The Ethics, Or Lack Thereof, Of Ghost Blogging
The Ethics, Or Lack Thereof, Of Ghost Blogging
by
Blogging for Cats
Image by Vicki’s Pics via Flickr

“What do you think about ghost blogging?”

It was a simple question from someone in the crowd for a recent talk I gave. I answered honestly, but carefully. It didn’t matter. I was essentially speaking to a room which included 10-20 people who currently get paid to blog for people or companies as those people or companies. Unless I said I have no problem with it, I was doomed.

The great thing about the people who took issue with my answer, at least those who approached or emailed me later, was they understood my stance but wanted to discuss the issue. Frankly, the responses pushed my thinking (which I love) and all but made this post necessary.

My answer that day was something along the lines of the following, which was captured by live blogger Heather Sokol:

“Transparency is key in social media. Ghost writers are the opposite. The biggest problem is getting found out. You run the risk of being disingenuous. It intimates that you have something to hide.”

I stand by that definition, but want to make sure we consider several different angles and perspectives on the issue.

  • When I say “you” in that description, I’m referring to the company. The writer in question is just doing a job for said company.
  • As my new friend Rhoda Israelov very thoughtfully illustrated to me, there is a vast difference between a personal blog or journal and a business blog or company blogging program designed to drive business leads, search results and the like.
  • Professional writers are and have been authoring pieces that are published under a company or executive byline for decades. The practice is generally accepted and understood by some (I would argue not by Joe and Jane Q. Public, but still).
  • My definition — that ghost blogging is not an honest or transparent practice — is simple because it’s clear. If the author named didn’t write the piece, the naming of that author is dishonest. Just because societal norms, or lack of public concern, have dumbed us into thinking it acceptable doesn’t change the definition of the act.
  • In no way do I mean to attack or demean those who author ghost pieces. My thoughts are intended to initiate discourse on the matter for all to understand it better. There are degrees of dishonesty and gray areas here larger than I am, perhaps, illustrating. These professionals who work hard to deliver the company voice and value through their writing are nothing if not responsible, professional, first-class individuals who provide valuable service to their clients. This is a philosophical discussion, not a personal assault. I hope that it is taken as such.

It appears I am not the only one who questions ghosting as a practice. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations, essentially the PRSA of Great Britain, says the following in their policies:

“Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations a blog run by a professional to give the impression of independent support is illegal and contravenes the CIPR Code. The CIPR discourages the practice of ghosting a blog.”

CIPR president Kevin Taylor assures me that the policy advises members to “exercise caution in terms of ghosting blogs.” They accept that drafting material on behalf of a client for all sorts of purposes is part of public relations professional’s every day operation but says, “people should be aware of exceeding their field of competence.” The organization discourages ghosting because readers of personal blogs expect to be hearing the thoughts and views of that person.

PRSA’s Code of Ethics doesn’t mention ghost blogging, but is chock full of “don’t be dishonest” and “don’t engage in deceptive practices” tomes. The International Association of Business Communicators doesn’t singled out ghosting either, but does include this policy:

Professional communicators give credit for unique expressions borrowed from others and identify the sources and purposes of all information disseminated to the public.

If you agree that ghost authoring is generally accepted as a business practice, these two organizations have condoned behavior that contradicts their own codes of ethics.

Doug Karr, an outstanding Internet marketing consultant and social media thinker in his own right, wrote in reaction to my aforementioned talk, “Ghostblogging isn’t a dirty word nor is it a dirty profession, it’s an incredible one. A great ghostblogger investigates the source and accurately writes the posts on behalf of them.” He continues, “As long as the premise of those blog posts are your message, why would anyone care that someone else typed it up?”

I know what Doug is shooting for here, but there’s a big difference in someone who takes dictation and writes for you. I would stipulate that if the named author is actively involved in writing the piece — dictating outlines, emphasizing points to cover and actively editing the document — I have much less of an issue and would consider the writer a copywriter/editor rather than a ghost writer.

And perhaps that’s where the hang up is — semantics. When Israelov wrote me to describe what she does, she said, “I do not ‘pretend’ to be the business owner. Typically, the blog reads ‘The ABC Company Team.'” This, to me, is not ghost blogging. This is professional writing services. The byline isn’t dishonest. Israelov is a member of the ABC Company Team since they’ve paid her to write for them.

Similarly, Lindsay Manfredi of Linzstar, who blogs for several clients and bills herself as a ghost blogger, told me this:

“I don’t encourage my clients to hide, I am simply assisting in the bigger picture. Ultimately, it’s their ideas that are being blogged. And I also have clients who write their own, give it to me to edit and expand on, and then post away to the community they are marketing. Everyone is different, and everyone has a say. At least that is how I operate my business.”

Renee Wilmeth, another of my fellow Blog Indiana presenters and, dare I say, Internet marketing ethicist, reminded me that books are ghost written all the time with no disclosure. True, but I would argue that’s still being dishonest with people. This lack of disclosure isn’t something most people understand. They assume the CEO wrote the book, or simply don’t care. Ghost writing hides the fact the named author isn’t capable of writing the material, whether it be due to time, writing acumen or even intelligence. It’s lying to people. Does the fact the public accepts it make it right? Not at all.

Still, there are some fantastic and talented writers out there not only writing materials for companies and their executives, but selling their wares as “ghost blogging,” or “ghost writing.” They are honest, ethical, genuine people earning a living loaning their talents to those who don’t have the aforementioned time, acumen or intelligence to compose pieces for their audiences.

These are very good people.

So how do we balance, assuming some of you might see my point about the ethical question of ghost blogging, the air of dishonesty with the professionalism and class of these important pieces of the social media and corporate communications puzzle?

