Just For The Record

There has been so much “controversy” and discussion over this whole idea of “GHOST BLOGGING.” In my opinion, it’s quite ridiculous. The things us “ghost bloggers” hear from social media purist?

  • It’s not being truly authentic
  • It’s not ethical
  • It’s not real if it’s not from the actual person

Well,  just for the record, does it really matter? I kind of think the above ideas are BS. Here’s why:  What I offer is a service to those who understand the value of good content (message) to create relationships and brand value via the web. I also understand the value of a good social media strategy to get that message out. It’s not being inauthentic at all. It’s being an online marketer in many ways. I help companies piece together what they have to say. It’s not always right the first time. They approve it or I make changes to make the message clearer. It’s not rocket science, it’s a SERVICE. I just happen to love writing. I also happen to love seeing others succeed and grow by a process I’m part of. I mean, how awesome is it that I get to do something I love to do? And make money at it?

Let’s put some things into perspective. Who do you think writes Obama’s speeches? NOT HIM! Tell me, does that fact make the message any less real? Is Obama “inauthentic” because he has bigger things to do (like run a country), rather, he doesn’t have time to just sit around and write great speeches?  My buddy, Erik Deckers, also a ghostblogger, made mention that “No one complains that Ford doesn’t make their own car commercials.”

I brought up Erik because I was just interviewed on Friday by a writer from Entrepreneur Magazine and he was also. The writer is doing a piece that will be out in February about the rise and hype behind ghostwriting/ghostblogging….why folks hire them, what’s in it for them, whether or not it’s ethical, how I carry out the  process personally….those kinds of things.  My answers to him?

  • Folks hire ghostwriters because they are shifting their ideals. With the rise of popularity with social media platforms and building business based on relationships and trust, they understand the need to give their customers helpful and useful content. However, the issue many folks are running across is that it’s time consuming.  That being said, just for the record, my clients create the ideas, I create the content around those ideas to help tell their story.
  • Another reason I may be hired? The person who hired me doesn’t have a strong writing style. In other words, they suck at writing and will be the first to admit it. Or some are actually GOOD writers, they just don’t have the discipline to do it on the regular basis they would like to. I am hired to keep them accountable as well as make sure their blog awesome. (Because I like to make things awesome.)
  • Another reason…they don’t have time to fully understand “all this social media stuff” (I’ve heard it, and it’s OKAY!) That’s why they hire people like me! Social media is the space I play in, I love it, and I am more than happy to assist companies with their strategy. Some have me carry the strategy out, for others, I teach and they have someone in-house carry it out.  Either way, I do my best to help strategize and educate.

I don’t just write ghost-write blogs either. I have assisted on an e-book, and I am currently assisting on another book project.  There are some companies that have me blog on their behalf. If you’ve not checked out McGruff Safeguard, that is a blog I write for focusing on keeping children and teens safe online.

Bottom line, I don’t find ghostwriting unethical or inauthentic. I find it helpful and useful…which are the exact goals the companies who hire me intend to be with their clients and customers.  In my next post, I’m going to piece a bit together on the process of understanding the folks I work for.  In the meantime, I would be totally open to a healthy conversation on your views and thoughts on ghost blogging.

41 Responses to “ Just For The Record ”

  1. I see your point, Lindsay. And you’re right, after all—producing great content is hard work, so why not hire an expert?

    I’m really thinking that there’s no reason to stop at using ghostwriting for blogging. Politicians use ghostwriters for speeches, sports figures use ghostwriters for publishing their novels. Executives have assistants write their emails and their memos. Ghostwriting just makes sense, right?

    So, I’m in the market to hire a ghostwriter for other content generation tasks: Facebook status updates and Twitter posts. Christmas cards and mass emails to friends. Heck, why not individual emails to my contacts to see how they are doing? That relationship maintenance really takes a long time.

    And you know, something that is REALLY time consuming is writing messages to my wife. I love her, but why can’t I hire a ghostwriter for all of those little emails, those text messages? How about some love letters—surely a ghostwriter can really help out with these.

    And you know, why stop at writing? Surely with the explosion of ghostwriters, I can find a ghostwriter who can mimic not only the way I write, but the sound of my voice! Then the ghostwriter can make all of those phone calls to my sweetie and tell her I love her while I am doing more important core business functions.

    If I could find a ghostwriter who not only sounded like me but looked like me, that would be perfect! I’d never have to deal with routine interactions with her again.

    Since this is the Internet, I have to explain that the above is sarcasm. I’m not opposed to ghostwriting, I just think it’s important to note that this is not a clear-cut issue.

    Happy Friday!

