Content Analysis: Bill Marriott makes the strongest case that can be made for a CEO blog

If your senior leaders are resistant to blogging, show them the blog by Marriott Corp.’s aged, Luddite CEO.

No responsible person would say that every CEO should have a blog; and such a suggestion would be especially irresponsible if it were made to the downtrodden executive communicators who must support a senior leader’s blogging efforts.
Clearly, some senior leaders don’t have enough ideas, or time, to keep a blog up. (Not every CEO is Mark Cuban, for example.) Other CEOs like to keep their mouths shut, believing their power stems as much from their habitual silence as from their occasional utterances. (Not every company is Southwest Airlines.) And some industries are still so low-tech that a blog just isn’t the way to reach influentials. (Not every company is Sun Microsystems.)

But lots of companies’ excuses for not having at least one senior leader blog are just that—excuses, made out of fear: of extra work, or of trying a new medium.

No executive blogger knocks down more of those excuses than Marriott Corp. CEO Bill Marriott. His blog (blogs.marriott.com)isn’t perfect—see the sidebar for others that are more compelling, more dynamic and more closely connected to the fortunes of the organization—but it’s the kind of thing any CEO could do, and the kind many should do.
Have a look and see for yourself that …

… your CEO isn’t too old to learn the new trick.

Bill Marriott is 76, and he addressed this issue directly in a post Sept. 2, 2008:

“John McCain has gotten some grief because he’s not very comfortable using a computer, especially to communicate. I can certainly understand his reluctance as I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to technology. But, based on my experience, I’d tell John McCain to become a blogger because launching a blog has proven to be very successful for me. I’m able to talk with our guests and our associates about whatever I want, and people can talk back to me. I think blogging brings people together, and I think that’s what campaigning is all about. It’s a conversation—an exchange of ideas.”

… even a self-styled “Neanderthal” can blog.

Bill Marriott doesn’t even use computers. But he blogs regularly—on average, a little more often than once a week.

In a July 24, 2008 post, he explains how the blog gets made:

I don’t do all this by myself. Blake Little, who is 24 years old and works on our global communications team, helps me with all the technical aspects of my blog. When I want to do a blog, she comes to my office with an Edirol by Roland digital mp3 recorder and records what I want to say.

Sometimes I write out just what I want to say [in handwriting, on a legal pad], sometimes I use notes and sometimes I speak off the top of my head. I come up with a lot of the ideas, but people in our company also have some topics for me to consider.

When I’m through recording, Blake transcribes everything I’ve said and then posts the text and the audio file on my blog, along with a nice picture. She also views my comments I receive online and then prints them out for me to read. If there are any I feel I should respond to, I tell her what I want to say and she responds for me.

As you can see, being a technophobe like me adds a lot of steps, but I make it work because I know that it’s a great way to communicate with our customers and stakeholders in this day and age.

Judging by the number of comments Marriott’s posts get—and lots of posts get fewer than 10—the hotel industry and Marriott customers aren’t always hanging on his every word.

Take September. The McCain posting mentioned above garnered 15 comments. A Sept. 8 post about a special offer to cash-strapped families of 20 percent off weekend hotel rates also received 15 comments, all of them appreciative. A Sept. 18 item on the opening of a new African-American-owned Marriott got five comments. (That’s the main critique of Marriott’s blog: Most of the posts are boosterish snoozers; who’s going to read a blog that begins, “It’s that special time of year again here at Marriott. I’m blogging directly from our annual Awards of Excellence ceremony ….”)

But then came the Sept. 20 explosion at the Islamabad MarriottHotel in Pakistan. Marriott’s Sept. 20 post, headline, “This Senseless Tragedy ….” received 233 comments, overwhelming in their condolences and support. His three posts that week received 7,300 visits—about 20 percent above its average weekly count.

Communication technology guru Shel Holtz commented on his blog (blog.holtz.com) this single use justified almost two years of Marriott’s blog because the established vehicle gave the company: “the means to reach out to customers and employees with an authentic expression of grief … the ability to react almost instantly … an opportunity for stakeholders to offer their own thoughts, serving as a form of catharsis … [and] the ability for Bill Marriott to assume leadership during the crisis.”

Holtz added, “There are plenty of reasons for organizations to maintain a corporate blog, from search engine optimization to addressing business issues head-on. But if Marriott’s experience isn’t enough to make other organizations consider adopting a corporate blog, nothing is.”

Marriott’s senior director of public relations, John Wolf, commented on Holtz’s blog, confirming that the “Senseless Tragedy” “post and subsequent reaction was a perfect example of everything we hoped to accomplish when we launched his blog 21 months ago. The personal nature of Bill Marriott’s blog has given the company much more than a face to a name. It has, as brand experts say, helped us make an ‘emotional connection’ with our customers and other constituents. And it has shaped what people think about us.”

After all that, do you still think your CEO shouldn’t do a blog?

Maybe you’re right; but we’d love to hear why. Write to vseditor@mcmurry.com

 

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