This is not a newspaper: Why ghostblogging doesn't work

by Shannon Paul on March 6, 2009

Ghostwriting has been a common practice in PR since its inception, but it has no place in a blog. I started thinking about this a lot recently after reading Beth Harte’s post on the subject and a subsequent conversation on Twitter with Dave Fleet.

Ghostwriting — letters, announcements, speeches, memoirs, presentations became a way of life simply because these were all statements on behalf of the company. The letterhead, logo or boilerplate gave the statements all the credibility people demanded and the PR team stayed in the shadows. The world has changed.

For the record, I don’t necessarily have a problem with ghostwriting in general when it pertains to traditional media channels.

I’ve been a ghostwriter for several articles and even editorials for people with a wide variety of expertise — from engineers to lawyers and CEOs. Each time these articles were edited by many people before ever going to print. On top of that, it’s no secret most quotes in press releases are written for the person who then signs off on them without ever having actually said them.

This is precisely the sort of thing that social media should not attempt to do; not because it’s wrong, but because it’s ineffective at achieving the goals and objectives of business blogs, and puts the person (not the writer) at risk for a PR fiasco. Some social media purists may equate ghostwriting with deception, but this approach doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue and it can polarize a room of communications pros pretty quickly.

What is a blog?
At the heart of the ghostwriting issue as it pertains to blogging lies with the misunderstanding of what a blog actually is, or has the potential to be.

Forget the arguments that rest on cliche notions of deception and transparency and all that other stuff that smacks of a simple knee-jerk reaction. If someone signs off on a quote in a press release, to me they’re agreeing that the statement is in line with his/her position. Agreement is good enough for a static document. Blogs are not static documents.

Ghostwriting for blogs doesn’t work because, for businesses, a blog is not a publication and a blog is not a product. A blog at its best is a community strategyValeria Maltoni wrote a great post back in January about how the traditional media got the move to Web 2.0 wrong and what we can all learn from that mistake:

The Web is not a way to re-purpose content from other platforms – it’s a way to engage, a completely different way of understanding what people think about, what they want to say and do. One that moves to exponential results when the context is built with the community that wants to participate in mind.

Blogs that do well at garnering traffic, engagement and conversation are those that recognize their content as part of a larger conversation through links, bookmarking, sharing, comments and discussion.

With the old sort of print publications, the content was the product. Signing off on a quality product is sufficient, signing off on a conversation is absurd. Content is no longer a product, but a means of participation in a larger online community.

I’m not saying that help with editing, or taking down the content of a conversation and transcribing cannot ever work, but some level of participation when it comes to responding to comments and linking to other content should also take place. Recognition of the blog as part of a larger dialogue needs to be in place as well.

Why this matters
In David Meerman Scott‘s new book, World Wide Rave, he notes that people want to do business with other people. This statement couldn’t be more true. The person doesn’t have to necessarily be the traditional front-man, rockstar or chairman.

If your CEO is too busy to blog, find some other interested and engaged person inside your organization. Most people prefer a passionate amateur to a bored professional any day of the week. They’re far more interesting.

Blogs written by ghostbloggers are either approaching their content as a product or posing as another person when they respond to comments and link to other blogs. Approaching the content as a product will produce a blog that doesn’t inspire very much engagement (ineffective). If the blogger is doing well with the blog — using it to build relationships through content — then that becomes unethical and extremely risky to the person’s reputation.

Now you
I know this discussion can get pretty heated and sometimes people get upset when I try to define what a blog is, but definitions can also be helpful.

For the record I think a blog can be a lot of things and does not always have to be a community strategy, however through the process of elimination, I know that a blog is not a product. Or, at least it’s not a product anyone seems interested in buying. Please note that I am not talking about personal blogs, but ones aimed at building relationships and community around a business.

It’s been awhile since my last post and I am so eager for feedback you wouldn’t believe it! I can’t wait to see where you all take this idea.

P.S. I promise Bill Sledzik that I’m not going to put my hands over my ears and scream until he agrees. ;)

Photo by House Of Sims

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{ 47 comments }

March 6, 2009 Gerard McLean

This is the most thought-out argument against ghostwriting blogs I have heard to date. Arguments pontificating on the morality of being fake, etc. usually falls on deaf ears because it is old, tiresome and preachy. But, when you say that the effort is ineffective and a waste of time and give a reasoned argument why, you now have the attention of business folk.

