Six years ago, Gawker broke a story: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Has a ‘Ghostwriter.’
Some 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.
Here are seven signs all leaders should look for that indicate it won’t be as simple as it seems.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Instead: 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.
- 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.
- 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!