Would Henry Ford Have Been A Blogger?

At the Forrester Marketing Forum this year (I hope to see you there), I am giving a talk on "The Social CEO." I'll be analysing the state of the art (what pioneering CEOs are doing), assessing which social technologies should and should not be used by business leaders, and summarizing what CEOs and their companies can expect to gain from social.

But all of this may be getting ahead of a fundamental question:  Should CEOs be social? Or should they stay behind the scenes and let their CMO take the lead? If the CEO is not social, will the company suffer?

Would great CEOs of the past, like Thomas Edison, Henry FordAlfred Sloan, or Thomas Watson Jr. have been bloggers? Would Winston Churchill, FDR, or Stalin have used social to win WWII? Why doesn't Fortune Magazine's CEO of the Decade engage in social? Would Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln have engaged in Twitter war?

I'd love to get your thoughts. Even better would be any stories you may have about a CEO that uses social to drive the goals of his or her company. If they're unique, I'll use your quote in my speech at the Forum and give you a well-deserved shout out...

Thanks in advance for the help.


Not CEO, but also Company itself should be social

Mr. Akio Toyoda started blog as "Driver, Morizo" at Gazoo.com, Toyota's car portal in 2007, mainly writing the fun of driving car, his experience of racing, and etc., until when recall issue shuddered him and company. Then, he posted "together with customers and fans of car" on March 15, as below.

Refer NYT for details of his post.

I personally added comment, "Bill Marriott started blog in 2007 saying 'I know this is where the action is if you want to talk to your customers directly -- and hear back from them.'. http://www.blogs.marriott.com/marriott-on-the-move/2007/01/index.html
So isn't it best to write in English to the world? (in Japanese)".

But my comment never appeared.

This may be the singularity of Japan as well as Japanese company not accustomed to direct communication to end-users and customers from CEO, so that staff just discarded unfamiliar, unknown, uncertain or unacceptable nature of comment, I guess.

So this is not going to be the case of share, but one thing is clear that even though CEO try to be social they need expert or someone understands very and every basics of social media space and support his initiatives and goal.

Who should be an expert, CMO or marketing executives?

I believe not just CEO, CMO, marketing executives, PR, customer services and etc., but also company itself and every employees should be social. As social media have been changing how we conduct businesses, how we communicate with customers and how we get feed back/insights from them, we should have different mind set. It's not just the leader, but everybody who should be in charge and have responsibility.

Otherwise, we have so many holes and rims social water drip and spill over.

Blog in english?

Toyota is an international company, selling a majority of its cars in an english-speaking country. If the CEO is communicating directly with his/her customers via a blog, that blog should be in the language that can reach the most customers. The voice of Toyota's CEO is of paramount importance at the moment -- but its impact will be highly diminished if it can only reach 35% of its customers.

Social is related to society

George, interesting question but neither relevant nor leading to a plausible answer. People relationships are strongly related to society's structure. My mother had to address her father in the third person and that was completely normal at the time. Worker/employer relationships were built on fear and that worked fine too. Customer to company relationships actually were people relationships at the time.

In the end one would have to define what you see as being social in the light of the period. Many people had very interesting relationships by mail. Scientist, artists and yes, some businessmen had pen-relationships also. It very much depended on their personality. Should CEO's be social? No. And they should not be rated by it. They should do what is the right thing for them. I love the exchange, others don't. Good. But the CEO should make sure that his business engages with the customer in honest communication. Businesses tend to reflect their CEOs. Steve Jobs isn't social and neither is Apple, as much as I admire the person. Sofar that has been ok, because the quality of products and services still beats the competition, especially Microsoft. Everyone at Microsoft is arrogant, just like Steve Balmer. Also that is a kind of honesty ...

If a CEO pretends to be social as a marketing activity and it does not improve customer relationships it is deceit. Let me add that Twitter is mostly a waste of time but I guess for some it is fun and that is ok. LinkedIn and blogs are great communication tools. I have learned a lot from my network and I hope I have given my share.

CEO must be natural...

Max: I think this is a great point: If the CEO has something to say, then be social. If he/she doesn't, or is not naturally inclined, don't do it. In other words, don't force it...

If Jesus was a blogger

I have made a post in my blog few days back

Hi George, You may already

Hi George,
You may already know the research done by UberCEO last year on "Fortune 100 CEOs and Social Media."