Here are some ideas to put some parameters around the topic. They are suggestions. I want your input so we can collaborate on perhaps a standard we can all live by:

  • If the writing piece in question is written under no byline for the company, you’re a copywriter, not a ghost writer.
  • If the writing piece in question is written under the byline of a person who takes a proactive role in outlining, dictating and/or editing the piece, you’re a copywriter, not a ghost writer.
  • If the writing piece in question is written under the byline of a person who simply reads the copy the writer provides offers cursory suggestions and edits, you should be listed a co-author on the piece (e.g. – Jack Smith with Bill Jones or Jack Smith and Bill Jones). If you’re not, you are a ghost writer and this is, by definition, not being honest or transparent with the audience. Is this ethical? I say no. Does it make the writer or the named author bad people? No. It’s just not within the spirit of being honest with your audience.
  • If the writing piece in question is written under the byline of a person who never even touches the project other than to pay the author, it’s just a flat lie and unethical in my book.

Still, even if a person were to ghost write a book for someone, never receiving credit or acknowledgement for the work, I can’t fault them for using the system we’ve grown to accept to provide for themselves.

The principle is unethical by definition. The social acceptance of the principle makes the degree of severity insignificant enough for us to not consider the practice wrong.

The core issue I hope to discuss here is being honest with the audience about who wrote the piece.

Does this mean these principals will be implemented across companies and through writing communities? No. Does it mean I’m right and these are the know all and end all to the discussion? Certainly not.

That’s why I’ve offered them. Tell me what you think. Am I wrong? Am I too black and white on the issue? The comments, as always, are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • This post looks pretty old, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents. As a freelance writer, when I first started reading your blog, I was a little resistant. By the time I got down to your parameters, they all sounded pretty reasonable. The bottom line is that you don’t want to deceive your audience. And I like your point that if you’re writing a business blog that does not name an author, you’re a copywriter, not a ghost blogger. Well thought out blog. Good stuff!

    • Hey Matt! Thanks for chiming in. We don’t mind picking up the conversation at all. And you’re right. Deception is the key. Thanks for swinging by.

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  • Holy comments Batman. I wish I had time to read them all. I appreciate you digging up this post and this is obvious proof that cross-linking works!

    I've always been what my former boss calls a “West Coast Marketer”, where I am all about the customer and content, perhaps unfortunately thinking about profit last. I don't like to gate content and love free content. The more advertising on a blog the more annoyed I get, and hearing “MLM” and “Affiliate” gives me the chills. I blog because I love what I write about and want to help others.

    So it's no surprise that ghost blogging seems like an egregious offense to me, but I do like your proposed parameters. I agree that there's a gray area and there is definitely a place for copywriters and editors to improve the readability and effectiveness of the content, which in the end only helps the reader.

    Of the comments I've read, I don't think you'll have too many people pro-(pure)ghostblogging. If you understand the blog medium, you know that ghostblogging in its truest form is dishonest, unethical, and is never a long-term strategy.

  • Holy comments Batman. I wish I had time to read them all. I appreciate you digging up this post and this is obvious proof that cross-linking works!

    I've always been what my former boss calls a “West Coast Marketer”, where I am all about the customer and content, perhaps unfortunately thinking about profit last. I don't like to gate content and love free content. The more advertising on a blog the more annoyed I get, and hearing “MLM” and “Affiliate” gives me the chills. I blog because I love what I write about and want to help others.

    So it's no surprise that ghost blogging seems like an egregious offense to me, but I do like your proposed parameters. I agree that there's a gray area and there is definitely a place for copywriters and editors to improve the readability and effectiveness of the content, which in the end only helps the reader.

    Of the comments I've read, I don't think you'll have too many people pro-(pure)ghostblogging. If you understand the blog medium, you know that ghostblogging in its truest form is dishonest, unethical, and is never a long-term strategy.

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  • anneorchard

    This is a very interesting dicussion – I appreciate all the comments which are expanding on the topic. I would like to ask what your opinion is about frequency. If the CEO does not have a lot of time, is it better for them to write an occasional post that is really from them, be present and reply to comments – or to have frequency of updates but not time to respond (I also think responding to comments is very important)? I think I would prefer the former – some of the blogs I have switched away from the fastest are those with frequent automated updates where it is obvious that there is nobody home, and so there is no point in commenting.

    • In my opinion, which some certainly disagree with, a CEO should write their
      own posts whenever they can. Less frequent but genuine is better than more
      frequent, but someone else's work with his/her sign-off. And I agree with
      you about the comments. They are important. Many CEOs don't respond, but the
      ones that do are automatically more trusted and appreciated for the efforts.
      Thanks for the comment.

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  • I'm with you but it seems like the more you discuss it, the more narrow your definition of “ghost blogger” gets…almost to the point of meaninglessness.

    BTW Andy Swan did not type this comment but I think it's something he would probably say.

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  • Dear Jason,

    I pushed the point to make a point.

    As a relative newcomer to the social web, i.e. two years and after having been in the corporate world for 28, I was struck by the blogosphere's writers who kept stressing their value of being authentic and transparent (as compared to the “dark side”, for profit world).

    It seems that the argument for authenticity and transparency has its holes too and I suspect the economy's state is compelling bloggers to exploit them and hence spinning modes of justification.

    The lesson learned for me is that the blogosphere has its own issues similar to the corporate world.

    The following New York Times article, “Study Says Ghostwriting Rife in Medical Journals” published on 9/11/09 reminds me that neither side is alone.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/11/business/11gh

    I will be sure to introduce myself to you at BlogWorld '09.

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  • ronvalarida

    A lie is simple to define, yet as a whole we have decided that a simple black and white definition cuts too close to the truth so we shy away. Most marketing is simply lying to achieve the goal of making a sale. Case in point, many years ago while working for a large corporation we were looking to purchase some expensive equipment from an overseas company. When we went to view the equipment we asked how many pieces of product this equipment broke or damaged while it was processing the product. They showed us the paper work processed by the employee while running this equipment and all of the data showed that there were no losses counted at this piece of equipment. However when we made the purchase and started using the equipment it damaged and broke over 20% of the product. Why the difference? The company selling the equipment did not count the loss at the piece of equipment, but farther down the line. A lie? Yes. Wrong? Yes. Misdirection in any form is still a lie and still wrong. Just because society accepts a lie, does not change the lie into the truth, nor make it morally acceptable.

