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November 2008

Thoughts on Executive Blogs

One of the cool things I get to do at EMC is talk with people about the tools that are available to them, both via EMC ONE or in the “outside world” and how they might use these tools to accomplish their goals. In recent weeks, I have spent a great deal of time talking with some very passionate and interested EMC executives who would like to blog on ONE to share their own experiences, goals and perspectives with the vast EMC employee population.


As I have met with these folks, some recurring themes continue to emerge in the conversations. I have captured the top 3 below (more to come soon) along with my advice to them.


Please jump in with your own advice, experiences and lessons learned, too.


Time and energy or How much time are we talking here?

 

As we know, executives are busy, busy, busy. Not only are they the face of the company in all that they do, but they are in high demand for just about everything because of this. Every activity or meeting they choose to participate in comes at a cost of not doing something else, or turning someone else’s request away. Blogging is no different.


The typical first reaction when an executive is thinking of blogging is to compare themselves to any of the well-known and more prolific bloggers at EMC or another company and think that they have to live up to those same standards for their blog with the same frequency of posts, level of responsiveness, interactions, dialogue and debates. This is simply not true, and anyone diving into something as new as blogging is to some of these folks would instantly feel overwhelmed with that kind of expectation right out of the gate.  


My advice –

Set realist expectations for yourself. How often do you hope to post? Is that reasonable given your schedule? Start by setting a realistic goal for frequency of posts, and if you’re available more often, then that’s great. Don’t be afraid to change your goal if it’s not working for you. This is your blog, and it only needs to be as often as it is comfortable for you to do it – consider once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month as a starting point.


Commitment or How long am I going to be doing this?

 

Nobody likes to fail. Plain and simple. Starting a blog for some people implies that it must go on forever, with no end in sight. The thought of not being able to sustain it sometimes brings about thoughts of failure.


This is really sad for me when I hear this because blogging, in my mind, is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be something you enjoy. It’s supposed to help you de-stress, not make you feel trapped into doing something forever or risk being viewed as a failure.


My advice –

Go into this blogging adventure with an open mind. Do it as often and as long as it is enjoyable and works for you. Do not let it become a source of stress. Instead, let it become another, very valuable means of communicating to people you are trying to reach in a different way. Never, never, never go into it thinking “If I can’t sustain this, I’ve failed.” Some people are natural bloggers and writers, while others are not. That’s ok. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. We’re only human, after all.


Authenticity or Can’t someone else write my posts for me?

 

Back to the time constraints and considerations…Given that time is an invaluable asset in the lives of executives, one of the questions that comes up often is the idea of having a ghost writer for blog posts. “I can have someone else, who knows me and what I do well, write my posts and I’ll just post them. That’s how I’ll get around the time issue.” That’s what they do for their other communications, so the feeling is that it’ll work well for blogging, too. 


No-No-No. No-No.


Not only is this against the authenticity that is at the very heart of blogging, it complicates things incredibly. Elaborate plans and schemes have to be concocted in order to sustain this, and many people have to do the right things at the right time in order for it to work. Not only that, responses to comments and questions become crazy to handle – who’s responding to what? What if they say something other than what you would have said? Then what? Do you correct them? Do you add your own comments? And what happens then? And on, and on, and on…


My advice –

Keep it real, and keep it you. Do not start a blog just because it’s cool. Do it because you want to, for whatever amount of time it works, and do it because you’re committed to doing it authentically. Think of the reasons why you want to start a blog, one of which I’m pretty sure is because you want to connect with and communicate with people, right? Well, this is your chance to let them hear from you. Share what you want them to hear from you.


More themes to come soon…


Whose Job Is Social Media Engagement?

One of the things that I see organizations continue to struggle with in the realm of social media engagement is who is (or should be) responsible for it? Who should set up a community on behalf of the company? Who should manage it? Who should monitor it? Who should drive its strategic direction? Who should blog? And who should organize the bloggers, and who should monitor it and…You get my point.


People trust people

The traditional approach to media and communications from most organizations has largely been to have communications, regardless of their nature, come from PR “on behalf of the company.” Now, I have nothing against PR and in fact work with a number of fantastic PR folks who understand the value of social media and are fantastic proponents of the tools and technologies out there. And I know I’m not alone in this. My point in bringing this up is that in order for social media and community engagement to be successful for enterprises, one cannot depend solely on PR to drive the efforts. You must have people talking to people for it to work.

There are all sorts of research findings that point to this, as well. People trust people first, not companies first. They want to hear from people like them, facing the same decisions, the same challenges, the same options. The chart below from the Edelman Trust Barometer is a great pictorial of this dynamic. You’ll see that folks have consistently put their trust into “a person like me” vs. trust for employees of a company, CEO or otherwise.

Edelman_3 

Source: 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer, shared by Steve Rubel

This is a further testament to why it’s important for organizations to have all the right people involved and invested in making social media a success – different people have different perspectives, and will connect differently with readers, customers, partners, prospects. You must have well-rounded representation in order for social media at an enterprise organization to be genuine.

The champions

There are always people who will naturally become champions of the social media initiatives at the organization. It is important to welcome these people, nurture their knowledge, and make it easy for them to share their knowledge, experiences, and expertise with others. These people are your greatest asset when launching and maintaining active engagement for social media tools. And the beautiful part is they come from all parts of the organization, so they have the diversity of experience to share what works and what doesn’t in different parts of the company, as well as with customers, partners and prospects.

For EMC|ONE, we have a voluntary mentor program in which we encourage folks who have emerged as the champions of social media to add their names to a list of mentors that anyone can contact for technical assistance, advice on how to do just about anything, brainstorming on ways to encourage participation and make their communities more welcoming and discussion oriented. Why? It’s the same principle – people trust people who have the same experiences, questions, and challenges that they are facing.

For our growing list of external bloggers, we do the exact same thing – we have volunteers who are more than happy to share their experiences, advice, best practices, and of course, we have a community on EMC|ONE dedicated to their efforts, as well. We encourage anyone at EMC, blogger or not, to ask questions, seek advice, and share their experiences with the rest of the crew.

The educators

The open and real-time nature of social media tools makes it essential to ingrain education into the roadmap of launching an enterprise social media initiative. If organizations want people to use social media responsibility, and on behalf of the organization, they must set forth what they consider to be the “rules of engagement” and best practices, even use cases for participants of the tools. An example of this is the disclaimer on my blog – Sure, I work for EMC, and I share my experiences, opinions and stories of working here, but I do not speak on behalf of the organization. I speak on behalf of myself.

I often find that people get so excited about the initiatives that they are working on that it can be easy to forget what is appropriate to disclose in a public forum, such as a blog or discussion groups. Reminders of this, for the sake of both the individual and the company, are helpful and necessary components of the endeavor.

Some folks just need a helping hand by means of basic introduction as to when to use a wiki, blog, or discussion forum and what each means and implies regarding participation. To meet this need, we have created a fairly robust set of FAQs and Tutorials for our users on these very topics. They serve as the starting point for folks and lay the framework for them to feel a bit more comfortable engaging in the tools we offer.

The final verdict - Teamwork

There is no magic formula for how many people, or what departments, or what levels must be involved in a successful initiative. You must be open to exploring the right mix for your organization. And you must be open to changing that mix frequently until the team is right for your organization’s needs.

All of this makes the case that there is a point person or persons that needs to coordinate the company’s social media efforts beyond the tools provided for use. But, it also makes the case that social media success requires a team of diverse and committed individuals to make it a success and to serve the interests of not only the individuals that use it, but the organization as a whole.