One of the most perceptive observers of the foibles of business leaders today is Lucy Kellaway, who writes the weekly “Business Life” column in the Financial Times of London.
Today’s column, “Why executives should steer clear of the blogosphere,” (FT subscription may be required to see the column) is one of the best demonstrations of how corporate communicators fail the executives they serve.
The problem is that creeping commercialism, and the desire to monetize every new technology-based media channel, can ruin the free thought concept behind blogging and other new media technologies.
Lucy gives a couple of examples of corporate executives’ blogs. She describes one as “a tarted up press release.” And that’s exactly what it is. Companies are deathly afraid of having a conversation with employees and (heaven forbid!) customers that is honest and useful to them.
She does like the blog at General Motors being attributed to car-building legend Bob Lutz. And my fellow PR Blogger, Shel Holtz, featured the Lutz blog in his podcast conversation with Michael Wiley, director of new media communications for General Motors.
It’s like the old joke about the guy who was able to navigate his plane out of the clouds for a safe landing, because when he shouted out to the guy on the ground, “Where am I?” the fellow told him he was in a plane about 200 feet off the ground.
The pilot later told the air traffic controller, “I knew that since he was telling me something absolutely true but completely useless, I must be near (FILL IN THE NAME OF YOUR COMPANY HERE) customer service.”
A few years ago, a financial services firm I worked for thought it would be great to engage employees in an email dialogue with the Chairman. They made a big deal about setting up an email address for him and soliciting questions. The only credibility problem was that everyone knew that there were corporate communications people reading the inbox, not the chairman, and that only the questions likely to make him look good would be answered in public.
The advice from here is to let blogs be blogs, don’t try to co-opt them into another vehicle for selling the party line.
Just like the endless streams of corporate intranet postings and internal newsletters, or (even worse) the broadcast voice mails from the CEO…it isn’t going to work that way!