Interesting story on the Associated Press wire this morning about Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW) CEO Jonathan Schwartz and his blogging efforts, in which I am quoted rather extensively (albeit as “David Taylor”, which might have thrown a few people but for which my Mum is doubtless delighted): At communication’s vanguard, Sun CEO’s blog goes international. After talking about what a good job Jon’s doing with his blog and quoting my friend Debbie Weil, Rachel Konrad, the AP reporter, quotes me as saying:
“Nondisclosure agreements and financial regulations can turn the most literary CEOs into scribes who post rehashed speeches or press releases. CEOs may also lack the thick skin required for blogging, said Dave Taylor, an executive consultant in Boulder, Colo.”
I have more comments in the article, but thought it would be useful to expand on my thoughts here in the digital world where ink is cheap…
Last year I wrote a pretty controversial article for Global PR Week [Why CEO's shouldn't blog] wherein I noted that the zeal that some bloggers have (esp. Robert Scoble) to push CEOs and other executives into blogging and full public disclosure was often at odds with legal and financial constraints that limit the public actions of executives, particularly those of publicly traded companies.
The reality of Sarbanes-Oxley in the boardroom (see What is Sarbanes-Oxley? if you don’t know what that’s about) is yet another factor that I didn’t mention to the AP reporter, but the big point here is that when you look at legal issues, disclosure issues, competitive issues, and similar, there really are a lot of constraints that executives have to carefully step around before they can start thinking about any sort of public venue like a blog.
But there are even more reasons why you have to be judicious, as I point out further in the AP piece:
“One of the inevitabilities of blogging is that you get critical, hostile responses from trolls – people who post provocative things just to inflame a reaction,” Taylor said. “If you’re the CEO of a 5,000-employee company, you don’t need to be dealing with a troll.”
Let me define a troll here too: a troll is someone who posts critical or hostile comments purely to inflame the discussion or otherwise be provocative. They can be huge energy sinks if you’re not careful and I’m betting you have seen them show up.
The most important issue, however, is that the CEO is not the person in a company responsible for communicating with customers and the marketplace. Indeed, the traditional role of a Chief Executive Officer is to raise money. That’s it. They’re responsible for contributing to the strategic direction of the company, but most typically not the tactics.
Look at this another way: quick, how many CEOs can you name? How many from companies with more than $10 million in sales or more than 500 employees? I thought so.
Now you’ll understand why I also told Rachel that:
“As much as I’m impressed by Jonathan’s blog, I wonder how he has time to blog when he has a company that desperately needs management steered in the right direction,” Taylor said.
Of course, I realize that I’m still swimming upstream in the proverbial blogostream, and that Debbie, for example, is tightly focused on explaining why CEOs should blog. Heck, her domain name is Blog Write for CEOs.com, and Jonathan himself, CEO of Sun Microsystems “… shrugs off criticism, insisting that blogging makes sense at Sun, which develops computer and storage systems, high-speed microprocessors and software for operating network equipment for corporate clients.”
But let’s end this with a suggestion for how CEOs can get involved with the company blogging efforts, because I do believe they have an important voice, even if they shouldn’t run their own blog explicitly. How to get involved? Have a multi-author company blog and then have a monthly “Letter from the CEO”. Perfect! You can give the CEO a voice, but you can work through marketing, PR and legal, as necessary, to ensure that the message is consistent with the requirements of executive communications.
What do you think, dear reader?
Keep in mind that Sun Microsystems has had very tough times since the dotcom bust. As the AP story notes: “Sun’s annual revenue has declined in four of the past five years, and shares have plummeted from a high of about $64 in September of 2000 to around $5 this year.”
Is having the CEO blog truly the best way to utilize the time and expertise of the executive and turn things around?
Here are a few other places you can find the original AP story, in case the SJ Mercury requirement for you to register is too darn annoying: