach it internally. Encourage people to use RSS.

Ben: But that’s touchy. If it’s an internal blog, you have to make people use one specific feed because the feed isn’t public. You don’t want outsiders reading your internal blog.

Interesting stat: Only 1.5 of the companies offer a link to their blog from the home page.

With regard to moderation (comments, entries), we heard from the speakers from SouthWest. What are the other speakers policies? What’s the impact of delay?

Jennifer: We let the comments go up immediately. We have a person who gets copied in on the email and if she sees something, she’ll take it down. It’s a not a huge problem for them. They don’t get a lot of inappropriate comments.

John: They moderate and they get dinged sometimes for not being more immediate. They go through every comment before they post it.

Pete: It’s up to the individual blog owner to do that. A lot of the executives will do their own writing and farm out moderating to someone else. (Like a minion!)

Are any of you using the blog as an extension of your advertising campaigns?

Jennifer: Once in a great while if we’ve come out with a great product someone from development will talk about it on the blog. If they’re giving away stuff, they’ll blog about that.

Interesting Note: Debbie says the reason Google doesn’t allow comments on its main blog is simply because they don’t have time to moderate them.

What do you think about the CEO who will dictate thoughts and then someone on the staff edits it and publishes it?

John: The authenticity of some of the CEO blogs is certainly questionable. He recommends CEOs recording their posts and then publishing the audio so it’s in their own voice.

A ghostblogger in the audience chimes in. He ghostblogs for Fortune 500 CEOs, executives and his mother’s bed and breakfast. He disagrees that ghostblogging takes away from the authenticity of blogging. Blogging is no different from speech writing.

(Totally disagree. Blogging should be the total opposite of that. Someone remind me to blog about this next week. [*makes note* --Susan])

Dana says it depends on the person and the situation.

And with that it’s lunch time. Or at least time to charge my laptop. See you in the afternoon!

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One response to “Corporate & CEO Blogging”

  1. John Earnhardt writes:

    First, wow. You may have been a stenographer in a previous life. I think you captured the content of the panel brilliantly.

    And, only clarification I would make on the comments I made is that our CEO has committed to a video blog every week he is in the office…as he travels a little more than 50% of the time, that gives us around 2 posts a month. Look for another one early next week at http://blogs.cisco.com/news/

    Whatever they’re paying you at Bruce Clay, go ahead and double it.



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