The social executive: Using social to amplify the executive voice 

As banks look to rebuild their reputations and regain the market’s trust, some executives are starting to explore whether social media may provide a useful and more personal vehicle for communicating their viewpoints on key topics. For this edition of the Social Banker, John Hair (a director with KPMG in the US) sat down with Wolfgang Goebel, a Board member at McDonald’s Germany and – for more than two and a half years – the author of a highly-successful blog that advances issues of interest to both Mr. Goebel and McDonald’s Germany.

John Hair (JH): What prompted you to start this blog? Did McDonald’s ask you to write it?


Wolfgang Goebel (WG):  The blog actually started because I wanted to find a better vehicle to communicate some of the things I was seeing in the field of human resources, both at McDonald’s and outside. I consulted with our communications department and – after looking at a few options – decided that a blog offered the best opportunity to really discuss the topics while still allowing me to remain authentic to who I am and who we are as a company.


JH: As you know, many banks are currently struggling to rebuild trust with their stakeholders following the financial crisis. Will a blog help rebuild that trust?


WG: Let me be honest; around the time that I started the blog, McDonald’s Germany was coming out of a period of intense scrutiny about our restaurants, our menu and our hiring and employment activities. So one of my personal objectives for this blog is to build up trust and enhance transparency about the work that we do here, about the problems and challenges that we face, but also about the successes that we have achieved. So I think that if the objective is to build trust and transparency, then certainly a blog is one avenue that bank executives should be considering.


JH: One of the challenges we hear from banking executives, though, is that communicating your personal views as a board member creates unnecessary risk. How do you manage that balance between transparency and risk with your blog?


WG: For me, it’s all about being authentic. Readers of the blog need to trust that I’m being honest in everything I write; both in the positive stories and when we tackle some of the harder topics. When I see something going wrong, I need to be clear, acknowledge the mistake and say how we are going to fix it. Ultimately, if you are writing from a transparent standpoint then authenticity shouldn’t be a problem. But if you are not willing or able to be open then a blog is probably not the right strategy.


JH: Have you seen any positive results from the blog from the wider business sector or policy makers?


WG: While we don’t really have any data linking the blog postings to changes in sentiment within any core audience group, I can say that we are making significant progress with our reputation as an employer. Our employee engagement surveys are up and – when I go to conferences to talk about HR topics – I’m frequently asked about things that people read in my blog. And when I attend government policy meetings in Berlin, I end up talking to a lot of governmental policy makers and stakeholders that have seen one or more of my blog posts and want to discuss some of these ideas further.


JH: What roles do the McDonald’s corporate functions play in developing and approving your blog?


WG: I certainly consult with other board members about topics and issues and my corporate communications team is always available to review drafts or offer constructive feedback. But I write around 85 percent of the articles completely on my own. I’m passionate about the topics and so it’s easy for me to write them.

But I would make a clear differentiation between consultation and approval. At the end of the day, I’m responsible for what I put onto my blog. So I am careful to consult with communications or the legal team if I think a topic may be controversial.


JH: And where do you get the ideas from? Do you struggle to put out a new blog on a new topic regularly?


WG: Most of what I’m talking about are issues that I’m experiencing as an HR board member or trends that I’m seeing in official meetings, HR conferences, even things that I’m seeing when I work with our franchisees and my own department. It’s really a mixture of clear people messages from McDonalds and my own experience.


JH: You receive a lot of feedback and comments on your blog. How do you handle those?


WG: I try to answer all posts that are looking for more information or further debate. My goal is to respond to each comment within 48 hours which, I believe, demonstrates that I’m being authentic and listening to feedback and comments. To be honest, I wish we had more comments!


JH: And what has the feedback been from your fellow executives and board members?


WG: I think they appreciate that I’m being a bit innovative to get our message out. I’m not sure whether they read all of the articles all of the time, but I think it’s helped some of them rethink their external communications strategies and how we can use our personal voices to help advance positive ideas and change.


By John Hair (Director, KPMG in the US) and Wolfgang Goebel (Board member, McDonald’s Germany)

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