  • ronvalarida

    A lie is simple to define, yet as a whole we have decided that a simple black and white definition cuts too close to the truth so we shy away. Most marketing is simply lying to achieve the goal of making a sale. Case in point, many years ago while working for a large corporation we were looking to purchase some expensive equipment from an overseas company. When we went to view the equipment we asked how many pieces of product this equipment broke or damaged while it was processing the product. They showed us the paper work processed by the employee while running this equipment and all of the data showed that there were no losses counted at this piece of equipment. However when we made the purchase and started using the equipment it damaged and broke over 20% of the product. Why the difference? The company selling the equipment did not count the loss at the piece of equipment, but farther down the line. A lie? Yes. Wrong? Yes. Misdirection in any form is still a lie and still wrong. Just because society accepts a lie, does not change the lie into the truth, nor make it morally acceptable.

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  • Thanks Angelique. I agree with you on the blogging issue. On Tweeting, I have the same stance. As long as you are honest and transparent with who is Tweeting, I'm all for it. I've even set up Twitter backgrounds that explain “This is the company Twitter account. The following people man it…” and list who they are. Some even go so far as to follow each Tweet with the person's initials so you know who the source is.

    As for celebrities, I'm sure some of them are having people Tweet for them. They don't get it and probably won't ever get it. Each one of them will be outed at some point and we'll be disappointed in them. But it's also not the end of the world. Celebrities will always disappoint us because we hold them to standards they can't possibly attain.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Great article and worth the discussion. I actually have a bigger issue with corporate communicators who “ghost write” blogs that are written for the employee audience more so than those written on external websites targeted at consumers. I do believe there's a certain level of understanding that CEO level executives are really busy and employ writers to get their message across. But when it comes to being open and honest with employees, I think it's rather embarrassing and disingenuous to have an employee pose as the executive. If the exec doesn't have time to say a few words to his or her employee, then don't bother with the blog in the first place… it will simply lead to a breach of trust with employees.

    I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about “ghost tweeting.” I have a hard time believing that all the famous folks out there (Oprah?) are always publishing their own tweets. Thoughts?

  • Great article and worth the discussion. I actually have a bigger issue with corporate communicators who “ghost write” blogs that are written for the employee audience more so than those written on external websites targeted at consumers. I do believe there's a certain level of understanding that CEO level executives are really busy and employ writers to get their message across. But when it comes to being open and honest with employees, I think it's rather embarrassing and disingenuous to have an employee pose as the executive. If the exec doesn't have time to say a few words to his or her employee, then don't bother with the blog in the first place… it will simply lead to a breach of trust with employees.

    I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about “ghost tweeting.” I have a hard time believing that all the famous folks out there (Oprah?) are always publishing their own tweets. Thoughts?

    • Thanks Angelique. I agree with you on the blogging issue. On Tweeting, I have the same stance. As long as you are honest and transparent with who is Tweeting, I'm all for it. I've even set up Twitter backgrounds that explain “This is the company Twitter account. The following people man it…” and list who they are. Some even go so far as to follow each Tweet with the person's initials so you know who the source is.

      As for celebrities, I'm sure some of them are having people Tweet for them. They don't get it and probably won't ever get it. Each one of them will be outed at some point and we'll be disappointed in them. But it's also not the end of the world. Celebrities will always disappoint us because we hold them to standards they can't possibly attain.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  • Anonymous

    I ghost write a published blog for my boss. Maybe I’m jaded because I work in the legal field where senior partners seldom write their own briefs, research memos or letters. For a wannabe writer, the opportunity to write a weekly published piece is invaluable practice. It’s easy to write our own drivel, it takes far more discipline to get inside someone else’s head and write eloquently albeit reluctantly re topics we find repugnant, mundane or frivolous. Ethics? If I kick up a thought-provoking well written piece… is it lessened by not having my own name attached? Ethical concerns are the bailiwick of the individual taking credit for a piece they didn’t write. Given the inauthentic nature of social networking and the bizarre number of sycophantic nut jobs out there who fawn over psuedo celebrities; the narcissistic proclivities of the psuedo celebrities who pander to those nutjobs… I’m only too happy to perpetuate the bullshit while perfecting my craft. My boss may turn out to be a fraud, the morons who think he writes his own material may be duped… but I’m consistently writing some pretty good shit. And I’d be the only one that would look good if the whole scheme were revealed. It’s great to be Casper.

  • Thank you, so much, for sharing that. I certainly understand and respect your desire to remain anonymous. Your comments are very much appreciated.

  • Anonymous

    I currently ghostwrite our CEO's internal blog, which was originally meant to make him seem more accessible and transparent by employees. In the beginning I was allowed to create some very engaging blog posts, but since then I've been steered to write posts that just pat ourselves on the back. The CEO isn't even that heavily involved. He gets the final look at it, but otherwise he offers little input. And because we are patting ourselves on the back for various and sundry things, I am having to tell more and more employees that I write the blog because they are a necessary resource of information. I haven't heard anyone say it, but I imagine that this is disappointing to some to find out that the CEO isn't writing it, but rather someone far further down the totem pole.

    Overall, this experience has made me go sour on ghostwriting. In some instances it's a great opportunity for a writer to challenge themselves and write in another voice, but if the “author” of the blog isn't that involved, then you're pretty much just guessing at what they'd really say. The challenge doesn't lie in writing a good piece then, but rather becomes a challenge to keep wanting to write for them in the first place. In the end the transparency is very muddled. At least that's been my perspective.