For the record, I think a blog is this. http://rivershark.com/x/179

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Gerard – I agree, there is nothing more polarizing than telling people the way they do things is morally and ethically wrong. These sorts of arguments automatically put others on the defensive. In order to make progress we have to do better at examining our own position. Thanks for stopping by!

March 7, 2009 aribadler

Amen Shannon. Ghostwriting has been an accepted practice for decades. I’ve ghostwritten more quotes, articles, letters to the editor, etc. than I can remember in the many years I’ve been in the business. I agree, however, that it is in the realm of blogs and other online, interactive mediums that ghostwriting becomes apparent very quickly.

This is most frustrating to me in the more social outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. I’ve even coined a phrase for those politicians and others who have staff run their accounts: Twitterfeits.

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Ari. I know you have a ton of professional experience, and I’m glad to see we’re in agreement on this. Twitterfeits is a great word btw. Thanks again!

March 8, 2009 Brandon

I love it — both the post and the new term, twitterfeits. I’ve been wondering recently now that every Senator, Member of Congress, Governor, and City Council Person is twittering — what percentage of them are actually doing it themselves? If we know it’s just a blast from their press office as opposed to a real brief insight by one of these officials it becomes pretty uninteresting.

March 7, 2009 Steve Woodruff

You’ve identified the real soul of the issue – what is a blog and what is it for?? If a “blog” (destination site on the web published using blogging software) is or can be merely a place to put up static information, then (fully disclosed) ghostwriting might be acceptable as it is in similar modalities. But then, we’re altering the entire expectation set around what a blog/blogger is, which is why it won’t work. You CAN ghostwrite a blog, but that’s like coming to a Red Wings home game wearing a Bruins uniform. Wrong venue, partner…

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Steve – I love the analogy… thanks for the chuckle. :)

March 7, 2009 Stephen Boyle

I feel as the economy hits at troubled times people are less likely to believe that a CEO of a medium to large organization is taking the time to write. In my opinion seeing that a staff member is the person writing and knowing their relationship in the organization matters. For some reason I feel collaborative blogs stating the author of each item lends credibility to 1) the writer, 2) the organization.

Why the organization – it demonstrates trust in the people offering the face of the company. Each writer will have a style in their posts. People draw affinity to different styles, offering wider appeal to the blog as a whole.

Human faces are not symmetrical. Blogs are the face of your company. We gravitate to things less than perfect. Granular content becomes appealing. Over-processed is passe and less believable.

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Stephen – Good point – granular content, imperfect presentations are more appealing… I agree. Vulnerability is what helps create bonds between humans and that humanity now extends itself to business. Interesting how that works. Thanks for dropping in!

March 7, 2009 Sally Falkow

HI Shannon, Excellent points. I too have ghostwritten many pieces in my career. And it is often because the exec is not a good writer. He or she has the data but is just not good at crafting the words. Or they’re too busy. But in most cases the content did come from them – usually in the form of a taped interview.

Blog and communities are of course a different kettle of fish. It has to be personal and authentic.

One thing companies can do is RSS enable their news content. If it is clearly news content all the blog ‘should-be’s” don’t apply.

If you make it easy for people to find, read, save and share your content it finds its way into social news sites and can become part of the conversation.

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Sally – That’s a great point. I think web-based social media newsrooms and SEO/SMO RSS-enabled web content is a great way to sidestep the whole ghostblogging issue. If a blog doesn’t make sense for a company, it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t join the conversation in other ways.

March 7, 2009 Joni Golden

I am with you, Shannon, and I think the presenters at a social media event I attended yesterday would be, too. Terry Bean and Charlie Wollberg made the point that ALL business is relationship business. People want to see a real face in your profile picture and to work with another human being, not a business. One of the best stories from the event was aboutan employee at Comcast who set up a Twitter feed for all mentions of Comcast, then tweeted anyone who mentioned a problem by saying “How can I help?”. It’s all about authenticity.

I also agree that it doesn’t serve any purpose to label ghost-writing “wrong” or “unethical.” It’s a way of doing business, and business methods are either effective or ineffective. When we put the discussion on that level, we can measure, rather than argue.

Excellent post, very thoughtful.

