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In 2007, Dan Kim started blogging about his newly conceived frozen yogurt concept, Red Mango, months before the first location even opened its doors. Using MySpace as his primary outlet, Kim built an online buzz about the chain, posting photos of the store’s progress while keeping his future customers apprised of his passion and love for the product.
He remains an avid devotee to the blog, as well as to Facebook and Twitter, even now that his Dallas-based chain includes more than 60 locations in a dozen states.
“The first instinct about blogging is to assume it’s a one-way dialogue from the CEO to the customer or reader,” Kim says. “In the early stages of doing this, I only used blogging as another ad channel, without reacting to what came in. But I’ve learned now that you have to use your blog as a two-way street. You have to actively ask your customers questions—and you have to listen to their answers.”
Kim is certainly not alone in these modern efforts of connecting with quick-service consumers. The past decade saw a rise in the phenomenon of blogging executives, a trend including everyone from medium-sized players like Kim to industry juggernauts like Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy. It adds a new dimension to executive operations such as marketing and employee relations—and as far as the analysts and experts can tell, the movement isn’t going anywhere.
“A blog is the perfect platform from which a CEO can engage in a meaningful, authentic, and real-time manner,” says Mike Myatt, national CEO coach and founder of the consulting firm N2growth. “No one likes a CEO who sequesters himself away in an ivory tower. They need to be present, visible, and heard, and there is simply no better way to accomplish this than through a blog.”
Myatt says the benefits of a CEO sitting down to hammer out his own blog every day, week, or month are almost too numerous to count. For one, he says, blogging provides a more direct and immediate line of communication to a brand’s customers. Plus, with a blog, CEOs have complete control over the voice, character, and perception of the brand’s message.
And in an industry like quick service, there’s never a shortage of hot topics to discuss.
“The quick-service-restaurant industry provides ample topics to blog about,” says Babak Zafarnia, the president and CEO of public relations firm Praecere who also blogs. “You’ve got everything from technology to customer relations, politics to food, economics to general operations. These topics alone could generate thousands of different blog posts that attract more business and partnerships to your restaurant. For the quick-service-restaurant industry, the possibilities are limitless.”
David Rutkauskas, founder, president, and CEO of Beautiful Brands International (BBI), launched a blog earlier this year. The blog gives tips and insights to entrepreneurs and investors interested in franchising. With nearly 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry behind him and 14 brands franchised under the BBI umbrella, Rutkauskas says he felt armed for such an online discussion.
He says the quick-service marketplace is an ideal space for CEOs to take advantage of the blogging trend.
“The restaurant business is a people business, and I think it can—and should—be very personal,” Rutkauskas says. “Blogging for restaurant executives is a natural thing, not only to communicate with people interested in certain chains or CEOs, but customers interested in the brand.”
This advice doesn’t come without its caveats. Rutkauskas says CEOs need to keep their blogs personal and honest, while remaining cautious that the venture doesn’t slowly morph into another arm of the washed, corporate message. Savvy customers and readers, he says, will spot disingenuousness from miles away.
“The point is for a CEO to blog from his or her heart, and not in order to look a certain way in the industry, or prop himself up, or make himself more famous,” Rutkauskas says. “A CEO must blog with a purpose, which should be what he believes in and what he feels in his heart. If money or fame comes as a result of that, that’s OK. But the goal should be to share passion and insight, and an attempt to make the world a better place.”
Of course, this does not mean that a CEO’s blog should be a haphazard collection of random ruminations about everything from new fountain drinks to a favorite episode of a television show. Analysts are quick to point out that any CEO venturing into the blogosphere must have a clear and well-conceived direction, voice, and message to deliver.
John Buscall is an online marketing and communications strategist who says any blogging quick-service CEO should first outline his niche and then map out a 30-day post schedule with someone from the company’s communications department. Finally, the executive must be prepared to remain disciplined with his posts for at least six months before deciding if the concept is a success or failure.
“A bad blog—or a rarely updated blog—could do more damage than not blogging at all,” Buscall says. “If you’re going to go into it, you have to do it whole-heartedly and for a considerable period. Decide how much you can post, set up a schedule, and stick to it rigorously. You don’t win an audience overnight.”
Myatt says that quick-service CEOs who have never blogged before should start by reading as many blogs as possible while also getting advice from seasoned bloggers before putting fingers to keys.
“It’s important to get a feel for a new medium prior to diving in. It makes survival more certain,” Myatt says. “Few things are less impressive than a CEO who decides he wants a blog and then only makes one or two posts before giving up on the initiative. Have a plan, get committed, and engage.”