  • Anonymous

    I currently ghostwrite our CEO's internal blog, which was originally meant to make him seem more accessible and transparent by employees. In the beginning I was allowed to create some very engaging blog posts, but since then I've been steered to write posts that just pat ourselves on the back. The CEO isn't even that heavily involved. He gets the final look at it, but otherwise he offers little input. And because we are patting ourselves on the back for various and sundry things, I am having to tell more and more employees that I write the blog because they are a necessary resource of information. I haven't heard anyone say it, but I imagine that this is disappointing to some to find out that the CEO isn't writing it, but rather someone far further down the totem pole.

    Overall, this experience has made me go sour on ghostwriting. In some instances it's a great opportunity for a writer to challenge themselves and write in another voice, but if the “author” of the blog isn't that involved, then you're pretty much just guessing at what they'd really say. The challenge doesn't lie in writing a good piece then, but rather becomes a challenge to keep wanting to write for them in the first place. In the end the transparency is very muddled. At least that's been my perspective.

    • Thank you, so much, for sharing that. I certainly understand and respect your desire to remain anonymous. Your comments are very much appreciated.

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  • My only push back here is to say that a pen name is different, in a sense, because you're not representing someone else. The author is still you. When the named author is a real human being who did not write the article, that's lying. I've written under a pen name before but it was my work and was not represented as someone else's. If the name was investigated close enough, it would have been found out to be me. Sure, there were reasons I didn't write it as Jason Falls, but it wasn't listed as something written by a real person I wrote for.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Pshew. I'm glad to hear that perspective from someone out there doing it. Thanks Jim. Nice to know I'm not alone and that someone in the trenches sees the issue similarly.

  • Interesting perspective. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Well, Carlos, I think you might be pushing it a bit far, but I can certainly see where you're coming from. You're right that two years ago, the thought of bloggers monetizing their blogs was really only through affiliate advertising and other traditional ad methods. But innovations and ideas, plus the lack of regulations, has led to the paid models. Keep in mind, though, that we're mostly talking about ghost blogging for businesses here, but still. Transparency is something that I think we should uphold. My hope is conversations like this can help us do so willingly.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • I am a professional copywriter. Ghost writing and ghost blogging is part of my business. The way I see it, even Samuel Clemens used a pen name (Mark Twain) back in his day. Did that make him dishonest? It's marketing. My clients hire my writing team to create articles and blog posts with them. For the most part, we're writing under pen names or without any byline at all. Do I wish I got credit for more of what I've written? I'd be lying if I said no. But I've used my own pen names in the past because of privacy concerns, so this isn't really much different. Except I'm getting paid to use the pen names now.

    I don't think it's unethical. Pen names in and of themselves have been a part of the craft of writing for hundreds of years. In more recent times, V.C. Andrews ended up “writing” a few books after her death. Tom Clancy has also used ghost writers for some of his novels. It's said that Mozart was the ghostwriter for several wealthy patrons. I suppose when it's a real person taking credit for someone else's work, and not a single pen name used to represent multiple collaborators, that could be an ethical issue.

    As the writer, though, who has agreed not to claim credit for what she and her team has written, I have agreed that I've given up creative control once the content has been paid for and left my hands. I have no control over how the client presents it on his or her site, byline or whatnot.

    I'm a big advocate of transparency, but it's not a reality in many aspects of business. I am hired by a lot of SEO/Intenet marketing companies to do the writing for their clients. Since their client relationships are confidential, our relationship is likewise confidential. It's just the way it works. If I demanded a byline on everything I wrote, the bills would not get paid. So until the world changes, my team will remain uncredited, and we write all of our content in a voice appropriate for each client with the expertise and care it deserves. What happens to it after that is out of our hands.

  • I am a professional copywriter. Ghost writing and ghost blogging is part of my business. The way I see it, even Samuel Clemens used a pen name (Mark Twain) back in his day. Did that make him dishonest? It's marketing. My clients hire my writing team to create articles and blog posts with them. For the most part, we're writing under pen names or without any byline at all. Do I wish I got credit for more of what I've written? I'd be lying if I said no. But I've used my own pen names in the past because of privacy concerns, so this isn't really much different. Except I'm getting paid to use the pen names now.

    I don't think it's unethical. Pen names in and of themselves have been a part of the craft of writing for hundreds of years. In more recent times, V.C. Andrews ended up “writing” a few books after her death. Tom Clancy has also used ghost writers for some of his novels. It's said that Mozart was the ghostwriter for several wealthy patrons. I suppose when it's a real person taking credit for someone else's work, and not a single pen name used to represent multiple collaborators, that could be an ethical issue.

    As the writer, though, who has agreed not to claim credit for what she and her team has written, I have agreed that I've given up creative control once the content has been paid for and left my hands. I have no control over how the client presents it on his or her site, byline or whatnot.

    I'm a big advocate of transparency, but it's not a reality in many aspects of business. I am hired by a lot of SEO/Intenet marketing companies to do the writing for their clients. Since their client relationships are confidential, our relationship is likewise confidential. It's just the way it works. If I demanded a byline on everything I wrote, the bills would not get paid. So until the world changes, my team will remain uncredited, and we write all of our content in a voice appropriate for each client with the expertise and care it deserves. What happens to it after that is out of our hands.

    • My only push back here is to say that a pen name is different, in a sense, because you're not representing someone else. The author is still you. When the named author is a real human being who did not write the article, that's lying. I've written under a pen name before but it was my work and was not represented as someone else's. If the name was investigated close enough, it would have been found out to be me. Sure, there were reasons I didn't write it as Jason Falls, but it wasn't listed as something written by a real person I wrote for.

      Thanks for the thoughts.

  • As owner of Bloggers For Hire and someone that has been doing this nearly 5 years for companies I felt compelled to respond to this in a quick fashion and then perhaps a more in depth response on my blog.

