Executive Blogs: 7 Signs You Should Just Say No

Six years ago, Gawker broke a story: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Has a ‘Ghostwriter.’

Photos of Howard Schultz and Joe BidenSome were shocked at the news. Others were shocked it WAS news. But few could blame a high-profile leader for seeking help with finding the right things to say. Thoughtful communication is a nuanced art, where even the best intentions can have disastrous results.

Consider Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and his “Race Together” campaign of 2015. What was meant to initiate a healthy dialogue about racial and ethnic inequality struck some customers as self-serving and tone deaf.

Or that time Vice President Joe Biden assured nearly 500 college students, “I promise you, the President has a big stick.” Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy certainly wasn’t the first thing that popped into their minds.

The Ghost in the Machine

Ghostwriters and professional communicators know how to minimize these risks. At their most basic level, they are modern-day ventriloquists who choose another person’s words and mimic their voice. They can also add some polish, and occasional Texas twang.

So in an age when toddlers are on Facebook and a more than a million people follow a tweeting cat, it may feel like the right time to have an expert script an executive blog.

Here are seven signs all leaders should look for that indicate it won’t be as simple as it seems.

  1. You aren’t feeling the fire.
    A blog is a reflection of the author, and something you have burning inside to share. A unique viewpoint, a well-honed perspective, a personal pursuit that feeds your soul. A ghostwriter can lay the kindling and work hard to build the fire, but if your daily actions don’t give off the same heat, your credibility could be at risk.
    Instead: Look around your organization for people with passions that have the potential to ignite. Shining a light on them as guest bloggers can just as brightly reflect back on you.
  1. You’re too disciplined.
    Science shows we need to hear a new concept repeated seven times before it sinks in. A blog can reinforce key messages, but don’t expect to grow much of a following if every post is more of the same.
    Instead: Use your blog to deepen understanding with context and examples your audience hasn’t heard. With exclusive videos, stories, and content, a great blog can bring familiar concepts to life.
  1. You haven’t mapped your course.
    A Google search for “Best Executive Blogs” is a winding road of great expectations that’s littered with 404 errors, dead ends, and shrines to 2012. When the excitement of inspiration begins to feel more like a burden, you won’t want to find yourself stranded at the bus stop next to a poster for Nickelback: The Here and Now Tour.
    Instead: Map your course well in advance, with discussions about planned announcements as mile markers through the year. In between, plan to share reflections on how aspects like strong leadership or culture are carrying you to the next point. Just remember to leave room for the unexpected – timely insights on sudden events can be your biggest opportunity to shine.
  1. You aren’t ready to get engaged.
    Blog posts can elicit emotions, prompt questions, and spark debate. The potential to build engagement is enormous, but it can also have the opposite effect. Disappearing from the conversation too early can make you seem disconnected at precisely the wrong time.
    Instead: Consider whether you have the time and resources to fully commit to the discussions. You don’t need to respond to every comment, and you can certainly lean on your team for support. But managing reactions thoughtfully will help your trust and influence to swell.
  1. You’ll struggle with your image.
    There’s a reason we learn more about a company’s culture over a dirty martini than a tidy desk. Blogs are designed to cut through the pretense and give a window to the inside. If you wear your suit and tie to company picnics or your pearls at the gym, you may struggle with getting “real” in a blog while protecting your carefully cultivated image.
    Bag the personal blog and put your energy where you feel it belongs. If you can’t convince yourself it’s a good idea, you’ll have an even harder time convincing everyone else.
  1. You’ll be inviting unnecessary risk.
    Times of crisis or public scrutiny require more communication than ever. But every update and implication has the potential to be misconstrued. When your hands are tied, and legally, there’s very little you can say, a blog that goes conspicuously dark can fuel a perception you have something to hide.
    Instead: Be aware of the risks and prepare to acknowledge the situation with a few well-chosen words. Then use your blog to drive education, pointing to safe and objective resources from others to help tell your story.
  1. There’s just no need.
    Having the technology to host a blog isn’t the same as having a clear and demonstrated need. If your business and culture are thriving, and you’re already getting more feedback than you know what to do with, don’t add another thing to your plate just because it feels like a “nice to have.”
    Instead: Take pride in what you’ve accomplished, but don’t lose sight of where you need to go. A blog can come when it makes sense, especially now that you know what will be involved.