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Joni – Oh yes, Charlie and Terry do a great job of bringing the relationship business to light! By the way, Joni, I’m not sure if you’re on Twitter or not, but Comcast’s Twitter account is @comcastcares and can be found at http://twitter.com/comcastcares Frank Eliason is truly a pioneer in this space. Measuring rather than arguing always seems more productive — you summed that up beautifully! Thank you for adding to the discussion. :)

March 7, 2009 Allen Mireles

“Recognition of the blog as part of a larger dialogue needs to be in place as well.”

Shannon,

Thank you for your thoughtful and logical post. This is an issue I’ve been debating (like so many of us) for some time and I appreciate your argument. The part that really jumped out a me is your statement about effectiveness and the blog as part of a larger dialogue. I am constantly speaking with clients and prospects who want to be involved w/ social media but do not have the time to “do all that stuff” and hope to outsource their socmed efforts.

I enjoyed Bill Sledzik’s post about ghost writing recently but appreciate this perspective also. Your points are well made and provide food for thought.

Also always admire how you make your points without the drama engendered in other blogs and forums.

Well done and thanks again.

Warmly,

Allen

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Allen – Thanks for that! I would rather be helpful than hurtful to other pros trying to navigate this space. I know this is hardly a simple issue for those trying to help clients along the social media path. I think there are plenty of ways to join the conversation in an authentic way without the aid of a ghost. :-)

March 7, 2009 Jacquie Flynn

Thank you for this thoughtful post. As an acquisitions editor (non-fiction books), I find myself spending more and more of each day coaching authors about Social Media activity. I hope/think that my advice is helpful, but have also concluded that there are many people who are simply incapable of succeeding in this new realm. The truth is that the world is divided into two kinds of people, those who take time with people — whether they are janitors or CEO’s — and those who only turn on the charm only for people who can do something for them. The authors who are open, helpful, and have a generous nature do well with Twitter, blogging and so forth. The arrogant authors who think that their time is too precious to spend it on one person do poorly. So, to my way of thinking, social media is really becoming an A**hole filter – and that is a very good thing!

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Jacquie, thanks for sharing your perspective! Activity on social networks certainly magnifies one’s personality. Gary Varynerchuk recently posted a great video addressing this very issue. If you’re a great person, more people are aware that you’re a great person… whereas if you’re a jerk, more people know you’re a jerk. :)

I may be naive, but I think there’s always a way to participate that works. Maybe a blog isn’t the thing. Maybe a photo stream on Flickr or a Tumblr with interesting shared tidbits of information. Sometimes podcasts work well or video blogs. There is so much that can be done. There are so many options available. Finding the right medium could mean finding just the sweet spot they need to help engage in a meaningful way.

March 7, 2009 Tim Jackson

Well, I read this entire post nodding my head in agreement. Even on the usually contentious point of defining a blog (it’s lots of things, but not an actual product- I agree).

As somebody who has spent A LOT of time using a blog to relate people to a person and by extension a brand, I can vouch for the effectiveness of it. I am 100% convinced that ghostwriting would not have accomplished the same results. Especially with the dynamic of engaged conversation/ discussion- I can’t imagine how a brand/ company can remain engaged in a dynamic conversation using a ghostwrite. I can just see the writer throwing the questions back to the co’ asking for answers and then writing the answers and posting them to the discussion… my brain hurts at the thought of it.

I’ve done lots of writing for clients and I always ask them to provide their own quote and then supply them with one if they can’t or don’t want to give me one. I never feel “right” doing it, but as a copywriter it’s my job to do it for the client. I always try- as best I can- to write the quotes in their “voice”. That said, it’s really hard to find that balance and I would never pretend to truly be able to speak for those clients- even the ones I know intimately well. I did have a couple occasions where I was contacted by magazines to comment on behalf of the clients- because the clients asked for me to serve as their PR contact. It just never felt quite right and I always stated that the best information could be provided by the clients.

Anyway… my point; ghostwriting works for press releases/ corporate communications, static websites, newspapers/ magazines, political speeches and other forms of one-way dialog. ghostwriting a blog is just “bad business”- unless that blog is totally one-way without comments allowed (but then, what’s the point). Having a dynamic and engaging conversation is nearly impossible using a ghostwriter. I’ve turned that job down a few times because I knew I couldn’t do it effectively.

I agree that “an engaged amateur is better than a bored pro”- if the guy/ gal in the mail room can show their enthusiasm and carry on a conversation, then get them on the blog instead of getting a ghostwriter… it’ll be much more effective.