I don't think Henry Ford needs to blog back in the days, but if he is a CEO working in today's distrusted marketplace, any act of transparency like blogging may help his company to earn some credibility because today, people are conditioned to be skeptical about businesses and CEOs. Even though a CEO's job is still to lead and drive value to the bottom line, the implication of being a social CEO may be what's needed to help drive initiatives that empowers employees to bring about an agenda.

Business today is more about culture, not numbers. Numbers tell you how well you did appealing to culture, the connection you have with your customers.

I think if you want to build a good case for your presentation, you can look at the CEO of our country President Barack Obama. Given that he was the first President to truly leverage social media to project his personal brand that drives action.

Here is a presentation on Barack Obama Social Media Strategy done by Igor Beuker of viralblog.com, with research by Paul van Veenendaal.

The idea of a social CEO should evolve around where you can best represent the company. Some companies have CEOs that blog internally on their private intranet so it's not open to the public, perhaps you can tap into your relationships with your clients to see if there are any such cases in your network.

At the end, isn't one of CEO's job is to hire the best and put the best to work for the company? If the CMO or the VP of Communications can do it better, shouldn't the CEO empower them to do so?

If your employees are becoming more social and your customers are becoming more social, wouldn't it make sense to connect with them on that front?

The shift in technology and consumer behavior is the driving force behind the increasing social web. And if that's the go-to platform for engagement that creates value both internally and externally, then CEOs should blog when it's applicable but not to use it as a simple one way PR blast but a honest way to deliver relevancy rather than repetition.

Just my 2 cents as an ex-CEO, hope this helps.

Would / Could / Should

WOULD great CEOs of the past have been bloggers?

There are two ways to look at this kind of temporal juxtapositioning - either the CEO from the past time travels into the present, or, social media from the present go back in time to those CEOs of the past.

In the latter case, assuming that those CEOs in those times COULD have been bloggers, my answer is - No, they wouldn't have been bloggers. The paradigm of that epoch did not require it and in fact probably required the opposite of it. Those were times when CEOs were probably more effective as distant ineffable gods, rather than common folk who could make typographical errors on a blog or link to the wrong URL in a tweet. And I suspect they knew that. They did show their human side often enough, but judiciously, being very picky and choosy about to whom, where, when, how and why. Follow-up question, on a side note - SHOULD they have been bloggers back then, assuming they could? Not necessarily. This would be one of those nice-to-haves, but not an essential. The CEOs you've named (and their businesses) were already highly successful back then, and the fact that they have been referred to here as icons of the past is proof of that. How much more successful could they (or their businesses) possibly have been if they were bloggers? Ergo: not essential, but perhaps nice to have.

And now back to the main thread. The former case - bringing those CEOs into the now. SHOULD CEOs of today be bloggers / tweeters / etc.? Certainly! Every epoch has a zeitgeist and leaders who are not in sync with it (perhaps, a step ahead of it?) can remain leaders no longer.

Hemant Puthli

It Depends on the CEO

I have been a CMO supporting many different CEO's. It depends entirely on the individual. Some CEO's are gregarious by nature and some are not. Even if you could get more introverted CEO's to start blogging they would not be able to sustain the activity which would create many additional problems, not the least of which is the perception of deceit and false pretense (see Max's comment above). The company and the CEO's brand both take a hit.

I've also been a CEO before the blogging days. As a CEO with a marketing and customer focus I would have seen blogs and social media as a critical link to my customers, investors, employees, anaylsts and major constituencies. So, my answer to your question is all CEO's and executives have tools and resources to get their jobs done. Today's outward focused CEO's have tools and innovative techniques not available to generations before them. If they are astute they will see the tools for what they are, a means to an end. Today's most successful CEO's understand this and are today's equivalent of Henry Ford.

Edison would

"To have a great idea, have a lot of them."

"It is astonishing what an effort it seems to be for many people to put their brains definitely and systematically to work."

Edison believed in creating a market first, then creating the product. Blogging would have been perfect for him.

The lightbulb

Edison would have loved "Social Sigma" -- using social to enlist customers in the task of perfecting products. I bet he would have put his inventions into the socialsphere to gather better ideas and to market his products.

