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GM & Boeing: Corporate "Tell-It-Not" Blogs

See update: Bob Lutz veers close to mentioning earnings drop

Two of the CEO Thought Leadership blogs I feature on this blog (see right-hand column) have neglected to mention the real dirt at their companies recently. Bottom line in blogging... if you don't "tell it like it is" then effectively you're stonewalling and "telling it not." You just can't leave high profile news about your company out of a corporate blog. New Boeing blogger Randy Baseler (VP Marketing) gets a demerit for skipping right over the recent scandal involving Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher who stepped down March 7, 2005 after admitting an affair with a subordinate. High profile GM blogger Bob Lutz doesn't say a word about his company's big news this week: an 80% cut in GM's earnings forecast for this year. Guys, if you want to play in the blogosphere you gotta play by the rules! Speak the truth or something close to it. As in: "Yeah, I'm down about our earnings forecast but let me tell you what brightens my day: the 93 comments on my post about our new Chevy Cobalt... " At least say something!! An article on the front page of today's Washington Post comments on this evasive tendency: More PR Than No-Holds-Barred on Bosses' Corporate Blogs.

 

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Posted by Debbie Weil on March 19, 2005 in Etiquette | Permalink

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Comments

Brian

Debbie,

I've been enjoying your blog and couldn't agree with you more on the Lutz and Baseler blogs. Two of my posts on the same subject can be found here and here. But that's just my personal interest.

But, I'm not convinced that they really need to go into those areas. Clear Lutz is just there to get people jazzed about GM products. Some days I guess that it is actually some low-level marketing copywriter, and not Lutz, who is doing the blog.

In my most recent post on this subject I did suggest that things were a little different for Baseler. If I'm thinking about buying a GM auto, I couldn't care less about their earnings forecast. The company isn't going anywhere during the few years I own the car. For Baseler, however, customers are making a huge investment in Boeing and leadership disarray would be a concern.

So, I remain unconvinced on this one. These "blogs" are clearly puffy marketing efforts and nothing more. Neither Lutz nor Baseler seem to have any desire to be taken seriously as bloggers. We should take them for what they are and treat their copy accordingly.

Dana  VanDen Heuvel

Debbie,

Solid points, but I take issue with your expectations of these folks. Just because they work at their respective companies doesn't mean that they know about, or better, can speak with authority about what's going on in the news. I think of the VPs where I work and I wouldn't expect all of them to be on point for every detail of the business. They simply don't have the bandwidth.

Neville Hobson

In the case of the GM FastLane blog, that's not the place where you'd expect to see any commentary about anything except their cars.

The history of posting since the blog started in early Jan shows that - it's about cars, it's not an IR blog.

GM has plenty of other channels through which to provide commentary on things like earnings forecasts. Why would you expect them to make any comment about anything except cars in this blog?

Debbie

Neville and Dana,

Valid comments. But I disagree... it's inconceivable that Randy Baseler and Bob Lutz wouldn't know about the high profile news involving their respective companies. My point is this: their blogs have lost a significant amount of credibility by not making at least a passing mention of what's being talked about in the MSM. Indeed, Bob Lutz mentions both the NYT and the WSJ in his latest post... and as of this writing he's got 102 comments about the Chevy Cobalt. So he's certainly got a big following for his blog. I'd hate to think that Fastlane is just a marketing stunt. Just a tiny mention about what's REALLY going on at GM... that's all I'd expect.

Michael Lent

Oh, Debbie! Much of what I know about blogging I've learned from you. And I've understood that the blogosphere is not neat,is spontaneous, and blogged news travels an often unpredictable course, right?

So why would we expect a corporate blog set up for a focused PR purpose--other than broadcasting top-line news--to be the catch-all for broadcasting some company-wide info, good or bad?

That the two sites you name sidestep the headline in, say, the Dow Jones Newswire, doesn't damage their credibility. The Boeing fellow, who wants to sell airplanes, would seem rather odd indeed if he slipped in a "tiny mention" of Stonecipher's indiscretion. Talk about off-message. His mentioning it would make us think he's a little loony. We'd expect corporate execs and spokespeople to comment if asked, however.

