Blog Business Summit, Part 2

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

In yesterday’s post I provided an overview of the Blog Business Summit which I attended last week. I introduced you to a few of the more recognized bloggers in attendance as a backdrop for today’s post in which I’ll share some observations about the state of the Blogosphere and how you can leverage social media to your advantage…

With more than 55 million blogs (and counting) on the internet one could easily think that the window has closed and that it might be too late to start blogging. While there is no doubt that the space is crowded and that the first movers already have their advantage, the reality is that much of the noise is just low-level background noise. The majority of bloggers are personal, consumer or hobby bloggers as contrasted with the relatively small number of sophisticated, prolific, B2B bloggers who add value.  There is still plenty of opportunity for the late adopters to become fast followers who can learn from the both the successes and failures of their predecessors to create a very visible and profitable presence on the Blogosphere.

Having lived through more than a few business cycles what I witnessed at the Blog Business Summit last week reeked of opportunity for those willing to invest themselves. Validation of proof of concept has been publicly demonstrated a number of times (most recently with Google’s $1.65 Billion dollar acquisition of YouTube) over the last few years and yet this industry is still very early on its maturation cycle. At last week’s meeting of the “best and brightest” most of the talk centered around marketing 101 types of topics being applied to a new medium and revenue models being discussed based largely upon how to maximize advertising income…Can you say Deja Vu? Sounds like early stage opportunity to me…

Most of the topics that should have been discussed in detail were only briefly touched upon…Topics like: how to use social media and blogging in particular to generate an increase in brand equity; how blogging can be used to open new markets and launch new products; how blogging can be used to create many different revenue streams outside of advertising; how blogging can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty; how blogs can transform unknown individuals into powerful personal brands almost equal to celebrity status in short periods of time; how blogs can be used as effective research, PR and crisis management tools, and; how a blog can be the most effective competitive positioning weapon a company can have in its arsenal.

The truth is that the Blogosphere represents a low barrier to entry medium which at present is controlled by a few major players largely living off harvesting low-lying fruit. For companies and professionals willing to move quickly and intelligently there are numerous ways to create tremendous returns…Whether you are a CEO of an established company, an early stage entrepreneur or a professional services provider it is my strongest recommendation that you run not walk toward aggressively incorporating a social media strategy into your marketing mix.   

Blog Business Summit, Part 1

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

As most of you know I’m a big proponent of business blogging and my belief in social media as a viable medium for business was only bolstered this week as I attended the Blog Business Summit in Seattle (those of you desiring more detailed information on why I blog can read “Why N2growth Blogs“). I had the opportunity last week to listen to and speak with a number of the most prominent bloggers on the face of the planet and in today’s post (the first in a two part series) I’ll share the information gleaned from these thought leaders…

I speak at and attend a number of trade shows and conventions each year but this was the first time I have attended a blogging conference. Most of the events I attend are very corporate and fairly buttoned-up and I wasn’t sure what to expect at a business blogging conference. My first observation was how refreshing it was to visit with the biggest names in the industry only to find them to be completely transparent and self-effacing and definitely not politically correct. It was energizing to be around successful people who say what they mean, mean what they say and make no apologies for it. Imagine attending a business conference with no posturing, no positioning, vigorous debating, passionate pontificating and where the biggest names were freely and openly sharing their insights and experiences in an earnest attempt to help anyone who needed it…Welcome to the world of blogging.

Those of you who know me understand that I am not easily impressed and rarely will I report on a conference that I attend, but bloggers in my opinion represent the best in forward thinking professionals. For those of you not familiar with some of the bigger names in blogging let me make a few introductions below:

Chris Pirillo a self proclaimed “geek” has built a virtual empire by being quick, candid, opinionated and edgy…he has more than 1 million subscribers to his newsletter (a number that even the most successful corporations can only dream about) and understands how to create community by engendering trust with his audience through transparency. I didn’t agree with everything Chris said, but he didn’t mince words and was convicted in his thinking. Chris is a believer that “people don’t trust companies, they trust people” and he has monetized on understanding the value of building trust through credibility. Many executives could learn a lesson from Chris about the innate value of authenticity. 

Robert Scoble who became best known to the public while blogging as an employee at Microsoft (he is actually credited for giving the evil empire a human side through his blogging efforts) has leveraged blogging to become a thought leader, influencer and published author. I particularly enjoyed his session entitled “10 ways to a killer blog” (he actually over-delivered giving 15 tips) in which he shared his insights into what it takes to create a blog that will attract and sustain community. Robert is not only knowledgeable and experienced, but he is a great listener and is always looking to increase his knowledge and awareness. A truly nice guy…

Jason Calacanis is the CEO of Weblogs, Inc. (an AOL Company) and General Manager of Wired magazine has called him “the king and kingmaker” of the first dot com boom. His first business, Rising Tide Studios, published all the news from New York’s booming Silicon Alley community and made him one of the most influential people in the technology sphere. While without doubt one of the brightest guys at the conference possessing a total command of the current goings-on in the Blogosphere he pushes the envelope a bit with his aggressive communication style which is something he is well known for.