    I will take the stance now that, Ghost Blogging does not work. I know we have tried it on more than one occasion. I now tell companies that I'm sorry but we could not possibly represent the writer as passionately or as knowledgeable or in the manner that would do them justice.

    Most of the difficulties for this is that the CEO or “writer” wants to be seen as the hero but has only so many hours in the day and pout very little emphasis on the time necessary to show they care. I now tell them that writing their mission and message and representing that should be a priority. Again, another blog post altogether.

    Our bloggers are hired by the company to be their evangelist. If they don't believe in the company or want to make the world know about that company they won't be good at the position ad I usually end up replacing them with someone that does.

    Blogging works. I have numbers and case studies to back that up. Ghost blogging does not. I also have these examples. I wish now that I was able to make it to Blog Indiana, as one of my bloggers told me it was a wonderful event and now I know why. Thanks Jason for this post. Perhaps we can carry on this conversation further.

  • As owner of Bloggers For Hire and someone that has been doing this nearly 5 years for companies I felt compelled to respond to this in a quick fashion and then perhaps a more in depth response on my blog.

    I will take the stance now that, Ghost Blogging does not work. I know we have tried it on more than one occasion. I now tell companies that I'm sorry but we could not possibly represent the writer as passionately or as knowledgeable or in the manner that would do them justice.

    Most of the difficulties for this is that the CEO or “writer” wants to be seen as the hero but has only so many hours in the day and pout very little emphasis on the time necessary to show they care. I now tell them that writing their mission and message and representing that should be a priority. Again, another blog post altogether.

    Our bloggers are hired by the company to be their evangelist. If they don't believe in the company or want to make the world know about that company they won't be good at the position ad I usually end up replacing them with someone that does.

    Blogging works. I have numbers and case studies to back that up. Ghost blogging does not. I also have these examples. I wish now that I was able to make it to Blog Indiana, as one of my bloggers told me it was a wonderful event and now I know why. Thanks Jason for this post. Perhaps we can carry on this conversation further.

    • Pshew. I'm glad to hear that perspective from someone out there doing it. Thanks Jim. Nice to know I'm not alone and that someone in the trenches sees the issue similarly.

  • newyearsbb

    I tried ghost writing for a companies website and found it too challenging, too much of what I wrote was from my heart, distinctly my own thoughts and opinions, the result of my own life experiences. The company allowed me to write as a “contributor” in my own words, with my own name, it was much easier.

  • newyearsbb

    I tried ghost writing for a companies website and found it too challenging, too much of what I wrote was from my heart, distinctly my own thoughts and opinions, the result of my own life experiences. The company allowed me to write as a “contributor” in my own words, with my own name, it was much easier.

  • newyearsbb

    I tried ghost writing for a companies website and found it too challenging, too much of what I wrote was from my heart, distinctly my own thoughts and opinions, the result of my own life experiences. The company allowed me to write as a “contributor” in my own words, with my own name, it was much easier.

  • newyearsbb

    I tried ghost writing for a companies website and found it too challenging, too much of what I wrote was from my heart, distinctly my own thoughts and opinions, the result of my own life experiences. The company allowed me to write as a “contributor” in my own words, with my own name, it was much easier.

    • Interesting perspective. Thanks for chiming in.

  • One possible solution is to spell “transparency” as “tran$parency”.

    The reader will then have a clearer understanding of the author's motive.

    As someone who left the corporate world after 28 years, I was truly impressed by my initiation into the social web at Blog World Expo 2007. It was my first exposure to a community of people who were citing “authenticity”, “passion” and “transparency” versus the traditional business world descriptors such as “revenue”, “profits” and “market share”.

    It now seems that some members of the blogging community are re-interpreting their actions to still appear as “authentic” and “transparent” while being compensated for their work.

    Ultimate transparency would then seem to be (a) reveal who is paying you, (b) how much you are being paid and (c) your checking account balance. The community can then decide what might be motivating the composer.

    It will interesting to hear what the community has to say at Blog World 2009 which I am planning to attend (paying for it myself).

  • One possible solution is to spell “transparency” as “tran$parency”.

    The reader will then have a clearer understanding of the author's motive.

    As someone who left the corporate world after 28 years, I was truly impressed by my initiation into the social web at Blog World Expo 2007. It was my first exposure to a community of people who were citing “authenticity”, “passion” and “transparency” versus the traditional business world descriptors such as “revenue”, “profits” and “market share”.

    It now seems that some members of the blogging community are re-interpreting their actions to still appear as “authentic” and “transparent” while being compensated for their work.

    Ultimate transparency would then seem to be (a) reveal who is paying you, (b) how much you are being paid and (c) your checking account balance. The community can then decide what might be motivating the composer.

    It will interesting to hear what the community has to say at Blog World 2009 which I am planning to attend (paying for it myself).

  • One possible solution is to spell “transparency” as “tran$parency”.

    The reader will then have a clearer understanding of the author's motive.

    As someone who left the corporate world after 28 years, I was truly impressed by my initiation into the social web at Blog World Expo 2007. It was my first exposure to a community of people who were citing “authenticity”, “passion” and “transparency” versus the traditional business world descriptors such as “revenue”, “profits” and “market share”.

    It now seems that some members of the blogging community are re-interpreting their actions to still appear as “authentic” and “transparent” while being compensated for their work.

    Ultimate transparency would then seem to be (a) reveal who is paying you, (b) how much you are being paid and (c) your checking account balance. The community can then decide what might be motivating the composer.

    It will interesting to hear what the community has to say at Blog World 2009 which I am planning to attend (paying for it myself).

  • One possible solution is to spell “transparency” as “tran$parency”.

    The reader will then have a clearer understanding of the author's motive.

    As someone who left the corporate world after 28 years, I was truly impressed by my initiation into the social web at Blog World Expo 2007. It was my first exposure to a community of people who were citing “authenticity”, “passion” and “transparency” versus the traditional business world descriptors such as “revenue”, “profits” and “market share”.

