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News >  Business

Some CEOs have taken to ‘ego surfing’

Del Jones USA Today

The first thing Pete’s Wicked Ale founder Pete Slosberg does when he gets to work is to type his own name into the Google Internet search engine to see if anything is being said about him or his new company, Cocoa Pete’s Chocolate Adventures.

He knows of no better way to get an early pulse on potential problems and to get in front of customer complaints.

Many corporate communications departments assign someone to do the CEO surfing because CEOs with a delicate ego would prefer to stay insulated. But Slosberg is among an expanding group who swallow hard, then wade into the muck.

The practice is not unique to CEOs and is so common among professionals, including politicians and journalists, that it has been coined “ego surfing.” The term has gone mainstream. It was the question to a recent “Jeopardy” answer and was the focus of a recent episode of “Two and a Half Men” on CBS.

Tracking ego surfing is difficult, but there are 25 million to 50 million Internet searches each day using proper names, according to the Web site Search Engine Watch. Ego surfing by CEOs — or CEgO surfing — is no doubt a tiny portion but a weighty one. CEOs who do surf out of conceit are likely to be disappointed, because what they find is a mixture of half-truths, falsehoods and precious little they would want their mothers to see.

Dogpile conducted a CEgO surf of the Fortune 100 CEOs and uncovered plenty of fodder for embarrassment. Much of it is innocent, but some is damaging. A search for Lockheed Martin CEO Vance Coffman steers you to the Corporate Swine Web site, which calls him a war profiteer.

A search for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer uncovers a 72-second video of him apparently attempting to motivate an auditorium of workers in what is now called his “monkey dance” by the Net crowd.

Many CEOs learn they have a namesake out there that is the source of Internet embarrassment. When Cynthia McKay, CEO of Le Gourmet Gift Basket, does a CEgO search, she runs into plenty of material about a British actress by the same name who does soft porn. “That porn star thing is going to be tough to overcome,” she says.

When Convio CEO Gene Austin does a search, he finds a lot of information about Gene Austin, a singer of the 1920s. Kathy Peel, CEO of Family Manager, finds that another Kathy Peel won the Miss Plus America contest.

Yet, despite the digital abuse and confusion, there is a brave and growing band of CEOs who have decided to embrace surfing as a competitive advantage, to find out stuff early, true or false, when there is time for course corrections to be made.

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