Tom Murphy – Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy blogging about PR and other things since 2002…

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To blog or not to blog…

July 20th, 2009 · 2 Comments · Public Relations

One of the constant questions since the advent of blogging has been the thorny question of whether a CEO/Executive blog should be only written by the individual in question or can be ghost written. Personally I tend to favor the former.  Blogs are about the human voice.

There’s some interesting discussions taking place across the Atlantic on this very subject.

Neville Hobson kicked it off with his post: “Blogging requires personal participation”

Whether or not you think ghost blogging is a good idea – and, for the clear record, let me state my view: I think it’s a terrible idea (although I had a very different view in 2004 when I was still trying to figure out this business blogging malarkey) – you could argue it’s ok as long as there’s open disclosure.

So everyone would know that when you read Executive A’s blog posts, they’re really written by Flack B: The ideas may be A’s but the words are B’s.

And I’d agree – as long as you disclose, there’s no perception of pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes and your risks of reputation damage when you’re found out (there will be nothing for anyone to find out) are minimal.

Whether it’s an effective form of communication and relationship-building is another matter entirely.

Paul Seaman followed up with a post titled: “Corporate blogging: now it’s personal?”

Here’s the detail. I believe that all corporate utterance is collegiate, not personal. We should not expect that a corporate voice is speaking personally. To that extent, one should steer corporate people away from the appearance of purely personal speech (ie, in blogs) because it’s a falsity. But if there is corporate blogging, then one has to accept that it has a corporate mindset and spin (unless it stays bland and covers nothing much). Corporate blogging isn’t personal and PRs might as well get involved, and probably should.

I think Neville’s point is only a little different. He believes (and I rather agree) that a blog is a personal thing in a special way (it is – as it were – a hand-written note) which is different to a speech (which might – as it were – be a typewritten thing produced by a committee). Thus Neville insists that it is wrong for a CEO to have a blog but delegate it. But Neville thinks that a CEO, say, can speak with a personal voice and that his utterance is personal not corporate at that point. And I think Neville believes that the corporate and the personal can be aligned.

The difference between us may be that I think that corporations (and institutions) should steer clear of pretending that they are people and have personalities that are free of corporate ties. They have qualities, and even aspirations, but these are group things. I resist their becoming too chummy, and so I resist their blogging and tweeting as if they are something they are not; I want to keep the corporate voice authentic. Corporates should be too formal to be capable of the mateyness involved in the ’social media’ world – except as part of transparent marketing.

I’m not sure that I agree that Corporations shouldn’t develop a human voice.  I have long advocated the theory that rather than corporate communications replacing traditional tools and channels, we are probably looking at an expansion of the number of those channels.  For example if you are looking for detailed technical specifications for a product, a blog is of limited use, what you really want is a product sheet or whitepaper.  However, there is also the potential for people inside the company to provide some human perspective. A perspective that customers may well enjoy and/or find useful.

It’s an interesting discussion.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Paul Seaman

    Tom, thanks for highlighting our discussion.

    I agree that in the age of audience segmentation, the more channels we communicate via the better. I also agree that developing a corporate voice is fine – essential even – whether it be Bank of England-stye formality, or Easy Jet informality. But even when, say, Richard Branson does the talking on behalf of his companies it is his laid-back jokey corporate voice he speaks in, and his corporate interests (brand Branson’s) he speaks for, whether he blogs or appears on TV.

    But there is a tendency among some PRs to use social media to get touchy feely, so as to be seen to escape corporate restraints completely. Such attempts to establish empathy with audiences is an inauthentic deception that will be exposed at the first sign of tension within the relationship. In short, corporate blogging can never be as personal or as free as non-corporate blogging (or communication).

  • Tom Murphy

    Hi Paul,

    I agree there’s a fine line to be walked here. However, I think the most important thing is authenticity and transparency. As long as a company is clear with readers then I think there’s the potential for good dialogue.

    I strongly agree there’s nothing more off-putting than companies trying to be something they are not. There’s endless examples of sweaty thirty-something marketing executives pretending to be cool students online with disastrous results.

    I think that as long as a company is honest and open, then there is an opportunity for online engagement.

    Thanks
    Tom

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