Henry Ford blogging might be bad for Ford Motors

Actually, Henry Ford is potentially an example of how a social CEO could be a BAD thing for a company - If I ran marketing for him, I'd be afraid that he'd cross the line and let too much of his non-work-related opinions into his blog (anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, an on-record in an interview supporter of the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion"). His anti-union opinions might not help sell cars either. And an all-powerful CEO like him may feel he's above listening to his marketing folks' corporate blogging policy.

On the other hand, many of the other names you listed might well be strong bloggers, promoting interest in their research and background - a blog series by Edison talking about how the process behind the invention of the lightbulb might make people more inclined to buy it to feel a part of a big, cool, new technology movement.

More on the lightbulb...

Edison was famous (infamous) for stealing ideas and designs. He apparently got the idea for the carbon filament bulb from a Scientific American article that outlined the work of Joseph Swan of England. So I think that Edison would have brazenly scouted the socialsphere for new inventions that he could have "incorporated."

The FIFTH Channel?

George -

This reminds me of the conversation you and I had a thousand years ago (or so it seems) about the Internet itself. There is no question that companies determine how to best use yet another new sales and marketing "channel" - the various forms of social media (both existing and to come) - to communicate with and connect with the customers, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders and 'friends.'

Your specific question, though, is whether or not the CEO him/herself should be using these tools personally - and whether or not great CEOs of the past would have done so. Perhaps this is a boring answer, but I think this simply parallels how "public" CEOs have chosen to be in the past, using previous "channels" / media. Some CEOs like to be - and obviously think it advantageous to be - the public face of their companies. Sometimes this is simply ego / liking to see their names and faces in public. And, perhaps, sometimes this is actually good marketing and thus good for their companies. Right in my city, for example, is John Schnatter, the "Papa John" of Papa John's Pizza, now the third largest take-out and delivery pizza restaurant chain in the United States, behind Pizza Hut and Domino's. He is personally showcased in just about every bit of marketing they do. And, when Papa John's now uses social media, much of it is under his personal name (whether or not he is really the one behind the content itself). Does his personal image and involvement in his company's marketing - including vsocial media - help sell pizzas? I rather doubt it, but I don't think it necessarily hurts either.

For that matter, how much does the personal image and involvement of the CEO help sell ANYTHING - with at least one key exception being companies where the CEO personally helps close the largest deals? As I'm sure you know, many business thinkers argue that the best CEOs are the ones that stay out of the limelight and focus - fairly anonymously - one their company's performance. They let others be the face of the company to its customers and handle the interactions with these customers, while certainly making sure insights from these interactions reach them to help them make critical decisions.

So, my overall point is that your question isn't really that new of a question at all. Different forms of it could have been asked every time a new sales and marketing channel burst on the scene. Should CEOs work the front counters of their stores (part of the time)? Should CEOs man their companies' customer seervice phone lines (part of the time)? Should CEOs appear in their own TV commercials? Etc, etc. Yes, social media is "different." To some extent, EVERY new 'channel' is "different." Regardless, at the end of the day, CEOs of companies of any significant size only have so much time, so any direct sales and marketing involvement they have is either going to reach only a small fraction of their customers individually or all of their customers in what will turn out to be more "mass marketing," albeit through new communication vehicles.

Russ Maney
Xponenital Group

Use of social media as a leadership tool

George, you wrote: "Even better would be any stories you may have about a CEO that uses social to drive the goals of his or her company."

If I'd seen your blog post in time, I would have steered you to Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston – the 3rd largest hospital in New England. I blogged three stories/examples last year in a post I titled:

"Public leadership, transparency and the world of social media"

Tho Levy runs a public medical center, the type of leadership blogging he does would apply to anyone heading up a large company or organization.

See his blog post from today for a good example:

It's my contention that an organizational leader’s use of blogging and other social media tools should often be quite different than the how the rest of the organization uses them.

Griff Wigley, Wigley and Associates

CEO Bloggers

George, I love the subject of your talk for the Forrester Marketing Forum and enjoyed also your Q&A with Mashable. I'd like to interview you on the topic of the Social CEO. I'm working on a 2nd book and that is part of it. What's the best way to reach you? You can email me at debbie[dot]weil[at]gmail.com. Hope we can connect.

best regards,

Debbie Weil
Author, The Corporate Blogging Book (2010 Updated Edition)