Have you learned any lessons from writing or reading executive blogs? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them below!

5 Reasons to Think Like a Stand Up Comedian

For those of you tired of tedious press releases…

For anyone who’s delivered a speech to a chorus of yawns…

To anyone writing those same stale articles you first wrote when boy bands ruled the earth…

Photo of b&w woman at microphoneI have bad news and good news.

Bad news: Your audience is just as sick of your anemic prose as you are. It’s not your fault. Business messaging has been dry and boring for so long it’s practically become background noise.

The good news? There is hope. There are communicators so good at what they do, we hang on their every word. They can make anything interesting, from Hot Pockets to the stomach flu. They just happen to call themselves comedians.

So read on to find out why you have stop thinking like George Orwell and start thinking like George Carlin.

To learn about my brief and inglorious career in stand-up, (or as I like to call it, “How My Journey into Masochistic Humor-Based Humiliation Made Me A Better Writer,”) check out my bio.

5 Reasons to Think Like a Comedian

  1. Comics can make any topic interesting.
    Comedians live and die on engaging their audiences. Take Brian Regan—he can talk about the serving size of Fig Newtons and you’ll still want more at the end. Fig Newtons aren’t funny; they’re completely unimportant. But Brian proves it’s not what you say; the magic is in how you say it. Some call it delivery. Some call it style. Tone. Voice. No matter what you call it, it’s what you have to develop to captivate your audience. Are you funny? You don’t have to be. Style can be anything that infuses YOU into your work. It can be quirky, erudite, colloquial, sparse—even wordy or snarky. As long as it’s authentic, identifiable, and appropriate, you’ll move your story forward in a unique way.
  1. Comedians practice and polish their craft all the time
    There are a rare few comedians who can get up on stage and improvise for periods of time or riff on audience interaction. It’s a gift. But even gifted comedians spend hours and hours practicing, polishing, tweaking, and testing their material. Too often, we work in a vacuum. How often does someone else look at your blog posts before you publish them? Listen to your speech? Unless you’re at an open mic night, or your comic tells you the material is new (and they do, sometimes), you can bet it’s already delivered thousands of laughs. Their goal, and ours too, is to make all this work seem fresh and new every time.
  1. Comics know we have the attention span of—hey look, a bird!
    Good news, human race! We now have the attention span of a gold fish, according to researchers. People in my age group (nearly 40) grew up on television. We took in endless quick-cut, 30-minute shows interrupted by 15-second commercials flashing by at intervals. Millennials have lived most of their lives tethered to smart phones; 140 character texts and tweets come in rapid-fire, all day. It just gets worse for Gen Z. To keep things fresh and interesting, you have to move fast—just ask TED curator Chris Anderson:

    [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily.

    The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.

  1. Comedians speak like real people.
    We know jargon is awful—but why? Jargon is poisonous because it’s abstract and cliché. Audiences, readers—everyone—wants details and concrete imagery. Here’s a genius quote from Jerry Seinfeld: “Marriage is like a game of chess except the board is flowing water, the pieces are made of smoke and no move you make will have any effect on the outcome.” It’s all about painting pictures with words. Remember when your third grade teacher used to tell you, “I want SHOWING writing. Not TELLING writing”? Well it’s still true.
  1. Comedians know laughter equals agreement.
    This is why so many comedians write jokes revealing a simple truth. George Carlin was the king of pointing out all the stupid things we do in life—and then making us laugh at them: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” This is a powerful thing: getting people to laugh at their foibles by presenting them in a humorous context. Some think of this as translation. I think of it differently: when people laugh, they do so because at some level, they are agreeing with you. It’s easy to see why you would want to use in your communication. If you get people to agree with you up front through humor, the rest comes easy. It’s like a persuasive shortcut, no matter if you are candidly being persuasive, or just selling an idea. You don’t have to work as hard when people are laughing.

The bottom line is you don’t have to be a Stand-Up Comedian to be a Stand Up Communicator. Humor is a great tool, but you don’t have to be a comic genius. The techniques they employ can make you successful too. They work hard. They’re not afraid to fail (failing on stage is a requisite experience). And, they see perfection as a moving target—just like you. That’s why you can take these ideas to the bank.