I had planned on speaking about this at JiveWorld 2012, but unfortunately had to bow out. If not the stage - then the blog - here goes! Since the advent of Jive at Swiss Re, since the platform we call "Ourspace" went live in 2009, I've been an advocate of leadership blogging (I personally had actually been blogging for Swiss Re since 2007 - but cumbersome technology stopped me from getting leadership into blogging then). Since then I've talked to our leaders about blogging again and again - here are some of my learnings.
Leaders are human beings, too (sometimes hard to believe, but it's true!) - and what applies to you and I applies to them as well. To start with in 2009, I often went with the good ole WIIFM (what's in it for me) approach. I showed them that their traditional leadership communications would be hugely augmented by the use of personal blogging on their part. Here are some of the talking points I went with:
- Engage > with your leadership blog, your communication isn't simply down-down information pushing anymore - it becomes active and open.
- Empower > wether people comment/interact or not, they see that they CAN and they see others who do.
- Increase trust > The more openly you communicate, the more employees will trust you.
- Be accessible > Your blogs gives staff a sense that you're there and that your door is open.
- Strengthen > With your personal engagement you help foster a stronger community spirit (especially also with dislocated teams)
Now, three years later - we have highly prolific C-suite bloggers, we have experts and dabblers and we have many still on the fence. And today I have another arrow in my quiver when talking to leadership about blogging. I can use the lovely "peer pressure". With excellent examples to show, I don't have to claim this and that anymore - I can show them "what happens if" with concrete examples by their very own colleagues. In my talks with dozens of our top leadership, I've picked up a few insights along the way:
Not all leaders are born to blog
Some will be naturals, some can be guided to become good at it - and for some the idea of writing personally, of sharing in a more personal way, goes completely against their nature. There's no point in forcing someone into blogging because that person will most likely not engage personally. Employees spot fake blogs a mile off. Some of our top leadership felt compelled to blog because other leaders were successfully doing it. But they had Communications people craft their texts and those texts ended up as polished and corporate-y as traditional email messages. They were read, of course - after all they were still leadership messages - but emotionally, the resulting effect was zero. Best practice is clearly "If you decide to blog, then YOU blog". Blogs should not be polished.
Corporate readership is jaded
They've seen the corporate speak a thousand times over. Even though I could fix grammar, typos etc. in leadership blogs - I tend to leave it (unless it's something glaring that makes the blog unclear). Leaving typos etc. in place gives the employee that sense that it's genuine - that the leader actually did write it, that no communications person has crafted and polished ... in effect, it helps to make the leader more human (the usual "we all make mistakes).
Leaders usually are not born writers. I still regularly preach to them that brevity is what they should strive for. Leaders are comfortable hiding behind lengthy statements, writing out every aspect, 10 paragraphs instead of two. They are used to misusing email this way and they are likely to misuse blogs the same way. But this is online reading - short is great.
Don't leave your personality at home
Corporate leaders are, again, comfortable hiding behind corporate speak. Our best leadership bloggers are the ones who bring their personality into their blogs, that share their thoughts, opinions, impressions - "leave the leader out of it and just be yourself" kinda thing.
Location, location, location
Different leaders use different places, some use their personal blog (on their profile), others blog on a space - but my best practice is really for leaders to create their own group and center it around their blogging activities. Leaders like to say that their door is always open ... but since most staff is elsewhere in the world ...! For one of our C-suite leaders I've created an Ourspace group - a virtual office - where anyone anytime can come in, read his blogs and ask questions, too. The good thing about groups is that people will join it - which again makes them feel a stronger part of something.
Responding to comments
Leaders tend to be pretty busy and are always afraid of getting to many comments - I tell them that they don't need to worry about comments. If there's something I feel they should respond to, it will alert them specifically - it'll make them look good and it'll be empowering to the employee (and all readers) if something is noted and addressed by the leader.
Leaders like numbers
Once they get into blogs, they want those blogs validated by numbers of views and comments. Explaining the numbers is important. A topic, an image, a snappy title, the day of the week, the time of day, public holidays etc. etc. can all lead to either 500 or 2000 views. It helps to explain it as low viewer numbers might turn a leader off the idea of blogging. Key is consistency - keep at it, keep the blogs coming and the loyal followership will grow organically. But the numbers will always fluctuate.
On we muddle!