    It now seems that some members of the blogging community are re-interpreting their actions to still appear as “authentic” and “transparent” while being compensated for their work.

    Ultimate transparency would then seem to be (a) reveal who is paying you, (b) how much you are being paid and (c) your checking account balance. The community can then decide what might be motivating the composer.

    It will interesting to hear what the community has to say at Blog World 2009 which I am planning to attend (paying for it myself).

    • Well, Carlos, I think you might be pushing it a bit far, but I can certainly see where you're coming from. You're right that two years ago, the thought of bloggers monetizing their blogs was really only through affiliate advertising and other traditional ad methods. But innovations and ideas, plus the lack of regulations, has led to the paid models. Keep in mind, though, that we're mostly talking about ghost blogging for businesses here, but still. Transparency is something that I think we should uphold. My hope is conversations like this can help us do so willingly.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Dear Jason,

        I pushed the point to make a point.

        As a relative newcomer to the social web, i.e. two years and after having been in the corporate world for 28, I was struck by the blogosphere's writers who kept stressing their value of being authentic and transparent (as compared to the “dark side”, for profit world).

        It seems that the argument for authenticity and transparency has its holes too and I suspect the economy's state is compelling bloggers to exploit them and hence spinning modes of justification.

        The lesson learned for me is that the blogosphere has its own issues similar to the corporate world.

        The following New York Times article, “Study Says Ghostwriting Rife in Medical Journals” published on 9/11/09 reminds me that neither side is alone.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/11/business/11gh

        I will be sure to introduce myself to you at BlogWorld '09.

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  • I don't assume that. I'm saying when he or she behaves that way, the premise is dishonest. If they are actively involved and participate, then the writer is a writer for them, not a “ghost blogger.” My argument is mostly semantics, not philosophical.

  • I don't assume that. I'm saying when he or she behaves that way, the premise is dishonest. If they are actively involved and participate, then the writer is a writer for them, not a “ghost blogger.” My argument is mostly semantics, not philosophical.

  • I don't assume that. I'm saying when he or she behaves that way, the premise is dishonest. If they are actively involved and participate, then the writer is a writer for them, not a “ghost blogger.” My argument is mostly semantics, not philosophical.

  • Amen. Well said.

  • Amen. Well said.

  • Amen. Well said.

  • Aha! Yet you assume a CEO with a ghost blogger doesn't “read the words and never participates in writing his words”?

  • Aha! Yet you assume a CEO with a ghost blogger doesn't “read the words and never participates in writing his words”?

  • Aha! Yet you assume a CEO with a ghost blogger doesn't “read the words and never participates in writing his words”?

  • Exactly… I blogged at length recently to map out a new model for the “corporate blog” that repackages it as an “industry blog.” The new model aims to build credibility and authority by informing and educating readers about the industry-at-large (e.g. trends in the supply= or value-chain, IP, government regulation, etc.). …All from the company perspective, of course.

    The “company voice,” as you put it, can then be be legitimately delegated to one of the thousands of unemployed trade journalists out there who understand that sort of mission.

    Bottom line: I think ghost-blogging is a symptom, not the disease. If a business feels it needs to hire a ghost-blogger to write for the CEO, it's a good bet the blog (and business) lacks a clear marketing strategy.

  • Exactly… I blogged at length recently to map out a new model for the “corporate blog” that repackages it as an “industry blog.” The new model aims to build credibility and authority by informing and educating readers about the industry-at-large (e.g. trends in the supply= or value-chain, IP, government regulation, etc.). …All from the company perspective, of course.

    The “company voice,” as you put it, can then be be legitimately delegated to one of the thousands of unemployed trade journalists out there who understand that sort of mission.

    Bottom line: I think ghost-blogging is a symptom, not the disease. If a business feels it needs to hire a ghost-blogger to write for the CEO, it's a good bet the blog (and business) lacks a clear marketing strategy.

  • Exactly… I blogged at length recently to map out a new model for the “corporate blog” that repackages it as an “industry blog.” The new model aims to build credibility and authority by informing and educating readers about the industry-at-large (e.g. trends in the supply= or value-chain, IP, government regulation, etc.). …All from the company perspective, of course.

    The “company voice,” as you put it, can then be be legitimately delegated to one of the thousands of unemployed trade journalists out there who understand that sort of mission.

    Bottom line: I think ghost-blogging is a symptom, not the disease. If a business feels it needs to hire a ghost-blogger to write for the CEO, it's a good bet the blog (and business) lacks a clear marketing strategy.

  • Okay, you certainly have a point. But do you really think that Favreaux just goes off and writes what he wants without direction or editing and filtering through the Obama policy team? I don't argue at all he's a fantastic writer, but without the constant direction and attention from Obama and other senior advisors, the speeches would be Favreaux's and not Obama's.

    I realize I might be standing on a bit of a weak leg here and that speechwriting may be an exception area to my rule for consideration, but I just don't buy that Obama just reads the words and never participates in writing his words.

  • Okay, you certainly have a point. But do you really think that Favreaux just goes off and writes what he wants without direction or editing and filtering through the Obama policy team? I don't argue at all he's a fantastic writer, but without the constant direction and attention from Obama and other senior advisors, the speeches would be Favreaux's and not Obama's.

    I realize I might be standing on a bit of a weak leg here and that speechwriting may be an exception area to my rule for consideration, but I just don't buy that Obama just reads the words and never participates in writing his words.

  • Okay, you certainly have a point. But do you really think that Favreaux just goes off and writes what he wants without direction or editing and filtering through the Obama policy team? I don't argue at all he's a fantastic writer, but without the constant direction and attention from Obama and other senior advisors, the speeches would be Favreaux's and not Obama's.