But that’s just me…

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Tim – Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! Your experience lends a lot of credibility to this discussion and knowing that someone as capable as you turned down ghostblogging jobs because you knew you couldn’t do it effectively should be a red flag to anyone considering this strategy.

I also just love, love, love the fact that this discussion has remained relatively buzz-word free. Thanks again!

March 7, 2009 Eric Brown

Hey Shannon,
This is a really well thought out, well written post, Thank You. You are the best, and we all watch with much admiration at the impact You are having with Social Media. You are actually doing it, and positioning yourself as a true leader, by, well Leading. Great Job and keep at it!

Something that I think folks miss the point on, is that with Social Media in a business setting, the goal being to Participate in the Conversation, you need to do that. While it doesn’t have to be the business owner, but it does have to be someone really connected with intimate knowledge of the business at hand. No Ghosts, and likely no PR or Agency folks.

Turning this function over to an employee, or even doing it yourself as the business owner is pretty foreign. It was much easier to just Buy a Block of Marketing from an agency.

The world is changing though, and as it changes, so do the Deck Chairs, and who gets to sit in them,

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Eric, you’re always very supportive of my work and I really appreciate that. When are we going to hang out? Seriously?

I definitely agree that participation is key, but if companies can’t commit to blogging with a real representative, they’re better off positioning other content to have better traction on the social web. I also love the Deck Chair illustration. The world is changing in this way and not everyone is going to celebrate or adapt. I know that’s not you. ;)

March 7, 2009 DaveMurr

“Blogs that do well at garnering traffic, engagement and conversation are those that recognize their content as part of a larger conversation through links, bookmarking, sharing, comments and discussion.”

That observation is a lesson that I recently learned through my personal blog and one that I plan to take to the “professional blogs” that I’ll be involved with.

There is some perspective in this post that is definitely worth its weight in gold. I especially liked your point of the letting the bored CEO step aside from the blog, allowing the passionate “underlings” to have a crack.

Thank you!

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Dave! There is a larger discussion and of course there are many ways to participate. Our thinking around what kind of participation works for us and/or our company needs to be more creative than simply installing the old ghosts. Glad you stopped by.

March 7, 2009 Gerard McLean

@Shannon I like how you hop in and engage the readers by commenting back. Few “popular” bloggers do that and it sets you apart from the pack. One reason I read and comment. Thank you. (not that NOT replying is morally wrong or anything, I would never say that :-) )

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Gerard – Thank you. I try… I’m far from perfect on this– especially on a workday, but I try to respond when I can. If I had a mobile WordPress app, that would make things easier, but I’m not there yet.

March 7, 2009 heathero

I actually agree from the standpoint of authenticity as well. I don’t expect a press release to be written by the CEO. I don’t even expect the CEO to have a blog. But if they do, I expect it to be them. If it’s a company blog and it indicates that someone else wrote it that’s fine. If it’s written by the CEO’s asst. and it reads “CEO believes in…blah blah” it still gets the point across. I get it.
I believe that the reason that Social Media works is because people buy what they want from who they like. They want to know YOU and YOUR story. They decide that they like, believe, support the company because they like you. If they make that determination based on someone else’s impersonation of you?? I just think that it’s contrived & fake (IMHO). If you’re a lousy writer, use an “editor” or don’t write! Do a video or poscast instead. BE YOU. Be Real.

March 8, 2009 Shannon Paul

Heathero – Being real and authentic at all times is certainly an ideal and I agree with you that writing doesn’t have to be the only medium through which business leaders can connect.

March 7, 2009 Bill Sledzik

Thanks, Shannon. It’s nice to know someone appreciates my satire! For what it’s worth, you’re the only blogger with an opposing view on this issue who’s linked to my writings about it. That’s conversation.

Both you and Dave Fleet have presented well-reasoned, intelligent essays on why you oppose ghostwriting in social media. I’ll encourage my students to read both, as it will advance our own discussions on the issue. Viewing the “ghost” from a strategic perspective is particularly helpful, though I think my position does that, too.

Perhaps I have more faith in writers than most. I know I can capture my client’s voice and am confident, with my help, the client can be an effective blogger (assuming it fits the strategy). Of course, I don’t advocate that a writer start from scratch. The writer must know the client intimately and reflect the client’s ideas, values and voice precisely. The blogger has the final say, not the writer helping him. Authenticity is vital.

