Why Do Executives Blog?

August 28, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Blogs | Leave a comment

Interesting article in the 7/20/09 WSJ about an online suggestion box set up for the CEO of GM. I guess you spend enough taxpayer dollars on a bailout and you get some social media out of it! 

DETROIT — General Motors Co. Chief Executive Frederick “Fritz” Henderson is launching a public-relations salvo this week, activating an online suggestion box called Tell Fritz.

The initiative, part of a wider assault the auto maker is waging to repair its tattered image, is designed to enable the 50-year-old executive to further distance himself from what has become known as the Old GM, or the auto maker that existed before Mr. Henderson steered the company through bankruptcy court in about 40 days.

Mr. Henderson created the effort in the week leading to the auto maker’s July 10 emergence from bankruptcy protection, after having discussions with expert bloggers about how to rebuild trust with the public.

My $0.02: The article doesn’t address the issue of whether this is true engagement, designed to alter strategy based on what they learn from customer, versus just a place for customers to vent and executives to preach.  I checked a few of the blog entries by Fritz and while there were 100+ comments on some of them he never once commented back. This is not a conversation and not the best way to use this channel to rebuild trust.

The article mentions that his predecessor “Wagoner employed a “deeds not words” strategy when it came to communication” so he didn’t want to blog or communicate in that way.  While that phrase may sound at first like a statement of integrity, it subtly builds in the implication that deeds are not influenced by words from the public; that conversations will not precede and will not affect the deeds.

I believe that words are not “just words” – conversation has to mean something if it’s an activity worth doing for an executive. This resonates with me since I wrote a suggestion box app at a credit card company in 1996.  It turns out there’s a suggestion box rule that says if you (management) know you’re never going to change what you do anyways, it’s better not to even ask for the suggestions. The same thing goes for HR and those employee satisfaction surveys.  People get annoyed when they see that their words (on a suggestion form in this case) never translate into a change in actions.  In the web 2.0 era, that same rule applies to conversations between companies and their customers, partners, and community as well.

A test for the intentions of whether a suggestion box or blog is meant to facilitate conversation versus being a venting/preaching platform is to see who owns it.  If PR has near-exclusive ownership and controls consumption and contribution of material on the site, it’s PR.  If marketing (product development) and customer service are heavily involved in reading, responding to, and internally talking about applicability of community postings, then it’s a conversation.  That conversation can act as a hearty supplement to the marketing guidance already obtained from focus groups and by analyzing sales statistics. 

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