Blog Topic 2: The Man Behind the Curtain

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2010 at 12:36 am

More than anything, blogs beg the question, “What is real?”

Scott Rosenberg’s thoughts on authenticity in blogging, as well as those presented in both the Cluetrain Manifesto and the Edelman Trust Barometer, offer endless implications for both private bloggers and those who do so in a business capacity.

To be presented with the challenge of offering advice to a CEO thinking of starting a blog requires an attempt to find a balance between protection of legitimate trade secrets and transparency for the sake of credibility. At first glance, the achievement of such a balance seems impossible. But the most simple of stories can exemplify the importance of authenticity and how it can be best harnessed to create success.

In 1939, a quirky little book by L. Frank Baum was made into a film that would become the most viewed movie of all time. In The Wizard of Oz, 12-year-old Dorothy Gale must complete a quest through her own dreams to find her way home. Along the way, she befriends as ragtag gang of accomplices – a scarecrow in search of a brain, a tin man in search of a heart, and a cowardly lion in search of courage.

Throughout their journey, forces of good and evil play off of one another. Dorothy must chose her own path, but the influences of both her flawed friends and her desire to avoid the disingenuous traps of the Wicked Witch of the West inform her decisions. After navigating the Yellow Brick Road through a minefield of noise and disorganization, Dorothy and her friends finally arrive in Oz, home to the wizard in whom all of their varied hopes rest – the scarecrow and his desire for intelligence, the tin man and his desire for feeling, the lion with his desire for bravery, and Dorothy with her simple hope to escape an unfamiliar land and return to her simple but valuable life.

Upon arriving in Oz, the travelers are taken aback to discover not a wizard, but an intimidating and distorted substitute for a man. They find themselves appealing not to a person, but a looming green monster – the facsimile of a man who has little power to relate to them on a human level, let alone solve their varied problems. This is, of course, before Toto goes rogue and takes matters into his own paws, tugging determinedly at a curtain that hangs next to the terrifying hologram of the wizard’s face.

Behind the curtain, a man is revealed. Not a handsome man or a strong man — not even a green man. Just a man, desperately clinging to an intimidating mask of faux power in order to retain his position in a world in which inauthentic voices seem to drown out all others. But perhaps to his surprise, his guests find his diminutive and all-too-human stature a relief. As much as a colossal green face on a screen cannot help them, a man can. And a man does, listening to each of their dilemmas and helping them help themselves. Better than a magic wand or an effective potion, the Wizard assists Dorothy and her friends to find the power inherent within themselves and to harness their distinct personalities to attain their desires.

A CEO who is contemplating starting a blog should consider the Wizard. Rather than hiding behind curtains of secrecy and cheap intimations of power, business bloggers should be both honest and human. Authenticity, in essence, lies not in explicit revelation of a company’s every cog and spare part, but in simply staring an audience in the eye and addressing their concerns and desires without the sheen of pretense. Visitors to blogs navigate paths as confusing and distracting as the Yellow Brick Road every day, and should be rewarded by CEOs for choosing their respective blogs as destinations. Instead of luring audiences to their blogs and attempting to trap them with sickly sweet words, CEOs should use their human voices to discern the needs of their clients and, in turn, help these clients find what they need in a manner unique to their own identities.

Easier said than done, doubters might say. How on earth can one CEO address the varied needs of lions, tigers, and bears (Oh, my!) through one blog? The answer should by now be obvious: with a heart, a brain, and a little bit of courage.

Advice from the Scarecrow: When attempting to interact with his or her online audience, a CEO should, as Heather Armstrong would likely agree, use their brains and not make stupid decisions. Authenticity and transparency is one thing – inappropriate commentary and polarizing dialogue is another. Especially when harnessing the powerful voices of its employees on a blog, a company should err on the side of caution. Like in any professional environment, open dialogue on a company blog should remain germane and diplomatic. Exercising a distinct human tone does not require a raised voice or harsh language.

Advice from the Tin Man: As emphasized by the Cluetrain Manifesto, humans sound the most human when they use their hearts as frequently as they use their heads. Any CEO desiring to engage in online communication via a blog should remember this and act accordingly. The true lifeblood of any company is, of course, not a single heart, but many beating in tandem. A CEO’s support staff and employees both understand and care about the fate and operations of the company more than anyone else. These passions should be harnessed on blogs to address the diverse needs and personalities of customers while simultaneously giving them an outlet to express their expertise and rich perspectives.

Advice from the Lion: Being brave in the online marketplace of conversation amounts to little more than openness and honesty. It takes a great degree of courage to open up conversations that have historically taken place behind the closed doors of small rooms. In doing so, CEOs place their trust in the public to rationally interpret facts and information and not wage war over the smallest of flaws and missteps. Fortunately, the public is much more likely to be forgiving and understanding of a corporation that seems human than one that remains a closed Pandora’s Box. Forgiveness, after all, tends to be offered more frequently to people than to robots.

In the virtual marketplace in which many blogs are executed in Technicolor, resplendent with fanciful language, intriguing claims, and dramatic dialogue, CEO bloggers should recall The Wizard of Oz. The characters with which Dorothy chose to populate her colorful dream world were none other than variations of the real people that made her black and white life meaningful. And when it was all said and done, she willingly gave up a pair of ruby slippers, a good witch, and an emerald city in order to click her heels together and get back to her simple, grayscale reality.

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