I believe more companies will enter the “conversation” if they have help from ethical PR professionals. I simply don’t see the pitfalls others do, nor do I see any case studies or research to support the “no, no, never” argument, except for those in which the writers posted without a close partnership to the client. Abuse anything and it will bite you.

To echo Gerald’s comment, yours is the best essay on this topic I’ve seen. Passionate, but entirely logical. That’s not easy to do.

That’s one of the reasons you have a place on my blogroll, Shannon. That, and your “royal” status on Twitter :-)

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Bill, I really did appreciate your satire. I think we all have non-negotiables, but they just don’t belong in business. I’m willing to accept the argument that there are some situations where a ghost *might* be able to capture the client’s voice in a way that is authentic. However, I still do not think it is an ideal way to make a foray into social media for a few different reasons. One being, what if the ghostblogger was hit by a truck?

Sorry if the violent imagery offends anyone, but I think such a person capable of capturing the voice of the person being represented in a convincing way in something as nuanced as a conversation, is extremely rare — and nearly irreplaceable. Therefore the relationships built with the sidelined Cyrano become threatened.

I am willing to acknowledge that this scenario might *work* in the short term, but that it is simply unsustainable. What about when it comes time to meet with engaged readers in real life? What about a chance meeting with an engaged commenter/reader in real life?

These things need to be thought through. Online and offline are not separate realms. In fact, even though I met you through your blog, and later on Twitter, I hope to meet you in real life someday. I don’t think that hope is very far fetched either. :-)

I’ll link to your opposing viewpoint any day of the week because you are a real player in the field — not just a designated hitter ;-)

March 7, 2009 Doc Kane

Hi Shannon,

Yours is a very nicely written, and well-thought position. However, I’m pretty certain the arguments both sides are submitting will never really amount to much insight

across the line. And the reason for this, I think, is that both sides are, and most likely always will, look at the situation from entirely different vantage points.

In fact, there are probably dozens of angles from which to look at the situation, angles that will no doubt multiply and divide hundreds of times as technology drives

both you and I forward with its own inertia. I think it’s important for us to realize that we, as single individuals, are not as much in control of how technology is

effectively dictating how we communicate. These days, we’re hardly driving the medium’s development. . .the medium is driving us!

Thus, trying to actually define this type of communication is, in-and-of-itself, a futile battle. Semantics is important in the discussion, and plays a huge part, because

this tiny word….”blog”…means so many different things to different people. Trying to insist that it should fall in line with one’s own individual definition, in essence

stunts its own ability to evolve and mature. Check out Matt Mason’s “The Pirates Dilemma” for some excellent insight into this concept: http://thepiratesdilemma.com/

I wrote on Dave Fleet’s page some time back about my own take on ghost blogging at: http://tr.im/h7lB which, I’m certain has merit for the audiences I define within the

comment. To others though, it most likely seems trite and not in the spirit of the way THEY believe the platform should be used. Again, it’s all about perspective.

Here are two parallels that may help explain why we should tame the debate because it’s not really likely to go anywhere positive, (and positive is the key!):

A) The issue of definition: Both sides are trying to place a static definition on a technology platform that is inherently elastic. Just ask Ev at Twitter…is Tweeting,

blogging, micro-blogging, or texting? He doesn’t even seem to know. So who among us knows, when its inventor does not? Who knows? It just IS, really.

Forcing a definition as WE see it is somewhat akin to insisting to a color blind person that the color they SHOULD see is blue when it is not and never will be … for

THEM. http://tr.im/h7kT

B) The dual issues of belief and perception: Perhaps the simplest way to think about this debate is to think of another polarizing issue like abortion. Now, before folks

get too excited about this, first let me state that IN NO WAY do I mean to draw any comparison between these two issues beyond the mere fact that abortion is

polarizing and ghostblogging appears to be polarizing as well. That’s it, nothing other than the fact that they’re polarizing. These concerns are CLEARLY different and

not of the same importance.

That said, the debates are equally divisive. They are also supported by equally passionate people with beliefs that their viewpoint is not only correct, but that the ideas

behind their beliefs and perceptions should be logically understood by the opposing party. Thus, we’re tossed into the circuitous “there is only one answer” dilemma. In

both situations, the religious issue and the one we’re discussing today, lines are clearly drawn by both sides. . .and with arguments that, with the objectivity achieved in

wearing the other side’s shoes, just MIGHT achieve greater perspective. Maybe. :-)

So, my vote is to just toss out the argument altogether in recognition that we’re not going to force others to take on our own ideals with regard to what blogging is or

isn’t. Things are moving way too fast to decide right now. Why limit ourselves and the ideas of others when the next best thing might be much better than we have

right now.

