Opinion: Executive blogging for fun and profit

Someone I know posted an intriguing item on his weblog the other day. It began: "It's tough to compete against a social movement. Especially one in which you're a believer."

The blogger was Jonathan Schwartz, president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems. When it comes to the expanding blogosphere, he's a welcome addition.

Schwartz is among a small number of senior executives in the corporate world to adopt the blog format for explaining his views. He's already one of the best at it, and other executives could learn something from him.

The average corporate Web site has much in common with the average annual report. Both are loaded with information, too much of which is hidden or disguised in an effort to minimize problems and maximize what's going right. To that end, particularly in the case of companies with problems, such sites seem designed to thwart the casual visitor who wants to look deeply into a corporation and its doings.

The least interesting feature of a corporate Web site, with few exceptions, is the typical "Letter From the Chief Executive," a content-free missive, most likely written by a committee of lawyers and marketing people, that does nothing to reveal the character either of the company or its leader. Creating an impression of openness isn't the same as actually being open. Establishing a corporate weblog can change that.

What the best blogs tend to have in common is voice: They clearly have been written by human beings with genuine ideas and a passion for what they're saying.

Schwartz isn't the first high-ranking executive to have started a blog. That honor may belong to Groove Networks' Ray Ozzie, whose intermittent blog -- he sometimes goes for months without posting anything -- nonetheless has been enlightening at times.

He says the blog gives him "a communications channel under my control," where he can say what he wants (within limits, such as keeping trade secrets secret), and he has the ability to post quickly and without limits on length.

"I feel as though there's a conversation -- many conversations -- going on out there," Ozzie says. "It lets me feel like I'm part of that conversation, and when I get calls and e-mails, there's confirmation that I'm part of the conversation."

My favorite senior-executive blog comes from Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. His "Blog Maverick" attracted instant attention when he launched it in March, and no wonder: He took on sportswriters and offered pungent commentary on sports and investing. It's great stuff.

Corporate lawyers are undoubtedly having miniseizures over their outspoken executives' public statements. But sensible rules for corporate bloggers can prevent public relations or legal problems.

IT needs to understand how blogs work, especially the third-party software most bloggers now use. Security matters. You really don't want a hacker to put words in your CEO's mouth, for example.

I don't think corporate blogging is a fad. The blog brings a human voice to the enterprise. It's not just good marketing. It's good business.

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