Why and how you should prevent your CEO from blogging

That chummy yet authoritative initial post brims with inspiration and wisdom; then the tepid follow-up straggles in nine weeks later. Soon your team will be ghostwriting. Head it off now.

It’s conference season, and for communicators that means two things:

  1. They will be settling into a bum-numbing chair for some inspiration and possibly a well-earned nap.
  2. Their CEO will be calling them from her leadership conference to announce she is starting a blog. You’ve been warned.

Intranets across the land are populated by the ghosts of well-intended executive blogs. The first two or three are brilliant, rambling discussions about life, leadership, competition and global markets. Then they start getting a little shorter, a little more urgent and a lot less frequent. The final post from sometime in 2014 is a terse plea to submit timesheets properly.

CEO blogs have three unfortunate tendencies that we need recognize up front and either resolve or use as the reason they should find something else to do.

The tendency to be pointless

Though many blogs have little apparent point to them, CEO blogs have a particular habit of being about nothing. These Seinfelds of the corporate communications landscape wander from rousing calls to arms to lectures about frugality to watery holiday greetings.

Like most pointless things, they are ignored, precisely because they offer no value for the time invested. Ask your excited CEO these questions to determine whether his or her blog is likely to be pointless:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What behavior are you trying to change or encourage?
  • What will be new or different about this blog? (Have some of your abandoned blogs from previous CEOs handy.)
  • How will we know if this is succeeding?
  • Who’s supposed to be reading this blog?
  • Are there specific groups you are really trying to reach, internally or externally?

The tendency to need resources

CEO blogs have much in common with puppies. They’re new, they’re engaging, they’re fresh—but a year later they’re just dogs and suddenly nobody’s interested in picking up poop or driving to the vet.

That CEO who found four hours on a flight to bang out a thousand words on the subject of inspiration or efficiency cannot be counted on to have those hours (nor those ideas) again, at least not predictably, at least not when something more pressing needs to be looked at.

Predictably, as their time becomes less available, the communications team’s time is filling the gaps. At first it’s a light edit and some formatting, the next month it’s piecing together something coherent from scratches on a Post-It note. Then you’re waiting two weeks for the CEO to review the copy, and it all goes to hell.

All blogs at this level need resources. Even if your CEO is able to crank out something on her own each month or each week, somebody has to edit it, somebody has to format it, maybe get it translated, find an image, optimize it for search,  upload it to whatever platform for you’re using and then monitor it for activity.

Does your team have time for that? Is your CEO thinking her assistant has time for it? Is there some startled intern who will get pulled in?

At a minimum, you need a couple of hours for someone to write the thing, another hour to edit and fact-check it, an hour to get the text and image loaded up and looking nice, plus at least an hour to keep an eye on comments and questions that might need a response. So that’s five hours of someone’s time—you do the math on that one. If you need multiple languages, better add in the cost to translate and manage the translation.

Very quickly your CEO’s brilliant plan to engage the masses with a quick little note once a week, is now 20 hours of time per month.

If that sounds like a slow trip to hell, here are key questions to pose to the CEO at the outset:

  • What budget do you have in mind? (If the answer is zero, see above and ask again. Keep going until they have either funded five hours per post or told you you’re just not being positive enough.)
  • Does the CEO really have two hours to write this each time?
  • If not, who will do it for you?
  • Who is going to edit it?
  • Who has the time and expertise to get it translated, formatted and loaded up with a decent image? (Hint: It’s not anyone’s assistant’s job to do that stuff.)
  • Who’s going to monitor the piece for comments, and who will respond?

The tendency to run out of gas

Even focused, well-funded blogs can coast to a halt because there really isn’t much else to say. Generally it takes about eight months for the tank to empty. Once they’ve reviewed the mission, broken down the business transformation strategy, thanked a bunch of project teams, mused on the nature of leadership and wandered through a few quarter ends and product launches, there isn’t much more to say.

Here are some questions to suss this one out:

  • How often do you want to publish? (Anything less than monthly is not worth doing.)
  • Assuming a few weeks off here and there for holidays, can you come up with 48 or 24 or even 12 topics that aren’t pointless? (Plot the topics on a calendar to confirm they are not actually the same thing said differently.)
  • Can the CEO put at least 300 words together on the topic? Remember, if your CEO can’t do it, you’ll have to find someone who can.

Done right, all this questioning should prevent a random act of blogging and keep your intranet safe from yet another tumbleweed-filled street of forgotten ambition.

A version of this post first appeared on the BizMarketer blog.

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