When it comes to blogging, executives have a unique problem. It has to do with the fact that the risk and cost of failure for executives are greater than they are for other employees.
Blogging is a personal affair. The learning curve requires the blogger to open up to the world, create content, build relationships, develop readership, get feedback, make modifications, and repeat.
That can be a lot of risk for anyone. But for the corporate executive, the pressure to “nail it” right out of the gate is more extreme:
- Unlike others who build audiences slowly, the executive starts with everyone watching. In those early days when a blogger is finding her voice, she makes herself vulnerable by opening herself up to the judgment of her early readers. For most of us, that might include close friends and family, which is hard enough, but for executives, it often includes coworkers, too… and lots of them.
- The science says that there are 5 forms of power that managers use. One is referent power (think social power, or charisma), and a second is expert power (the power that comes as a result of having an experitse). By blogging, an executive puts both of these on the line. True, the executive could increase his or her power by creating a successful blog—and some forms of failure could enhance an executive’s referent power if employees appreciate the risks the executive was taking. Also true is that we all put these power bases at risk when we blog. But let’s make no mistake: the stakes are much greater for the executive. If things go awry, and the executive loses her social power or damages her perceived level of expertise by blogging, that could have very real and very immediate consequences for her ability to do her job.
- It’s more difficult for executives to be genuine, because they operate in a more narrow range of behavior than their employees. Look at it this way: people in an organization look up for cues on what acceptable behavior is. In a company that has a rock solid, crystal clear culture where executives and employees can be themselves because the culture is built around them, this is a non-issue. But in the other 99.6% of corporate America, this means that leaders must somehow set a consistent example for hundreds or thousands of employees, each of whom judge that executive from different perspectives. That leaves executives with very few degrees of freedom; the sad truth is that all those overlapping perspectives leave executives very little opportunity to show off their personality without risking offending someone… and when people in power offend their followers, bad things can follow.
For most employees, dipping a toe into the world of blogging is a simple as setting up a WordPress.com account. But for executives, because of the pressures of their jobs, far more thought and strategy and planning needs to go into it, because both the risk and cost of failure are greater.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.