As a true Buddhist would say. . .It just “is.”

That’s my take anyway, and I’m leaving it at that.

Cheers,
Doc

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Doc, I think the difference between the position I’ve put forth and many others is that I’m deliberately trying to avoid the right/wrong issue and talk about how we can define good strategy from a marketing/PR perspective.

I appreciate a deeper perspective on the evolution of technology and communication, but what I’m trying to do is help people navigate this space for the purposes of doing business.

By looking at the definition of what a blog is and what it has the potential to do at this point in the evolution of the technology, I thought I was able to cut through a lot of the divisive debate that you reference. Did this post not do that for you?

March 7, 2009 Mark Merenda

I’ll be lone voice in favor. I think 1.) a blog is what you make it, not what Kevin (whom I admire and respect) says it is. Hiring a writer for your company’s blog is fine. I prefer it if the post is labeled, like a newspaper labels a story from AP, but as the blogosphere demands more and more content, you will see more and more professional writers. An arbitrary declaration that ghostwriting is appropriate for books, PR agencies, speeches, presentations, etc. — but not for blogs, is silly in my view. There is nothing sacred about a blog as a means of communication.

March 7, 2009 Shannon Paul

Mark – Um, who’s Kevin?

You’re not the lone voice in favor of ghostblogging — a lot of people think that it’s a sound strategy, including Bill Sledzik who commented before you and who’s post in favor of ghostblogging I provided a link. I also admire him a great deal.

Hiring a writer is perfectly fine, and the scenario you describe (writer byline etc.) is very different from having a ghostwriter pen and respond to readers in a blog.

You may be right; my stance may be silly, but I don’t think your declaration makes it so. To clarify, I don’t think there’s anything sacred about a blog as a means of communication, but there’s a growing body of evidence that indicates blogs that act as part of a larger discussion perform better by way of helping the business meet its objectives than blogs. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t seem very silly to me.

March 7, 2009 Tim Jackson

You know, Heather (ha, ha), I’m going to take credit for the fact the comments are over 30 here now! It’s all because I commented and then tweeted about it… I’m just sure of it. I’m kind of a big deal. No really… I am. Just ask me.

(Wonderful conversation happening here.)

March 8, 2009 Shannon Paul

Tim,
I’ll let you take the credit… fine by me. ;)

March 8, 2009 Bill Sledzik

From your reply to Doc…

“I’m deliberately trying to avoid the right/wrong issue and talk about how we can define good strategy from a marketing/PR perspective.”

And that summarizes the strength of your argument. You did a fine job presenting it initially and an equally fine job defending it. You also were completely civil about it (unlike some others who’ve debated this issue).

I see a lot more sides to the ghost issue than most bloggers. But I come away from this discussion saying, “Shannon, I see your point clearly.”

Reasonable people can disagree. And yep, I’d give you an “A” on this one!

March 8, 2009 Shannon Paul

Bill,
Thanks again… I’m mostly reasonable. :) Mostly.

March 8, 2009 Danny Brown

It’s a funny one to have a firm viewpoint on.

On one hand, I’ll always advise my clients that if they want to blog, then it should be by them, if it’s an opinion piece type of blog. No-one can really state your opinion but yourself, and that’s the main separator for ghost-blogging.

Yet at the same time, if someone dictates a post into a voice recorder and hands it to a professional to type up, is that classed as ghost-blogging? After all, the person typing it won’t be the one whose name is on the credits.

Keeping up with a blog takes a lot of time, effort and love. Not everyone can donate that time, but they may have something really important to say. That’s where a ghost-blogger can offer a voice for them.

As Doc mentions though, there’s never going to be a fully agreed perspective on this. There are both sides to the coin, and both have equally good cases to make.

March 8, 2009 Shannon Paul

Danny,
I certainly think there are gray areas to consider, and can envision a scenario in which a ghostwriter and client have a very symbiotic relationship, however, there are always more things to be considered — planning for chance meetings in real life with members of the client’s online community, etc.