I could continue with other profiles, but I think you get the drift…Blogging is good and good blogging is great. The Blogosphere provides a media channel where critical mass can be attained with velocity and sustainable loyalty if you have something to say and can say it with credibility. In part two of this series coming tomorrow I share some other observations made while attending the Blog Business Summit last week.

Promoting the CFO

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

When a company is looking to fill a senior operating or strategy position it is common to consider the possibility of promoting the Chief Financial Officer into that role. After all, CFOs are senior executives who typically exhibit sound judgment and are used to being charged with great levels of corporate and fiscal responsibility. So, should you promote the CFO into a senior strategy or operating role? Only if you do so very carefully…In today’s post I’ll examine the right and wrong way to promote a CFO…

From the CFO’s side of the equation, their only potential to move up in the corporate hierarchy is to move out of finance and into operations or strategy. For those CFOs looking to advance their career this typically means taking on the title of Chairman, CEO, President, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Investment Officer or Chief Strategy Officer. While it is certainly the goal of many CFOs to move up the org chart, the reality is that only about 12% of CFOs ever become a CEO, and fewer yet assume the Chairmanship.

As you can see from the text above, it is only natural to consider the possibility of filling vacant C-suite operating and strategy positions by advancing the CFO. The problem lies in the fact that what seems like an obvious win-win move, rarely works as seamlessly as all parties would like to think. Case in point – most of us have observed the scenario where a CFO with little or no operating or non-financial strategy experience gets promoted to President or COO, and have in turn witnessed the corresponding chaos that inevitably follows. The story usually unfolds like this:

1. The CFO in their new operating role and increased position of authority decides to reduce commitments to business development. After all, what do all those people do except travel and spend money? It certainly is an easy way to cut costs.

2. MarComm; it just doesn’t seem prudent to make such heavy expenditures on marketing, communications, advertising and public relations. And oh, those events and trade shows that are so frivolous; I’ll reduce those commitments as well.

3. Now that some surplus funds have come back into the budget, I’ll increase commitments to IT, accounting, HR and let’s not forget legal…and so the story goes.

By the way, the changes noted above usually take place with very little communication, which in turn, causes a sense of uncertainty across the enterprise and a corresponding rapid downturn in morale. What the finance savvy CFO has just done in his/her first few acts as a President or COO is disrupt the entire culture, increase cost centers and decrease profit centers, but boy is this operation lean and mean. The reality is that the near term funnel will not likely be impacted by such decisions, but when revenue starts to evaporate in forthcoming quarters because customers are not being serviced, talent isn’t being developed, culture is being served, new deals are not being added to the pipeline due to sales people leaving the company, and the corporate brand losing visibility things start to get a little tense. You see there is no substitute for operating experience. The most brilliant CFO, if void of operating experience, will make similar mistakes to those mentioned above when taking over the executive level operating or strategy positions.

At this point in time you may be saying to yourself the author really doesn’t like CFO’s. Quite to the contrary, at one point in my career I served as a CFO, and I understand better than most that CFO’s play a critical role in the success of any business. In fact, one of my first recommendations to any client is hire the best CFO they can afford. One of my next recommendations is to start mentoring the CFO in the non-financial aspects of business. After all, if the Chairman or CEO appoints the CFO to an operating or strategy role without the experience necessary to pull if off, the resulting chaos isn’t really the fault of the CFO, but rather it belongs to the Chairman/CEO that set him or her up for failure.

Most CFOs lack the business context to make good operating decisions. The truth is that many CFOs have operational or strategic blind-spots as a result of not having any practical training or experience in sales, marketing, advertising, public relations, non-financial strategy and tactics, and usually have little experience in terms market knowledge from a competitive, production or operating perspective. Accountants are trained in debits and credits, assets and liabilities, and other matters pertaining to balance sheet and profit and loss statements. They are masters of retroactive analysis as their job is to document and report on historical events.

Let it be noted that I am a strong advocate of sound financial governance and best practices in cost containment. However not when applied in a vacuum, irrespective of the ripple effect across the enterprise. An enterprise can have all the cost containment in the world, but without revenue what does it matter? At the CEO, President or COO levels, the executive has a broader sphere of influence and will have many more points of critical contact both internally and externally than will the typical CFO. Therefore having experience across a broad range of skill sets and competencies is mission critical for a company’s executive operating and strategy talent.

The moral of this story is simply to hire/promote the most experienced and discerning people possible into executive operating positions. This can and often does include a former CFO who has been properly trained and mentored.