    I realize I might be standing on a bit of a weak leg here and that speechwriting may be an exception area to my rule for consideration, but I just don't buy that Obama just reads the words and never participates in writing his words.

  • Do some digging on Jon Favreaux, Jason. You'll find that the reports have shown that Barack makes little or no edits to the speeches that this wonder-kid has written. “Yes We Can!” was even penned by Jon Favreaux. Barack's speeches to largely minority crowds were even written by Favreaus, a white guy. He's done an amazing job! And Barack continues to shine in his delivery of those speeches – being called one of the greatest orators of our time.

    Imagine calling a blogger with a ghost-blogger one of the 'greatest bloggers of our time'. People would have a stroke!

    This is the talent I'm speaking to when I say that I appreciate ghostwriters. Not some kid chained to a desk in a third-world country who hasn't ever seen nor talked to the company they're blogging for… a professional writer who does the homework, understands the message and vision, and delivers it effectively.

  • Do some digging on Jon Favreaux, Jason. You'll find that the reports have shown that Barack makes little or no edits to the speeches that this wonder-kid has written. “Yes We Can!” was even penned by Jon Favreaux. Barack's speeches to largely minority crowds were even written by Favreaus, a white guy. He's done an amazing job! And Barack continues to shine in his delivery of those speeches – being called one of the greatest orators of our time.

    Imagine calling a blogger with a ghost-blogger one of the 'greatest bloggers of our time'. People would have a stroke!

    This is the talent I'm speaking to when I say that I appreciate ghostwriters. Not some kid chained to a desk in a third-world country who hasn't ever seen nor talked to the company they're blogging for… a professional writer who does the homework, understands the message and vision, and delivers it effectively.

  • Do some digging on Jon Favreaux, Jason. You'll find that the reports have shown that Barack makes little or no edits to the speeches that this wonder-kid has written. “Yes We Can!” was even penned by Jon Favreaux. Barack's speeches to largely minority crowds were even written by Favreaus, a white guy. He's done an amazing job! And Barack continues to shine in his delivery of those speeches – being called one of the greatest orators of our time.

    Imagine calling a blogger with a ghost-blogger one of the 'greatest bloggers of our time'. People would have a stroke!

    This is the talent I'm speaking to when I say that I appreciate ghostwriters. Not some kid chained to a desk in a third-world country who hasn't ever seen nor talked to the company they're blogging for… a professional writer who does the homework, understands the message and vision, and delivers it effectively.

  • BillSledzik

    Let's start here: “In no way do I attack or demean those who ghost author pieces.” Fair enough, my friend, but this comment certainly implies that ghost writers aren't practicing honest communication: “My definition — that ghost blogging is not an honest or transparent practice — is simple because it’s clear.”

    That's OK. You've made your case, and it's a thoughtful one. And I know you won't mind if I disagree.

    I wrote about the ghosts back in February and drew a good bit of fire from the purists (aka, the Kool-Aid crowd) by suggesting that many clients need help when it comes to blogging — and all forms of communication. Fact is, most of them suck at it, which is why they hire folks like you and me. So long as the client is involved in shaping the message and carefully reviewing the final draft, then the outcome may actually be MORE effective for both readers and the organization. (BTW, I don't think this works for truly real-time apps like Twitter.) My post here: http://tr.im/wQX8

    I've been hangin' in the 2.0 space a good while, and I get the conversation/dialogue/transparency thing as well as the next person. But a blog that's poorly conceived and badly written doesn't serve anyone. As PR professionals, it's our job to help clients communicate and engage audiences. And it's also our job to ensure that those messages are authentic. I'm convinced that ghosted messages can be authentic with adequate client input — on both post and follow-up comments.

    Ghost blogging represents a true ethical dilemma. It's right to help one's client communicate clearly and effectively, but it's incumbent upon us to ensure those communications are authentic, and representative of the client's position. Ethical practitioners can do this.

    Thanks to Judy Gombita for a tweet that led me to your post today. It's Friday, and my mind is a long way from 2.0!

  • Well said, Michael. I don't have any issue with writers of any kind using others to help with research. I'm one that believes anyone who works for you needs to receive some credit somewhere, but that's just an opinion. Still, I don't see that as an end-around to good or transparent writing.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Well said, Michael. I don't have any issue with writers of any kind using others to help with research. I'm one that believes anyone who works for you needs to receive some credit somewhere, but that's just an opinion. Still, I don't see that as an end-around to good or transparent writing.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Well said, Michael. I don't have any issue with writers of any kind using others to help with research. I'm one that believes anyone who works for you needs to receive some credit somewhere, but that's just an opinion. Still, I don't see that as an end-around to good or transparent writing.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Glad you asked about speechwriters, Doug. If you look at my outline above, the speechwriter falls into the category of copywriter. Obama guides the policy, outlines the talking points, gives direction to the writer, is (I assume) actively involved in editing, revising, etc. (Certainly not to the high time commitment level we might take for our companies, but still.) He does make sure that the advisors around him help filter and revise, but he doesn't blindly walk up and say something someone else believes without it being from his own standpoint.

    Writers on TV shows get credit, so I don't see how that works against my point.

    I think our biggest gray area point here is on the point of deception. You say “reviews it with you,” indicating the named author has a role in the writing. Depending upon how large a role, I don't think it's “ghost-writing”. I think it's copy writing. But if the writer pops off an article the named author didn't instigate, had no role in crafting and only reads it over and says, “yeah, I'd say that,” that's deceptive in my book. I understand it's not definitive for everyone, but I feel duped if that writing goes live under the named author's byline.

    I wouldn't rather read a well-written blog by a ghost writer. I'd rather read a well-written piece by Kathy Writerperson who authors the CEO standpoint blog on CompanyX website.

    I don't disagree with you overall sentiment here, just think “ghost blogger” is an incorrect label for what we're talking about for the most part.