    @robbyslaughter

  2. Bnpositive says:

    Great thoughts on what ghostblogging is really about. Thanks for sharing. I always appreciate your insight and candor when it comes to social media and other technology experiences.

  3. sage mcgreen says:

    I double dog dare you to write a “professional” love letter to Mrs. Robby Slaughter. Go ahead, steal her heart away, he asked for it.

  4. Bnpositive says:

    Hallmark has been making a killing off of ghostwriting things to the people we love for years!

  5. Elizabeth Friedland says:

    The Obama example is irrelevant. You can easily look up his speechwriters, and who authored what speeches. That’s no secret.

    The problem I have with ghost blogging is the lack of transparency. If you’d like to help clients craft their message, that’s fantastic — afterall, that’s what I do for a living too. Where it becomes problematic is when you mislead the public. If I’m reading a blog that is supposed to be coming from the CEO of Client X and it’s really coming from you, I’d like to know. To not disclose the truth is unethical and unprofessional, and could potentially have a huge PR backlash. Why risk that for your clients?

    In fact, many professional organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America (not to mention this little org called the FTC) have recently drafted new rules to combat this issue, placing a HEAVY emphasis on transparency. Why would you want to call yourself out for not following the ethical principles of your industry?

    I say, go ahead, write for your client — but then put a little footnote that you were a contributing writer. Why lie?

  6. @efriedland: I agree 100%. But I bet there are clients of Trendy Minds (@efriedland’s employer) who do not advertise that they their content comes from Trendy Minds.

    The ethical question becomes: who is responsible for disclosure? Do PR firms need to list all their clients, or do clients need to state they use a PR firm—or both?

  7. Oh, and @bnpositive: Hallmark is not ghostwriting. Everybody knows the greeting card was written by them, because the text is printed on the cards.

    Now, if you went into the Hallmark store and they had a “sentiment specialist” to ghostwrite a handwritten comment—that would be ghostwriting. (And brilliant!)

  8. Elizabeth Friedland says:

    We never lie about where content came from. For example, if we write a press release, our name is on the press release. My employer, nor any reputable agency, would ever mislead the public by claiming someone wrote something when in fact they did not.

  9. Kat Armstrong says:

    I am a ghost writer, as well. Kudos to Lindsay for writing this article. To Elizabeth – who states that “all” people hide behind their ghost writers? My boss makes no secret of the fact that I write for him, manage his communities, write several of the eBooks, and so on. He regularly states publicly that much of the work is done by me, and has even jokingly referred to me as “the boss” in this working relationship.

    I actually disagree with you regarding transparency. Why does it matter who writes the post, if the name on it is someone else’s? Why does it matter, for example, that I ghost-write occasionally for someone other than Chris, who takes “credit” for that work – as long as *I* am ok with it? It’s their blog, it’s their ideas. I just flesh them out and make them pretty. I guess I’m not seeing what the true problem is here. Why must there be “disclosure” in that situation?

    I think many people would be quite surprised to learn just how many of the “famous” bloggers don’t blog themselves much of the time. They simply are too busy with any number of other things, and they hire people like us to write for them. I’m willing to be that even you might be shocked at how many there really are. :)

  10. Pete Monfre says:

    Boo Hoo. Non issue. The idea is to deliver value to an audience while being authentic. Just because someone else is doing the word smithing, doesn’t make it less authentic. I don’t know about you but my clients always review and approve my work. (I’m not a ghostblobber but I do write all kinds of stuff for my clients including blog posts).

    I write all of my own blog posts, ebooks, etc. but for many of my clients, it really isn’t the best use of their time. My job is to solve their marketing problems and if they don’t have time, desire or skill to write a blog, then that’s my job.

    Sheesh. Do you really think all those business books are really written by the actual CEO’s? That doesn’t diminish their value.

    Hell, Steven King and Tom Clancy just license their names. They probably have forgotten how to write.

  11. Elizabeth Friedland says:

    I find it funny that that ghostblogging supporters are arguing against honesty. If you write for a client, it needs to be disclosed somehow. How have these new social media “professionals” so easily dismissed ethics? Transparency is paramount, and so is honesty. It’s that simple.

  12. Pharma Loves Social Media says:

    This past spring a drug marketing research company not only created 4 fake profiles but a fake medication as well in order to test response rates to different profiles.

    They are not target marketing to thought leaders in the “e-patient” space using the same techniques used for years to co-opt Physicans when it comes to their prescribing practices. Step one – Identify thought leaders in the space Step two – appeal to their egos (what’s this people on twitter want attention?) Step three establish a personal relationship by giving them gifts or invite them to speak at events where they are going to be co-opted.

