Channeling an Exec: How to be an Effective Ghost Blogger

Posted By on February 4, 2014

On his blog, Bill Gates lets us see who he is and what he cares most about--helping people around the world live quality lives. This photo of Bill and Melinda Gates talking with Nelson Mandela is just one example. (Unknown photographer. Published Dec. 6, 2013 on thegatesnotes. )

On his blog, Bill Gates lets us see who he is and what he cares about most–helping people around the world live quality lives. This photo of Bill and Melinda Gates talking with Nelson Mandela is just one example. (Unknown photographer. Published Dec. 6, 2013 on thegatesnotes. )

Executive blogs can be as entertaining and informative to read as Lifehacker. Honest. That’s because CEOs and other C-knighted business people have a lot to share. They know their companies inside and out, and their industry in general. Then there’s the fact that most of them are characters.

Corporate execs set up blogs for any number of reasons: to join the ranks of thought-leaders in their industries; to share knowledge with people inside or outside of their companies; or to grow the company’s (and their own) personal brands.

Whatever the reason, a blog can transform your buttoned-up exec into an approachable person, and in doing so, put a human face on your company.

Here are some tips from my secret life as a ghost blogger about channeling your boss’ boss.

Creating a Conversational Tone without Overusing the “I” Word

Anyone can write a blog, right? No writers or editors needed. Just say “I” a lot and write conversationally. If that’s all you do, though, your exec will sound just like every other exec, a dead end if one of your goals is to help people get to know him or her.
To avoid flattening your exec’s personality, use the first-person within a context. For example, if you’re presenting data about sales performance, an exec might address employees like this:

Thanks, everyone, for getting me your first-quarter numbers. Even though you’re working from Bangkok to Las Vegas and beyond (!), I identified some common themes that we should focus on….

Using the “I” within the context of reporting sales results creates an opportunity to hold a conversation with employees and share the exec’s thinking and strategy. In the above quote, she thanks them for their work, which presents her as a responsive, friendly person; she demonstrates her number-crunching abilities, which establishes her authority; and she focuses the team on what’s strategically important, which positions her as a leader.

This personal—and personable–blog post would be way more effective than announcing quarterly results in a spreadsheet with rows and rows of calculations.

Why Sharing Your Values Matters

We gravitate toward people who embody common values such as compassion, integrity, and fair play.  Conveying what execs value makes us worker bees identify with them.  But how do you communicate what’s at the core of their being? Through stories.

The title of the latest post by Reid Hoffman, the CEO of LinkedIn (What I Wish I Knew before Pitching LinkedIn to VCs) is, in part, a set up. It leads you to believe that he’s about to offer straight-laced, business know-how–the skinny he presented angel investors to start up LinkedIn. But first, he pauses before delivering his advice to tell a personal story that shows what matters to him most.

Above all he wants to help entrepreneurs succeed when they pitch to investors. The tricky part is that Reid can’t share successful presentations because he values confidentiality. So… he decides to walk back 10 years and share the deck that wooed investors.

Lesson learned? Reid Hoffman is a guy you can respect. He’s intent on finding a way to fairly share his incredibly comprehensive knowledge, but does so in a compelling way–by taking us on a journey to his revealing past. We learn from his experiences and his willingness to share.

One Thing We Can Learn From Bill Gates’ Blog: Align Your Posts with Cultural Events

Bill Gates is already famous. If you’re his ghost blogger, you don’t have to work too hard to make people curious about who he is. And, obviously, you don’t have to establish his authority.

So why does he blog at all? Because blogging lets him use our curiosity about him to tell stories about what he’s dedicated his life to: —the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s international development work.

We seek to unlock the possibility inside every individual.
We see equal value in all lives. And so we are dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals around the world. From the education of students in Chicago, to the health of a young mother in Nigeria, we are catalysts of human promise everywhere.

His recent post about Nelson Mandela is just one example of how he marries his blog topic about a major cultural event with the Foundation’s own mission.

In his post, Bill Gates explains that while many people admire Mandela for “his courageous stand against apartheid,” he and Melinda admired him for his fight against HIV/AIDs, one of their Foundation’s primary battles. The post lauds and mourns a great leader, informs people about their Foundation’s work, and shares their personal connection with Mandela—check out this picture.

For Ghost’s Sake, Don’t Forget the Source

One sure way to invent a cardboard C-Suite occupant is to forget to meet them in the flesh.

In order to write in someone’s voice, you actually have to hear the voice, see the expressions, and experience how your exec’s mind works under pressure. Insist on meeting over coffee. Get casual and be open so they’ll tell you stories that convey their passions and expertise. Ask them about important events and milestones on the horizon in your industry.  And, find out which topics they’d like to see on the blog.

You typically get paid well to be a disembodied ghost blogger, although it can be a tad lonely.  So if you’re out there in the ether, blogging for business executives, give a holler. I would love to know your out-of-body, blogging experiences.