I can't think of a company that pushes out negative news about itself unless there is some necessary or clever defensive reason (e.g., regulatory, crisis-management tactic once some really bad news is out, or some pre-emptive strike to obscrure even worse news).

Boeing and GM may not get the blogging merit badge at this time, but they gotta worry about the usual stakeholders, including customers and shareholders.

Debbie

Michael,

You make a good point. Hmmm...

Shel Holtz

In his post on the difference between blogs and message boards, Lee LeFever (author of the "CommonCraft" blog) makes a couple important points. First, he says, a blog has a locus of control, driven by a single person or small group. Then, he says, the locus of control "matters most in defining who can post new topics, which drive the content of the resource."

The content of the Fastlane blog is explicitly about cars and not about the business behind the cars. To digress into a discussion of finances and earnings is to dilute the power of this community Lutz has built where car buyers can share their thoughts and beliefs with a high-ranking GM executive who wants to listen. Fastlane (as I posted to my blog) is not the place for a discussion of an off-topic issue.

This isn't to say GM shouldn't engage the community in a discussion about these issues (assuming they can say much of substance that they haven't already said without violating Sarbanes-Oxley). But just because GM is blogging on Fastlane doesn't mean there's an obligation to jump off into an irrelevant tangent.

Alan

Debbie,

You cannot expect candor regarding any "news-worthy" item from a CEO on a topic that can affect the valuation of the company for which he is responsible, unless such candor serves the purpose of reassuring investors and analysts.

Ultimately, any CEO-originated blog should be seen as a (yet another) vehicle for improving public relations. If the blog does not improve public relations (and, indirectly, the value of the company), then the CEO is not doing his job correctly. S/he might be more effective at improving company value with some other task than writing a blog.

Commenting in a blog on a newly emerging newsworthy item could be catastrophic, even if intended to reassure, because it could implicate the CEO and/or other officers in the company. Even just acknowledging that there is an issue could be argued to imply prior knowledge and a failure to act in a proper or timely manner to prevent or avert the issue.

Bottom line: a CEO-authored blog is at best a PR vehicle. Expectations should be set accordingly.

Kurt

I don't agree that blogs have to be confessionals. They can legitimately be used for marketing and public relations — they still offer the opportunity to develop a conversation and that's a step up from the one-way messages that constitute most of marketing communications. I've visited Fastlane and really enjoy it. Lutz is clearly a car fanatic and so am I (along with lots of other readers). That's the entire focus of his blog and some great dialogue ensues. As for the Boeing blog, it looked like a phony PR ploy the first time I saw it and I never went back. I don't need to be reminded of the agony of air travel. In summary, if a blog is true to its intended goal, that's good enough for me.

michael wiley

Shel, Alan, Neville and Kurt are right on!

Donavan McDonough - Spreadsheet risks researcher

Debbie I've got to agree with what Alan said, "Bottom line: a CEO-authored blog is at best a PR vehicle. Expectations should be set accordingly."

Somebody waving a flag from the side of a mountain is very different from someone waving a flag at the pinicle of the mountain.

A staffer in the body of a company can share with us what is right and wrong in the company. The buck does not stop with the employee. It ultimately stops with the CEO.

He or she cannot mess in their own nest. It would be unwise.

Donavan McDonough
Risk Analyst

Mark Allen Grainger... All About Teamwork.com

Debbie,

Way to call bullshit. The age of Authenticity is here and your embodiment of this cultural phenom fires me up!

Authenticity requires boldness and in reality runs right in the face of "business as usual". The days of CEO Hard Ass leadership is being replaced by the realism of vulnerabiltiy.

This causes us to ask the question, "Do old school Execs have what it takes to be real and honest?"

I have seen how authenticity to your customers as well as your labor force can exponentially impact bottom-line profits.

As true as that may be a part of me believes that the vulnerablity of authenticity will keep some of the world's name brand leaders watching from the sidelines as they are passed by watching the show.

Thank you for illustrating real leadership and stepping into the fringe to make a point that few really have the "gonads" to hear... much less act upon!

Mark Allen Grainger
www.AllAboutTeamwork.com

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