A Big Moment in San Francisco, 2003

Twelve years ago, at a Coachville conference in San Francisco, one of the sessions that had a big impact on my business and my life was titled “Become an e-Celebrity with Blogging”. It was a lightbulb moment. Not that I wanted to be a “celebrity” but that I saw how blogging could help me share my story and promote my coaching business globally.

As it did.

I have no doubt that blogging and – more broadly – social media have helped me operate in a bigger field and build a network more deeply and widely than I could have expected otherwise.

That was then

But if I were delivering a conference session now on blogging, I would probably choose to talk not about becoming an e-celebrity, but about becoming a thought leader, with blogging.

Especially for leaders of professional services and mid market companies, many of whom face a serious challenge of establishing market differentiation in a time of increasing commodification of services.

In short, one of the ways to stand out from competitors is to establish thought leadership. And a good way to get started on that is with a blog.

And I’m talking CEO blog.

Of course, like a lot of worthwhile things in life and in business, that’s easier said than done.

For one thing, many CEOs and other senior executives may be, probably are, reluctant to use this form of communication.

Why some CEOS shy away

There is no shortage of reasons that can be called up to show why a CEO should not blog.

They include:

  • the time it takes
  • the possibility of “not getting it right”
  • a lack of confidence in being able to be interesting, consistently

There are answers to these and other reasons for not blogging.

For that most precious of CEO commodities, time, what about the time it takes to prepare and deliver a briefing to investors, the time it takes to prepare for and follow up from a Board meeting, and other responsibilities the CEO takes for granted, that take time?

As to “getting it right” the only “right” is being authentic and providing something the reading audience finds worthwhile.

Confidence? Admittedly it is a new form of communication for some, but a good remedy for lack of confidence in this area would be for hesitant CEOs to read the blogs of some other CEOs and ask themselves “Could I do that?” or even “Could I do that, and better?”. From what I’ve seen of even quite good CEO blogs, the answer should generally be in the affirmative.

You can have a very successful blog just sharing your insights and ideas about your industry, the general state of the economy, about the markets your company is in, and so on. Or you can do what many successful bloggers do, establish  thought leadership by virtue of keeping track of industry developments, reporting on them and adding your comments.

At this point you have no doubt realised I am using “thought leadership” in a flexible way. It’s not about “original” thinking so much as being reliable, up to date, perceptive thinking and commentary. Purists will no doubt find that too broad a delineation of what “thought leadership” means, but I can live with that.

Traps for new players

The two biggest traps for CEO blogs, which should be addressed at the outset, are:

  • using the blog just to pump out information about your firm and its products
  • getting bored and handing the writing of the blog posts to your marketing people or PR agency

Both of those will rapidly relegate your blog to the unread and unlamented pile.

The first, “blog as propaganda disseminator” approach is a common mistake. And it is fatal to the blog’s potential. It’s taking the blog, an ideal vehicle for establishing a transparent, trusting, two-way relationship with customers, partners, investors and others, and turning it into just another old-fashioned, one way “megaphone” for broadcasting unengaging messages. Boring, and possibly counter-productive in some circles.

The second, handing the writing over to someone else, is a surefire way not to be using the blog to help establish thought leadership.

Which is not to say the CEO can’t sensibly require a staff member to do some research and even come up with a topic and/or some bullet points to help the creative writing process.

Watch for Part 2

Next week, in the second of this two-part series of posts on blogging for thought leadership, I share some examples of CEO blogs and outline a strategy for success with thought leadership blogging.

Image credit: Blog, xioubin low, via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).