Humanity, Business, and Blogs

    January 3, 2007

Several years ago, I read an article (I can’t remember if it was in Forbes or Fortune) that featured Jacques Nasser.

Nasser is best known for his controversial tenure as CEO of Ford Motor Company, but this article was written before he ascended to that spot, when he was still enjoying phenomenal success as the head of Ford’s North American business.

The author of the article spent a fair amount of ink on a weekly email Nasser sent to every employee under his leadership, including the union workers who built the cars on the factory floor. The message covered off whatever was on Nasser’s mind that he wanted employees to know about. He didn’t let the legal team or the communications staff see it; he didn’t want it altered to the point that it no longer sounded like him. He didn’t mind that the email frequently contained typos, questionable grammar, and spelling errors. It was raw, honest, and candid.

Every now and then, Nasser would write about something that had nothing to do with work. I recall that one such missive expressed a father’s pride at his daughter’s graduation. That email motivated replies from all levels of the organization offering heartfelt congratulations. The message resonated because it made Nasser into a flesh-and-blood human being who had a daughter graduating from school, just as the lowest workers on the organization chart had children in school. Nasser was no longer just “management.” He was, ultimately, just a regular guy. Thus did Nasser build tremendous support among his team for his initiatives.

I raise this in response to a blog post by Dave Taylor titled, “When is a blog too personal?” Dave muses:

What surprises me, however, are people who have what I call a hybrid blog, where it’s somehow intermingling personal and professional information. One article might be about the relative merits of a particular new coding standard or software product and the very next is about a big fight that the blogger had with their significant other or an encounter with a hostile street person or similar.

It’s not that these experiences aren’t legitimate blog fodder, the problem is that it’s not focused. Good blogs – at least in my opinion – are those that are focused pretty tightly on a single topic, be it coding standards, real time inventory management, RFID implementation problems, or even international tariff regulations.

I agree with Dave, but only to a point. In his post, Dave suggests that the goal of a business blog is “to convey a certain level of expertise, credibility and, yes, professionalism.” That’s true, but another critical aspect of a business blog is to move beyond corporate-speak and reveal the humanity of the organization and its employees. Just as Jacques Nasser earned the respect of his North American employees by opening himself up and exposing his personal side-both in his language and in the content of his emails-a blog can turn a two-dimensional corporate executive (the kind that makes an annual appearance in the CEO’s letter to shareholders) into a flesh-and-blood human being.

Does that mean a corporate executive should write about an argument with a spouse? Of course not-and I haven’t seen such posts in any of the executive blogs I follow. On the other hand, I have seen posts that have nothing directly to do with work. The employee blogs at Thomas Nelson Publishers offer some good examples. CEO Michael Hyatt, in his blog, From Where I Sit, devotes most posts to business (e.g., “Our Top Ten Accomplishments in 2006” and “Toward a Better Bestseller List”), many focus on Hyatt’s observations about life, ranging from his issues with his computer to insights he gained reading an article in “Outside” magazine.

Jim Thomason, Thomas Nelson’s VP of HR, mixes his posts up, as well. His most current offering addresses the company’s implementation of new federal guidelines for digital communication retention, but an earlier post commends some youngsters he helped to push a stalled car out of the street. His point was simply that the stereotype of self-absorbed, thoughtless, uncaring youth is not always supported by reality. It had nothing to do with work, but certainly reinforced the values of one of the world’s largest publishers of Christian books.

I agree with Dave that a blog should stay true to its focus. (The first time I ever engaged in a conversation with Steve Rubel was when he issued an endorsement of a presidential candidate on his blog about PR and social media.) But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be personal, nor that every post needs to be related directly to work. It is the humanity of the inividual author, after all, that distinguishes blogs from other communication channels.


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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.