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 strategy. Valeria 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.
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