Tim Bray, director of Web technologies at Sun Microsystems Inc., sees his personal blog as a way to share his thoughts
on topics ranging from Java coding to the Tour de France -- and get opinions on anything from XML to Lance Armstrong.
Plus, Bray adds, "I'm a loudmouth, I like talking to the world." Bray, one of the inventors of XML and the author of Sun's corporate blogging policy, is one of the growing numbers of executives writing Web logs, or blogs, on the Internet. Other well-known C-level bloggers include Bray's boss, Sun president Jonathan Schwartz, Jupitermedia Corp. CEO Alan M. Meckler and Boeing Co. vice president of marketing, Randolph S. Baseler.
Gartner Inc. estimates there are 10 million blogs worldwide, but the IT research firm said there is no official count of how many executives have created personal blogs. A sampling of C-level blogs, shows that executives often use their blogs for the obvious purpose of getting their opinions to users -- unfiltered by journalists or analysts.
For example, General Motors Corp. uses its corporate blog to post personal thoughts from vice chairman Bob Lutz and other executives. A July 6 blog post in which Lutz talks about the new GM Solstice roadster and his plans to own one. That day, Lutz drew 46 comments from readers on a range of topics.
However, it's harder to find CIOs who blog. "In some part it has to do with their job," said Steven Shu, COO of blogging software company 21 Publish. "CIOs are kind of heads down, working on internal operations, tying to keep things running," rather than trying to communicate with the public. It's more typical for CTOs to use their blogs as a way to evangelize their products, Shu said, than for CIOs with a more internal focus to blog to the public.
Chuck Kramer, CTO at Social & Scientific Systems in Silver Spring, Md., is experimenting with several personal blogs, but has not started a corporate blog -- yet. "Executive blogs can be an excellent tool for letting the employees know what the 'boss' is thinking," Kramer said. For example, he said, some of his posts during trips to India and Uganda might show employees the amount of work he accomplishes and prevent them from thinking of the trips as "a boondoggle."
But more often, there are legitimate reasons that CIOs are more likely readers, than writers, of blogs.
"In a blog to the outside world the CIO cannot really reveal too much information other than vague corporate policy," said Gartner research director Ray Valdes, who covers corporate blogging practices. "The CIO of Wal-Mart cannot talk about their RFID rollout and relationships with vendors to general public," Valdes said. However, Bray said that blog messages written by himself and Schwartz have enabled Sun to fine-tune some of its products. "It just lets us listen better," he said. "That's very important."
New policies needed for corporate blogs
CIO involvement in corporate blogging is often limited to setting up the policies and infrastructure to support blogging – both relatively simple processes that can be based on existing policies and hardware, said analysts.
At Sun, executives began talking about creating corporate blogs as a way to engage the IT community, Bray said. The policy in place then prohibited employees from discussing the company without prior approval. By May 2004, Sun had provided a blogging policy and the neccessary infrastructure to support infrastructure 1,200 employees to host their blogs on Sun hardware.
Blogs can open a new avenue for corporate liability, though the risks, like revealing corporate secrets or affecting contract negotiations, are the same as other forms of corporate communication, from press releases to conference speeches to dinner conversations, Valdes said.
"We are a public company – I must be careful not to give out inside information," said Jupiter CEO Meckler. But he added, "I have no censor other than my common sense." The risk, "doesn't mean you shut it down," Valdes said. "It means you manage it."
For example, Sun lawyers added a disclaimer and a safe harbor provision – like any other press release or SEC filing – to a June 6, 2005 blog by Sun president Schwartz that listed five reasons driving his company's $4.1 billion acquisition of Storage Technology Corp.
For executives who want to interest readers with their personal insights while guarding corporate interests, blogs can be a balancing act. As Schwartz wrote in his April 1 blog, "The downside of being an officer of a public corporation is that it's very difficult to write a good April Fools blog without feeling the need for serious engagement from the corporate legal team."