The Ghost Blogging Controversy

A recent report that only 20% of CEOs who blog write their own blogs has some prominent bloggers and PR professionals up in arms—even though they take it for granted that the CEOs in question don’t write their own speeches or annual reports, never mind their own books. Why should blogs be different? Should ghostwriters really avoid them? Or are the detractors missing a point?

What Are Blogs, Really?

When asked what blogs are, many people say (dismissively) “online diaries.” And some blogs are. But a blog is really an easy-to-use publishing platform which arranges entries in reverse chronological order. Programs such as WordPress and Movable Type are simple content management systems with a number of practical benefits, among them the automatic creation of RSS feeds so that readers can subscribe and get the information automatically rather than visiting the website.

The revolutionary thing about blogging technology is that it allows anyone with Internet access to have a Web presence and to create, publish, and update material on the Web without knowing HTML, CSS, PHP, XML, or any of those other geeky markup and programming languages. If you can write an e-mail message, you can write a blog post—and many blogging programs actually allow you to post by sending e-mail.

Blogging by the Rules

As with e-mail any other Internet technology, there are some inappropriate uses of blogs. “Splogs” are the equivalent of junk e-mail, with plagiarism, or at any rate copyright violation, thrown in. Sploggers use automated software to copy posts from other blogs and repost them in order to make money from the pay-per-click ads on the splog page. I have yet to meet anyone who defends this practice, any more than I’ve met anyone who admitted to being a spammer and sending out thousands of ads for Viagra and Cialis. (Bet my page hits go up just for using those words.)

I’d set up three blogs before I ever heard of the “rules” of blogging. One such “rule” is that instead of just correcting an error you discover after you’ve posted it (the way you would if you found a typo or other inaccuracy on your “static” website), you’re supposed to strike through the mistake and put the correction next to it. While I’m not about to do that if I’m just correcting a typo, I can see the point: if someone comments on a thing and then you change it, the comment no longer makes sense.

Blogs and Transparency

Those most opposed to ghost blogging, however, would probably argue that comprehension is not the reason for that “rule”—the point of striking out rather than deleting is transparency. Blogs are supposed to be the land of full disclosure, the place to escape from corporate speak and put a human face on your corporation. The outrage seems to come from a belief that CEOs who rely on ghost bloggers are telling the public “You get direct access to me, my thoughts, my motivations” but actually using a “stunt double” to handle the interface with the public.

If a company is pretending to grant access and not doing so, then that’s dishonest. But having someone else do the writing is not necessarily dishonest. However, if the blog is meant to be the personal opinions and insights of the CEO, the CEO will have to spend as much time discussing those with the ghostwriter as s/he would writing the blog.

Not All Business Blogs Are “Identity Blogs”

When I discovered how easy blog technology is to use, I didn’t look at it as an opportunity to talk about myself. I saw starting a blog as an easy way to put two years of back issues of my weekly e-zine on the web. That’s still mostly what I use it for, though if I see a hot item between issues I’ll stick up a paragraph and a link or two.

Since then I’ve started two more blogs. If I had the time to devote to it, FileSlinger™ Favorites might come to approximate the kinds of blogs the well-known business bloggers have, but Author-ized Articles is meant to deliver writing samples and provide prospective clients with helpful information.

So despite the fact that I maintain a blogroll, happily link to other blogs, and leave comments enabled, there are plenty of people out there who would say I’m not a real blogger. I’m not losing any sleep over that, however.

The Medium Is Not the Message

Personally, I can’t see any moral difference between ghostwriting articles for posting on a company’s blog and writing website copy (or any other sales copy), which usually doesn’t get any attribution at all. And, in fact, I do write blog posts of this nature, short articles on subjects provided by my client (who shall of course remain nameless), a couple of times a month. The company wanted a blog to help keep the world informed of their expertise in their field, and also because search engines love blogs and frequently-updated content.

The client provides both the ideas and the initial source material for the post, and anything I submit is vetted and often revised by the people under whose names it gets posted. The blog appears to be doing a good job of increasing the company’s profile and increasing public understanding of the services the company offers.

Better Without a Byline

When I said something to this effect to one of those prominent bloggers I mentioned earlier, she asked why, if a corporation wanted a blog but didn’t have anyone on staff who could write it, they didn’t just hire me to blog in my own name the way Stonyfield Farms hired Chris Halvorson.

I don’t know their reasons, but I know my reason, and it’s simple. I don’t want to be known as “The XYZ Company Blogger.” I don’t want to get pigeonholed. I don’t want to get pinned down to a full-time blog for someone else, either. Since I’m only one of several writers working for this company, I only have to produce a couple of posts a month. And since I only have 20 hours a week at my disposal to run my business in, of which maybe 15 are billable, that’s all to the good.

A Ghost Blogger’s Rant

It’s insulting to ghostwriters to assume that anything we write will be 1) instantly identifiable as ghostwritten and 2) an inaccurate representation of the thoughts, ideas, and capabilities of the person in whose name we’re writing. In truth, a real CEO is at least as likely to speak in corporate jargon and mind-numbing platitudes as that CEO’s ghostwriter. CEOs get trained never to reveal anything.

A good ghostwriter, on the other hand, takes time to get to know her client, learn what matters to that person, how s/he thinks, how s/he speaks, what s/he really wants to say, and then starts writing. After that—at least with my own clients—the client often revises what the ghost has written. Far from not getting the real thoughts of the official author, the reader gets thoughts the author couldn’t find a way to express without help.

Let Your Purpose Dictate Your Actions

If you claim to personally write every word of your blog when you don’t, then you’re lying. Moreover, it’s self-defeating to start a blog in order to have direct communication with the public and then hire a ghostwriter.

It’s also probably not worth the expense of hiring a writer if the style of blog you have in mind is a series of very short, informal posts with a lot of links to other blogs or websites. And then there’s the issue of comments: who writes the responses?

But if what you have in mind is more a series of essays, a weekly column, or a collection of articles about your industry, then a ghostwriter might be just what you need.

Additional Sources:
“Ghostwritten Blogs Can Be Cool”
Is There a Market for Blog Ghostwriting?
So what’s wrong with ghostwriting an executive blog?
Ghostwritten Executive Blogs Are Popular, but Are They Good?

One thought on “The Ghost Blogging Controversy

  1. This is a good topic, as I’m currently wrestling with the whole corporate blogging thing with a client. I’m still trying to gather up my pennies, but there seems to be a difference between ghostwriting an article and a corporate blog. At least I perceive a difference.

    Part of that stems from the notion that a publication for which an article is ghostwritten has a different “feel.” A blog, by contrast, is a more personal, interactive form of communication. My concern is if I, for example, ghostwrite a CEO’s blog that I, in effect, become responsible for all interactions at the site with readers.

    Perhaps the immediacy of a blog changes the scope for me.

    Like I said, I’m still wrestling with it. As a PR professional I counsel clients to be forthright and up front. I can coach them how to respond to issues and questions, but I feel it’s best if the client speaks directly to it.

    I’m still trying to find that line with a blog, since to many people the very nature of a blog is a personal connection.

    Thanks for addressing the issue.

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