Does your Chief Executive have a blog and use social networks to improve his or her communication? If you answered yes, then congratulations, your boss clearly appreciates that the way we all communicate today has changed beyond recognition in the past half-decade.
If your executive team is still asking 'why?' then beware of holding too many shares in your own company.
The way people get a job, find a partner, arrange a party, elect a leader, and interact with TV shows has changed beyond recognition in the past half-decade. You know this because you can see it all around you each and every day. Why do corporate communication experts not mention this when explaining why a blog might be useful for your executive team?
Blogging cuts across many communications channels that have been previously owned by various departments within your organisation. Think about how the combined use of a blog and Twitter alone can allow the CEO to easily reach employees (current and alumni), journalists, industry analysts, industry consultants and advisors, academics, bloggers, and existing or potential customers. That's PR, AR, internal communications, corporate communications, marketing, and sales all rolled into one.
So there are many possibilities, but you are going to tread on a lot of toes in well-established parts of your business. If you want to get it right then you need to plan ahead, so you know exactly what you are getting into. Here are six simple steps to consider:
1. Plan the expected outcomes
Are you trying to raise the profile of your CEO? Are you trying to raise the profile of the brand? Are you trying to reposition the brand? Are you trying to get more press coverage from journalists you don't normally interact with? Are you trying to create industry comment that your sales team can use when pitching to prospects?
These are all valid questions. Once you have decided on the big picture argument about 'why' your executive team or CEO should be blogging. What should you work on that could not be achieved without the blogging programme going ahead?
2. Plan how you will measure success
How you measure success depends very much on what you want to achieve, however I think it is extremely important to separate the achievements of the social network user and the achievement of the business executive. By this I mean that 100 engaged and influential followers on Twitter can be far more important than 10,000 followers that are just bought or obtained by asking employees to follow the boss.
Consider what really matters to your business - the real outcomes of social activity. These include influential contacts interacting with you, quoting you, or asking to meet in person. Have you ended up being asked to contribute to a magazine or research report because of tweets? Has an influential analyst asked to meet because of your tweets?
3. Educate the team and get their buy-in
Make sure the executives are on board. They must support this because social media is very personal. Even if they have a ghostwriter supporting their blogs, when a business editor tweets a hello because they liked a blog it would be deceitful to have a PR, or the ghostwriter, answering tweets.
I was once asked to advise the partners of a major international consulting firm. The senior partners had been asked to tweet by their marketing and communications team. That was about as far as the guidance went - so the executives all installed Twitter on their mobile devices and started tweeting.
But after a few weeks, most of them gave up. They couldn't see the point. When I asked to see some of their tweets, it was obvious why. They were broadcasting details of their day - I just caught a train to Paris, I just arrived at the office, I am working on a complex presentation for a client... no wonder they were not attracting any followers or creating any engagement.
I told them to turn the entire process upside down, to start listening and to stop all that publishing of trivial information. In front of all the partners I took over the account of the most senior guy and asked him about some journals he reads, some journalists he respects, the analysts he turns to for detailed information on his area of expertise.
Within ten minutes I showed them how this executive now had a stream of information on his phone that was all published by people he respects or people that are useful for him to know professionally. He would be free to interact with any of those people, to create conversations based on what those people are saying.
Executives are not using social networks because it's cool. They don't care about what teenagers are doing, but if the use of a network like Twitter can enable them to quickly and easily reach the key influencers in their field of business then it's not just a toy - it's an essential communication tool.
4. Plan your scope and targets
Once the executive team is on board then you need to plan two key areas with them; what is the scope for the blog content and who are the people they want to see the blogs and other social interactions?
It is important to stress that the value of the blog itself is usually to position the individual executive as having their own mind and demonstrating competence in their business area - it should not read like a list of press releases for the business. Think of it more like articles in a business magazine, commenting on the area of business you work in, rather than a series of posts that just say 'we do this well' or 'we are the cheapest in the market'.
A lot of this information regarding the scope may be with your marketing or PR teams anyway, but it's worth just asking the executives directly because they will have their name on the content that is published online. The key questions are:
. What subjects would you like the blog to cover or explore?
. How provocative would you like the blog to be - quite contrary to provoke more response or just demonstrating competence in your subject area?
. Would you like to regularly comment on current affairs related to your business area in the blog?
When you have the scope for the blog content ready then you have a framework to operate within. You will know the preferred style of comment and the topics to comment on. The next area is the people who the executive would like to see the blog. Who should notice your content?
Which individual journalists does the executive read?
Which business or trade journals are most influential?
Which industry analysts publish the most influential reports about your area of business?
Which industry consultants recommend companies such as yours to their clients?
Which bloggers and other experts write about your industry?
Create a 'hit list' from the individuals and companies mentioned. This can be used on social networks, such as Twitter so relevant people can be monitored and informed about the blog - when appropriate.
5. Create simple procedures everyone understands intuitively
Your exact procedures may differ depending on how you are interacting with the executive and what they want to achieve, but it is always best to keep it simple. In social communications things often move fast, you cannot be checking an operations manual when making a decision on what to tweet or retweet.
Understanding how the writing and publishing procedures works is important for the day to day operation of the team, but is critically important when you need to hand off between the ghostwriter - assuming you have some help to create the blogs - and the executive.
6. Plan some interim outcomes and review times
Sometimes you will see enormous growth and interest in what you are doing and sometimes it will be fairly quiet, but use the strategic planning and expected outcomes to set some checkpoints where you can review what is working and what may need tweaking.
I recommend a review every quarter with a focus on:
What actual business outcomes did we create in this quarter?
Are we targeting the right influencers?
Are people engaging with the content we create?
This allows a regular chance to improve the content, the way that you get that content in front of people, and whether the focus on business outcomes has slipped back into focusing on social media outcomes, i.e. the team has started focusing on followers rather than genuine outcomes.
My new book 'Customer Engagement Officer (CEO): Content Marketing and the Realities of Executive Blogging' was published this week and features more detail on the subject of executive blogging and content marketing. You can find it on Amazon here...