Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Curse of the Boring Leadership Blog & How You As A Communicator Can Fix It

Too often blog posts are only a token item on the leaders' busy and important agenda, and as a result people inside and outside the organization fail to understand what they're trying to accomplish. While media interviews can provide some visibility, only the unfiltered lens of social media can really allow the leader to share their priorities with the world.

Here are some thoughts on the leadership assumptions that perpetuate the problem, and how communicators can help to remedy it.

7 Faulty Leadership Assumptions

  1. Communications is not important, the work is (read: any time spent on this is truly wasted; that's what I pay communicators for; I'd rather say in my comfort zone, which is technical mission execution).
  2. If we do communicate, we're talking to our "primary audiences" (read: the people we usually talk to, the ones whose names we know) and they can "decode our jargon" (read: normal people don't have to understand).
  3. Senior executives have to sound important (read: diplomatic rather than human).
  4. All negativity is bad, including -- offending anyone, sounding negative, or getting negative press (read: it's better to speak in a confusing and unclear way than to be direct, admit problems and mistakes, and possibly generate bad headlines).
  5. People hear from us so rarely that we can pretty much write whatever we want and it's all good (read: we're not accountable to the audience, because what do they care about one blog post, anyway?)
  6. Silence is usually golden (read: Whose stupid idea was this blog in the first place?)
  7. Even if we did care about blogging, you can't prove what a good one is or who has time to read blogs? (read: The communicators aren't giving me metrics that make sense to me and nobody in the senior staff meeting is interested in whether I blog or not.)

10 Ways To Ensure All Web Content Is Better

UK's The Guardian published an excellent blog on this subject by Rob Weatherhead, head of digital operations at MediaCom: "Say it quick, say it well – the attention span of a modern internet consumer." Weatherhead writes:

"In a world of instant gratification and where an alternative website is just a mouse click away website owners need to find ways to firstly grab the attention of a user, and then keep it for long enough to get your message across. If you don't, their cursor will be heading to the back button and on to a competitor in the blink of an eye."

Here are his topline tips for writing engaging web content that apply 100% to blogs:
  1. Grab the user's attention -- to me this means a strong headline
  2. Bottom line up front and easily understandable
  3. Keep the word count short and hyperlink to secondary pages as needed
  4. Take them through your argument logically - beginning, middle, conclusion
  5. Focus is key - you don't need to tell the audience every aspect of the issue -- what do they need to know right now?
  6. Use bulleted lists, people follow them
  7. Use very descriptive subheads
  8. Include videos, slideshows, graphics, etc. for those who prefer them
  9. If there is an action you want the audience to take, make that easy and clear
  10. And for goodness' sake use any metrics you can to determine how many people viewed, shared, and interacted with the content and how long they spent reading it.
Of course what makes a blog different from other kinds of web content is that it's a human voice. On that note here is some advice from a variety of experts interviewed for a recent article in Federal Computer Week, "How to Write a Great Government Blog," and from a related post at FCW on the worst government blogs.

5 Tips For Great Blog Writing
  1. Have a strong and distinctive voice for the blog - it should sound like a person.
  2. Strike a balance -- you don't want to be so mission-focused that it's dry and boring, but then again you should avoid being so conversational that it sounds inappropriately "fluffy" or personal
  3. Respond to the concerns of your audience rather than just saying what you want to say
  4. Of course you should allow comments, and moderate them
  5. Keep to a schedule. It doesn't have to be the most frequently updated blog in the world, but it should be somewhat predictable.
In an age where we seem to come up on a new technology for communication every day, blogs are an enduring, simple, free and powerful tool for senior leaders. They show that there is a thinking, competent person at the helm of the organization. And they translate what are frequently abstract goals into language that the general public can comprehend.

Yes, very often if you talk in a real way the public will take issue with you. That is part of the process. It is actually helpful. And there is no way to communicate around that.

* All opinions my own.