An article in the January 17, 2006, edition of The New York Times discussed the phenomenon of business travelers' blogs, in which road warriors share their out-of-office experiences. The article mentioned someone who used her blog to describe her efforts to cope with becoming homeless as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The blog author, who is now based in New York, expressed some concern about the fact that her musings had gained considerable public exposure, including a mention in a previous issue of The New York Times itself.
The article quoted the blog author as lamenting, "After word got out about my blog, a lot of people from work started reading it. I felt as if I lost my anonymity." OK, I thought it would have been obvious, but here's one of the major points I want to make in this week's rant: If you post something on the World Wide Web and leave it unsecured and unencrypted, don't be surprised if people read it, possibly including people who you would rather not have see it at all. In fact, the safest assumption for you to make is that the very person who, by reading what you wrote, can and will inflict the greatest possible harm on you will definitely read it. Count on it. There is, after all, a reason why they call it the World Wide Web. It's a fear I have every week when these tirades get published.
If, despite that warning, you still decide to chronicle your business travel experiences in a blog, here's the sort of entry you might want to avoid:
I arrived in Paris on a "business" trip (I have to call it that in case my boss is reading this) and checked into my usual digs at Hotel Grand Argent, which is kitty-corner to the Louvre. It's kind of cool to know that Mona Lisa is my next door neighbor. I had to expense top dollar for a suite facing the Tuileries Gardens, but the view of the gardens and the Seine is worth it—particularly since my employer's paying for it, not me.
--February 17, 2006 11:45 am--
Boy, this place has gone downhill! The room costs the equivalent of 950 American bucks a night. It's a nice suite, so that's not too bad, but room service charges $375 for a bottle of its top champagne. Normally, I wouldn't whine (no pun intended) about $375-a-bottle champagne, but it arrived chilled to 10 degrees Celsius, when everyone knows champagne should be served at exactly nine degrees. If I were my boss, it would really piss me off to be paying so much for warm champagne. Off course, he'll never know because I'll be putting it down as dinner for eight clients. It's not that I want to deceive him; I just don't want to over-exert his ulcer. Sometimes it amazes me what a thoughtful guy I can be when I put my mind to it.
I've got to cut this short. I'm off to a six-course lunch at Chez L'Addition Énorme. They've got an incredible wine cellar, and my employer gave me an unlimited expense account, so don't expect me to write anything else for the rest of the day. I'll probably key in another entry tomorrow from the back seat of the limo I've expensed for an all-day sight-seeing tour of the city. I doubt I'll post anything the day after that because I've got to squeeze in a client visit to justify this trip before I fly back home.
Oh yeah, now that's something you want your boss reading. And I'd be a bit worried that the person you try to beg a job from after your dismissal might read it too. Like I said, it is the World Wide Web.
The article's author expressed astonishment at the low number of business travelers who are blogging. Astonishment? Hmm, maybe the fear of, after a few too many glasses of fine wine, writing an honest entry like the one above might have turned people off the idea. For the life of me, I don't understand why the reporter found the low number of business travel bloggers to be astonishing. Beyond being nervous about the chance that someone might actually read what the bloggers wrote and possibly interpret it incorrectly or, in some cases, correctly, I think the last thing these usually exceptionally busy people would want to do is spend time typing thoughts about their journeys into a blog.
Staying in the business blog arena, but getting away from the travel theme, it appears that a few CEOs are using blogs to share their thoughts with employees, shareholders, customers, and/or suppliers. And, for some reason that escapes me, someone again finds the fact that this is still a rare practice to be newsworthy.
On February 6, 2006, in an article that spoke mostly positively about the concept of CEO blogs, The Globe and Mail reported that a survey by U.S.-based public relations firm Burston-Marsteller Inc. found that just 7% of the 131 executives who responded to the survey claimed to have attempted blogs. The article then went on to report that some people think that the survey may overstate the number of CEO bloggers. Gee, do you think? Given that one of the reasons that many CEOs aren't blogging is a lack of time, I suspect that a number of the non-bloggers also don't want to waste any of their time answering a stupid questionnaire about blogging. That aversion might just skew the survey results a tad.
There's another reason executives aren't blogging. As some of the recent high-profile corporate fraud trials have shown, anything you post electronically anywhere—regardless of whether you consider the communication media to be private, and even internal company blogs definitely are not entirely private—can and will be used against you in a court of law. The electronic spewing of executive thoughts tends to make corporate lawyers so nervous that they might have to change their underwear if the CEOs they work for do it.
And another thing, what about the employees who, because the authors sign their paychecks, feel obliged to read their CEO's blogs? Are they really all that eager to risk being labeled as unproductive because they feel the need to devote a portion of their work hours to pretending to be interested in the random ramblings of multi-million-dollar CEOs who, because they are so busy blogging, don't have time to get out of their offices, walk around, and find out what's really going on? I don't think so.
That brings up another point. Even if he or she works an average of 10 hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year, an executive who is paid, say, $5 million a year in salary, bonuses, and lavish perks—that's high, but nowhere near the top pay package for a CEO of a Fortune 500 company—makes just a few pennies shy of $1,667 an hour. How happy do you think shareholders will be to find out that their high-priced CEO spends many of his hours blogging and that most of the company's admittedly lower-priced but much more numerous employees spend several paid hours a year reading his blog entries? My guess is they won't be amused.
Oh, you say, but blogs allow readers to post comments, which can be a rich source of feedback for the CEO. Yeah, right. Many people will have no problem being a suck-up: "Right on, boss! You're a genius, an absolute genius! Definite Nobel Prize material! If I were Catholic, I'd nominate you for Pope!" But exactly how does sucking up help the CEO to better manage the company? As for the constructive criticism that would be valuable, the vast majority of people are nervous enough about looking like an idiot in front of the head honcho in private. How many employees are likely to be comfortable sticking their necks out in front of, not just the boss, but also anyone with access to the blog? My guess is it's only a few people, and most of them are probably already circulating their résumé to all and sundry outside the company.
The good news is that this may stop when today's youths rise to executive positions. They're already learning the hard way the pitfalls of blog infamy. An article in The Washington Post on January 17, 2006, reported that some students have gotten in trouble at school because of what they wrote in blogs. One student was even expelled. The article also reported that many teenagers are upset that parents and other adults are reading the blogs that they set up on public Web sites. The article quoted the assistant head of one school as saying, "I think they see it as a violation of their personal space. They feel as if their diaries are being read." Hey, kids, if that's an accurate description of your feelings, I've got just one thing to say to you: Grow up! How many times do I have to repeat this, it's the World Wide Web. A personal diary is something you write in a lockable journal. After locking it and placing the key either on your person or where no one else will find it, you take the added precaution of storing it in a padlocked box in your room, but only after you've hung a sign on your door telling the rest of your family to "KEEP OUT!" That's a personal journal. A personal journal is not something you post on a public Web site.
Of course, these are just my thoughts. Don't tell anyone.