Dictation is fine for the crafting of a *product* but I believe blog is not a *product*. At some point the person doing the dictating has to engage for the effort to be worthwhile. Again, I’m not trying to say whether or not ghostblogging is right or wrong, but whether or not it makes good strategy.

I think too many PR agencies are trying to charge clients for this service and it either does nothing to meet business goals and objectives of the client — since it’s simply repurposed content meant for a print medium, yet positioned on the web. Or, worse, it poses a potential threat to the reputation of the business leader whom they claim to help.

I’m not saying that hashing the words of another out into typed text is wrong, or even bad strategy… what I’m saying is that what happens after that is where it gets really important. Our clients and companies we serve need to understand that the actual blog post is only the BEGINNING of the conversation… not game over.

March 8, 2009 Heather Whaling

Shannon,

This is an excellent post about a hard-to-nail-down issue. Having participated in other discussions about this topic, I very much appreciate your approach. I don’t agree with the “absolutely no ghostwriting” position … nor do I think a post should ever be written by a ghostwriter/freelancer/etc. in a vacuum without significant direction and participation from the company. But, I 100% agree with you when you say that the discussion ought to center on defining a good *strategy* from a marketing/PR perspective (as you wrote in one of your responses). I work at an agency, and, as our clients dip their toes in the social media space, they want to understand how engaging in conversation will help them from a strategic standpoint. And, not just what someone says is ethically right or wrong. Being able to make the “business case” (for lack of a better phrase) is exactly what clients need to understand — and, frankly, what they expect from their communication team. When it comes to this issue, they need to grasp both sides — pros and cons — and then make the best decision. For some, that will mean staying out of blogging or finding a more appropriate internal person to be the online “voice.” For others, I suspect that may include having someone assist with copy development.

Thanks for writing such a logical post about this … and for participating in the discussion as people have left comments. I’ve enjoyed watching the conversation develop and learning from what you and others write.

Heather (@prtini)

March 8, 2009 Shannon Paul

Heather,
Thanks so much. I know you and profess to have different feelings about this matter, but I hope by taking this approach we can start to see where one another is coming from in order to keep things moving forward. I know it’s a slow process for a lot of clients, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, the decision will fall in the hands of the client/upper management. We can only show them both sides of several choices and work with them to find the best solution.

Mind the fact that I still think there are a vast rainbow of other solutions — it’s not an either or proposition… either *we* blog, or hire a ghostblogger. There are very active Flickr photo streams, vlogs, podcasts and social media newsrooms where companies can make press materials that are optimized for search and deliciously shareable. Participation in the social web doesn’t always have to spell B-L-O-G.

March 8, 2009 Tim Jackson

“Our clients and companies we serve need to understand that the actual blog post is only the BEGINNING of the conversation… not game over.”

BINGO!!

This is why I have turned down offers to ghostblog (and have advised against it to other companies). A ghostblogger can only meaningfully move the discussion so far- you need the *real person* for that… in my opinion, that is.

March 9, 2009 laurieslade

Clearly, it’s all about the conversation. You cannot be present in the conversation if someone else is speaking on your behalf. The extension of this theory is, what is the point of a blog without comments? If you don’t allow comments, it’s a monolog, not a conversation. If you can’t be present in the conversation, save your money. Don’t hire a ghost writer.

November 25, 2011 Dollie

Your articles are for when it aoblsuetly, positively, needs to be understood overnight.

November 26, 2011 yyazgai

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March 10, 2009 Heidi

Excellent article, Shannon! I have to agree with you; it is incredibly important to have interaction with a real, consistent person be the draw for people in your social media and blog interactions. Personally, I find it difficult to be consistent when I’m ‘being someone else’; I hope to improve at ghostwriting, but not in the blog venue.

March 10, 2009 Todd Smith

I agree, Shannon. A blog is much more akin to being there (like being at a conference) than it is to being a message from the company. A blog has a personality because of a real person who runs the blog. Like you said, better to have a subordinate run the blog and openly be the center of it, than to have him or her ghostwrite it. Not only does the personality of the blogger give rise to the blog’s personality, but as relationships develop through blogging, the person behind the blog becomes the very identity of the blog. How can a ghostwriter effectively comment on another blog? How can a ghostwriter effectively build relationships? The ghostwriter has no identity. And without an identity, you can’t have a relationship! If the ghostwriter does build relationships, what happens when the supposed blog writer (the CEO) starts meeting the people that his/her ghostwriter has built relationships with? It would be nightmare.

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