    I am loath to give them any further publicity but here is the blog where he brags about the fake drug on twitter test.
    http://blog.kruresearch.com/2009/07/dtc-pharma-twitter-experiment/

  13. David Zemens says:

    People hire others to do work for them regularly that they cannot do as well or do not have the time to do. Same is true with hiring a writer. Why waste your valuable time writing less effective content when there are people who are experts in the field.

    Anybody who thinks that the most famous people write their own blog posts is only fooling themselves. They don’t answer their own correspondence, either. It’s just the way it is.

    Now, on the other hand, there are some famous folks who *do* write their own posts and handle other individual contact personally. Those people, at least to me, are quite special.

  14. Ryan Puckett says:

    Good conversation starter Lindsay… As an individual with a public relations background and now focused mostly on writing myself, I find this debate interesting. I write on behalf of my clients for a variety of avenues including web copy, newsletters, annual reports, white papers and yes, blogging. Call it ghostwriting if you will.

    Back in graduate school, I remember somebody making the point: “Michael Jordan doesn’t mow his own lawn.” In other words, Michael Jordan sticks to what he does best—professional basketball. He hires professionals to mow his lawn. It’s still his lawn.

    If somebody stopped by MJ’s and said, “Hey Air Jordan, nice lawn! You’re doing a great job,” he’d likely say “Thanks, but I can’t the credit. My landscaper is XYZ.” That’s transparency. I don’t know that it would be completely non-transparent for him to simply say, “Thanks.” However, it would be unethical for him to say, “Thanks, I’ve been working hard on it.”

    There are some executives who blog and I agree with David, those people are “quite special.” But if everybody is screaming to these folks, “You have to be blogging! You have to be using social media!” then they should do it however it works best for their skill set. Most CEOs are not experts at writing or communications. Typically, CEOs understand engineering, sales, finance, technology, etc. and that’s what makes them qualified to run their companies.

    Despite the good work that fold like Lindsay and Erik do, I seriously doubt their blogging is solely designed to start conversations specifically between customers, fans, admirers, and the executives, business owners and others they represent – that seems more the domain of personal and/or expert bloggers. Instead, executive and company blogs are meant to share info about the company (a.k.a. – transparency), engage customers, comment on trends, etc.

    What would truly be unethical is to blog without consulting, without review, without representing ideas and opinions and the companies and the person with the byline.

    Elizabeth, if you write an op-ed on behalf of your client and send it to a newspaper, do you honestly think they’ll print it if it has your byline? The expert is your client and you are conveying their ideas. Their name lends credibility to the message, not yours. Sorry.

    If you write a news release, yes it should have your name on it. You are the person to contact for more information! Hopefully when your client answers questions or does an interview, they will stick to the key messages you have helped them create. Do you honestly think they CEO will say, “Yes, this will do yada yada yada for our business and by the way, that language was coached to me by my publicist.”

    However, if you write on behalf of your client or promote your client’s business/services with your own name and fail to disclose that they are a client or you are a company representative, that is unethical and so says the FTC.

  15. @Robbyslaughter-hahaha. I always enjoy your blog and your comments. You know, if I recall, Tim Ferriss openly admits in his book, the four hour work week, that he did indeed have his assistant from India write out little notes to his wife (or gfriend?) and that worked out nicely for him.

    @efriedland-Truly, I don’t believe I “lie” in any form. Once again, I craft a message-THEIR message. I just package it a bit differently. I have complete respect for what you do as a writer. One thing I DON’T do, is reply to their comments on thier behalf. I let them know what’s on there and keep them accountable to their blog. I am transparent in my work, yet discreet with those who hire me. This will perhaps always be a debate, but I will not stop doing it and I will always honor my clients and do the best job I can for them.

    @kat @david @pete @ryan- thank you so much for your contribution. At the end of the day, a service is provided. It’s great to hear your thoughts and get your support. There will always be folks out there who disagree with what ghostwriters do. Good for them. That’s one less person trying to provide that service.

    cheers to you all.

  16. Oh, and can I just say that Chris Brogan from chrisbrogan.com rocks?! Yep. Thanks Chris for helping stir the pot. I like you too. :-)

  17. I have all sorts of ideas for things related to my profession that I’d like to write, post, blog about etc.

    I have very little time to actually write it all down. Plus also I have the attention span of a crack-addled chihuahua.

    Can any of you help me with this dilemma?

    ;)

  18. This was such a great discussion! I think Lindsay was right in her decision to hire ghostwriters to make up fake identities and post comments. That really added to the buzz around the post without actually having to hope that real people would comment!

