Everyone has a blog these days, including it seems a number of CEOs. Some organisations have even told their senior managers they should blog (internally). The reason? To better communicate, perhaps - or perhaps not.
One manager I spoke with recently has just started receiving blogs from her senior managers who have all been told they need to "display more of themselves" through blogging. Sounds good in theory, but what's the impact on the people they are trying to influence?
My colleague said that not only had her senior management group been instructed to blog, they were given a theme – to describe their heroes. Apparently the idea is that if senior management talk enough about heroes, employees will be more likely to become heroic. The heroes have ranged from Spiderman to vets flying choppers during the Vietnam War.
I'm not sure whether the organisation has tested the effect of this blogging scheme. However, from informal reports it has not gone down well. Instead of talking about heroic behaviour, employees are discussing the inappropriateness, absurdity or even comical nature of particular senior manager's heroes.
Maybe venture capitalist and author, Guy Kawasaki, is right when he suggests that a blog is for "... someone with nothing to say, writing for someone with nothing to do."
A manager in another organisation says she gets sent so many links to various senior managers' blogs that it becomes tiresome. Generally the content is trivial and seen as a waste of time. As a result, she now automatically deletes these links, including the link to the CEO's blog.
Another manager told me that his CEO's blog is obviously written by the PR or Communications Department as it is totally out of whack with his natural personality.
So can internal blogs ever be successful? It's hard to get definitive data as many companies do not publicise their results, so reports are simply word-of-mouth.
However, some companies such as IBM, Sun Microsystems and Intel, have had internal blogs that have been so successful they now publish some of them to the external web. One result is that journalists pick up on current PR and happenings that provide a positive boost to the company's image .
Cannondale, the bicycle manufacturer, has taken another approach. They started with their website and then opened it to 15 of their sales and marketing staff. "Each one now has the tools to file his or her own updates, press releases, photos, and news about the race teams Cannondale sponsors", says Janet Maurice, the company's Webmaster. "The program will expand to a host of Cannondale staffers and affiliates. We're transferring our corporate content management system to blogs," Maurice says.
Cannondale obviously realises that the message has to have meaning, and so it is encouraging employees to write about actual company happenings.
So what makes a blog work? And particularly, how can an internal blog have a positive impact on the intended audience, each employee?
Well, because blogs are more informal than other forms of communication, they should encourage things like employee participation, the free discussion of issues, the development of corporate knowledge, direct communication between various layers of an organization and a sense of community.
Probably the most important thing, is that it must be written by the quoted author and be representative of that person's personality. Like the writer, the blog must be genuine. Additionally, it must have something meaningful (to the audience) to say. People will probably give you one shot at getting it right, so the first blog is critical. People have too many other demands on their time to be concerned with a trite, meaningless stream of consciousness or a connived story.
According to best-selling author and blogger, Seth Godin, blogs work when they are based on candor, urgency, timeliness, pithiness and controversy. And as he says, "Does this sound like a CEO to you?"
Godin stresses that a blog really does have to have something meaningful to say. "Short and sweet, folks: If you can't be at least four of the five things listed above, please don't bother. People have a choice (4.5 million choices, in fact) and nobody is going to read your blog, link to your blog or quote your blog unless there's something in it for them. Save the fluff for the annual report."
It's understandable that organisations are trying to jump on the social networking bandwagon. And an internal blog seems the obvious and right fit. So, even though an internal blog can offer a simple, low cost way of communicating with staff, it should meet certain criteria so that the message will resonate with the employee.
Most importantly, it must be good enough that people want to click on the link when there has been a new posting. And that's a tall order for many managers.