Blogging and content marketing has moved on a long way since the main objective of a corporate blog was ‘thought leadership’. Now almost every executive wants to be seen blogging, tweeting, and updating their LinkedIn because it not only raises their industry profile and gives the brand a sheen of ‘we-get-it’ relevance, but it really is possible for executives to create sales opportunities online that otherwise would not have existed.
However, there isn’t a senior executive anywhere in the world that really has enough time to blog anything that makes sense – unless they are one of the few executives naturally gifted at writing and expressing themselves in blog-length communications. As you might expect, it’s usually down to the marketing and communications team to ghost-write the blog, update LinkedIn, and even to ghost-write those tweets too.
Of course, executives, politicians, and other important leaders have their speeches written for them. And since the press started publishing by-lined articles by business leaders, they have employed journalists to draft words that would be published in their name. So how can ghost-blogging be popularly considered to be fake when ghost-writing is a normal marketing function?
Well, it’s not. There is nothing wrong in helping a senior executive articulate their ideas as blogs and then publishing them in the name of that executive. But for a social media programmeme to work and avoid the accusation of it just being marketing spin, it is important to involve the real person in responding to comments and questions as well as setting the agenda.
There are two sides of the coin that the marketing team needs to think about to make this work – the content itself and the comments or engagement that the content creates. Make sure that the executive agrees the topics that you will write about. You don’t need to be endlessly chasing them, maybe have a call once a month or so to agree on upcoming ideas.
After publication, if comments arrive on the blog or you are running a Twitter account for the executive and people engage in conversation then try following this golden rule: never allow members of the marketing team to pass themselves off as if they were the person named on the tweets.
The marketing team might be writing the blog, they might be tweeting links to the blog and other interesting news stories, but the moment that a reporter from the New York Times tweets a message saying: ‘hey, that’s interesting, can you elaborate?’ you need to message the real executive to say ‘boss, get on Twitter now’.
I don’t know if this applies to every business leader online. When I see the amount of content Sir Richard Branson manages to publish – blogs, video, and photos – each day, I can see that he obviously has the Virgin communications team supporting him, but I do wonder if the real Sir Richard would reply if I messaged him? I hope so, and I have seen him blogging about how he really does interact with his readers.
The executive embarking on a social media programme cannot be entirely ignorant of how these tools work or the plan to get them ‘social’ will not work at all. They need Twitter installed on their iPad or phone even if they don’t look at it on a day-to-day basis. But when that journalist or analyst does ask for information there is no way that you want a marketing or writing team member to be replying to that message – public or privately.
Always involve the management team in your online content activities. If they are putting their name to blogs and tweets then they must be available to answer questions online even if they have a support team helping to generate the original content.
The support team can therefore create the content, upload it and use social networks to promote it, but they should never engage with contacts in the name of the executive.
Ultimately you can think of this just like ghost-writing a speech. The marketing team can do the spadework and prepare the words, but when the Q&A begins there is no prepared script; the executive needs to know how their own business works.
By Mark Hillary, author of ‘Customer Engagement Officer (CEO): Content Marketing and the Realities of Executive Blogging’.
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