    (Of course, Lindsay didn’t really do that. At least, I don’t think she did.)

  19. Bill says:

    Ghostwriting is nothing new, and, as Robby said early on, the arguments are not easily resolved. Social media “purists” need to lighten up. Blogging is simply publishing. Ghostwriters, bloggers,etc… would be wise to be careful, not only in what they on behalf of their employers but also in how they talk about what they do.

    @robbyslaughter, is your early comment an RFP? (re:love letters, tweets,etc…)

  20. Adrienne says:

    This is a very interesting debate. I believe that not mentioning something is the same as lying. Whether it be about who wrote something or where you were on Friday night.

    My suggestion, can you have a page where you list the clients you ghost blog for?

  21. [...] I decided to write about what I do for a living last week in my blog, there were no defenses up. It was not a post defending my profession at all; it was simply one to [...]

  22. I love this quote from Ryan Puckett above…

    “Do you honestly think they CEO will say, “Yes, this will do yada yada yada for our business and by the way, that language was coached to me by my publicist.””

    The entire business and political world is run by ghostwriters. It’s simply moved online.

    I believe this is a non-issue.

  23. I think that Ghost writing is a false representation of your business and an unfair way of presenting yourselves.

    -Daniel Herndon
    (Co Written by Sindee Blogster)

  24. This goes on EVERY day in the law. Associate drafts a brief, hands it to Partner, who then signs his name to it. No big deal. In doing so, the Partner takes on responsibility for the contents of the brief. Doesn’t matter who wrote it, but rather who is responsible for publication. Companies that hire a ghostblogger should similarly be responsible for reviewing and approving the content. I’d be interested in seeing the contracts (including indemnification provisions) that ghostbloggers are using.

  25. Holly says:

    Hi Lindsay,
    Really liked your post and have to say I totally agree – if you freelance as a copyywriter anything you write for a company will be their property, so why not extent this to blogging? Although I do think ghosting as an individual has some ethical implications…. It’d be great if you could have a look at my blog post on the subject and see what you think?

  26. Great blog post and a HOT topic Lindsay!

    I am in the middle of this one. I believe that there is a time and place for different strategies in new media, and ghostwriting is no exception.

    Anybody that understands PR knowa that things are not always as they appear. LOL Anyway, I would personally prefer to see at least a “Contributor” credit to the writer, but do understand that most of the content is written from a seed/idea and in the voice, of the person seeking these services. So I do not really see the “unethical” argument to be the most valid here. (The FTC argument is very weak for this issue too, as I understand it is more focused on “Sponsored Conversation” and the trickery that internet marketers use to spam out their messages. *Think Perry Belcher type situations)

    The fact is that most corporate executives and mid size business owners do not have the time to blog consistently while answering to share holders, board of directors, investors, and customers. This type of service is very valuable, as without consistency, blogging is worthless.

    Now, if we start talking about “Ghost Engagement” via Twitter and other platforms, I would take a different stance. One of the best examples of somebody doing all of this correctly is Guy Kawasaki. I do not see anything in his current model as unethical, and he has a full team speaking for his brand.

    OK, a lot to talk about in a small space, but this is a topic we all might want to schedule a tinychat or collaborative tele-conference around.

    Great stuff, and I enjoy hearing all sides on an issue that I feel is VERY important to keep a discussion flowing about.

    LOVE IT!

    Harrison

  27. Kami says:

    Hi Lindsay! Great topic. Funny how things happen. I was up late scrolling through the Twitter accounts I’m SUPPOSED to be managing and thinking, “How am I going to do this AND everything else I’m responsible for at work?” Then I jumped over to Facebook, started clicking through and checked out your profile (we have mutual friends, Taylor HS, remember me?). I ended up on Linzstar.com after reading what you were up to (excellent name by btw). I think hiring a ghostblogger is nothing more than outsourcing a skill just like anything else. A freelancer, sub-contractor, vendor… it’s all the same in my book. Microsoft uses outside vendors to do a large part of their development, but the product is still from Microsoft. The important part, like you said, is interviewing the client and making their own thoughts and perspectives presentable. Congrats on starting your new company. I’ll mention your services to my CEO, who knows, maybe we can use you in 2010 :)

    P.S. If you’d like to make a collaborative video conference happen, I can totally hook you up! http://www.corocall.com

    Take care,
    Kami

  28. Staci in Canada says:

    Robbyslaughter: you stole your ‘take it to the limit’ ghostwriting concept from The Moth, a podcast featuring real life stories (for the rest of you). One of the speakers talked about how he ought to get one of those Indian CS companies to start managing his personal life, set up dates with his wife, send her texts and cards in his name… hmmm

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