  • Glad you asked about speechwriters, Doug. If you look at my outline above, the speechwriter falls into the category of copywriter. Obama guides the policy, outlines the talking points, gives direction to the writer, is (I assume) actively involved in editing, revising, etc. (Certainly not to the high time commitment level we might take for our companies, but still.) He does make sure that the advisors around him help filter and revise, but he doesn't blindly walk up and say something someone else believes without it being from his own standpoint.

    Writers on TV shows get credit, so I don't see how that works against my point.

    I think our biggest gray area point here is on the point of deception. You say “reviews it with you,” indicating the named author has a role in the writing. Depending upon how large a role, I don't think it's “ghost-writing”. I think it's copy writing. But if the writer pops off an article the named author didn't instigate, had no role in crafting and only reads it over and says, “yeah, I'd say that,” that's deceptive in my book. I understand it's not definitive for everyone, but I feel duped if that writing goes live under the named author's byline.

    I wouldn't rather read a well-written blog by a ghost writer. I'd rather read a well-written piece by Kathy Writerperson who authors the CEO standpoint blog on CompanyX website.

    I don't disagree with you overall sentiment here, just think “ghost blogger” is an incorrect label for what we're talking about for the most part.

  • Glad you asked about speechwriters, Doug. If you look at my outline above, the speechwriter falls into the category of copywriter. Obama guides the policy, outlines the talking points, gives direction to the writer, is (I assume) actively involved in editing, revising, etc. (Certainly not to the high time commitment level we might take for our companies, but still.) He does make sure that the advisors around him help filter and revise, but he doesn't blindly walk up and say something someone else believes without it being from his own standpoint.

    Writers on TV shows get credit, so I don't see how that works against my point.

    I think our biggest gray area point here is on the point of deception. You say “reviews it with you,” indicating the named author has a role in the writing. Depending upon how large a role, I don't think it's “ghost-writing”. I think it's copy writing. But if the writer pops off an article the named author didn't instigate, had no role in crafting and only reads it over and says, “yeah, I'd say that,” that's deceptive in my book. I understand it's not definitive for everyone, but I feel duped if that writing goes live under the named author's byline.

    I wouldn't rather read a well-written blog by a ghost writer. I'd rather read a well-written piece by Kathy Writerperson who authors the CEO standpoint blog on CompanyX website.

    I don't disagree with you overall sentiment here, just think “ghost blogger” is an incorrect label for what we're talking about for the most part.

  • How about this idea – Instead of calling it a corporate blog, call it a corporate position perspective or some other such name that intimates that it's a company voice, not a person's individual stance? Just a thought that came while I read that. Thanks!

  • How about this idea – Instead of calling it a corporate blog, call it a corporate position perspective or some other such name that intimates that it's a company voice, not a person's individual stance? Just a thought that came while I read that. Thanks!

  • How about this idea – Instead of calling it a corporate blog, call it a corporate position perspective or some other such name that intimates that it's a company voice, not a person's individual stance? Just a thought that came while I read that. Thanks!

  • Well said, Adam. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Well said, Adam. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Well said, Adam. Thanks for chiming in.

  • michaelwhitlow

    Best on ghost blogging I've read recently. Thanks for this. And to think, it all started with a simple, loaded question. The Conan comparison from Douglas falls short a bit because writers are often credited at the end of the show. (It might be cool to try a whole show where he attributes each joke to its writer. We could install galvanic skin response meters at each seat and banish the least energizing writer at the end of the show!) I like the idea of having the ghost identified for each post, and I don't think this causes the corporate blog (or the celebrity blog) to lose its value. What I would like to see, though, is the CEO or Brad Pitt getting engaged in the discussion with commenters. That allows the personality to come through and answers (maybe) the critique about the conversational imperative of the medium. Some bloggers have arrived at the point where they have staffers who do research that makes the “author” appear sharp and in touch. Should the blogger identify the work of her assistant? I'm hoping for a web ethicist's feedback before I look into the number of sermons that use unattributed material (God help us).

  • michaelwhitlow

    Best on ghost blogging I've read recently. Thanks for this. And to think, it all started with a simple, loaded question. The Conan comparison from Douglas falls short a bit because writers are often credited at the end of the show. (It might be cool to try a whole show where he attributes each joke to its writer. We could install galvanic skin response meters at each seat and banish the least energizing writer at the end of the show!) I like the idea of having the ghost identified for each post, and I don't think this causes the corporate blog (or the celebrity blog) to lose its value. What I would like to see, though, is the CEO or Brad Pitt getting engaged in the discussion with commenters. That allows the personality to come through and answers (maybe) the critique about the conversational imperative of the medium. Some bloggers have arrived at the point where they have staffers who do research that makes the “author” appear sharp and in touch. Should the blogger identify the work of her assistant? I'm hoping for a web ethicist's feedback before I look into the number of sermons that use unattributed material (God help us).

  • michaelwhitlow

    Best on ghost blogging I've read recently. Thanks for this. And to think, it all started with a simple, loaded question. The Conan comparison from Douglas falls short a bit because writers are often credited at the end of the show. (It might be cool to try a whole show where he attributes each joke to its writer. We could install galvanic skin response meters at each seat and banish the least energizing writer at the end of the show!) I like the idea of having the ghost identified for each post, and I don't think this causes the corporate blog (or the celebrity blog) to lose its value. What I would like to see, though, is the CEO or Brad Pitt getting engaged in the discussion with commenters. That allows the personality to come through and answers (maybe) the critique about the conversational imperative of the medium. Some bloggers have arrived at the point where they have staffers who do research that makes the “author” appear sharp and in touch. Should the blogger identify the work of her assistant? I'm hoping for a web ethicist's feedback before I look into the number of sermons that use unattributed material (God help us).

  • michaelwhitlow

    Best on ghost blogging I've read recently. Thanks for this. And to think, it all started with a simple, loaded question. The Conan comparison from Douglas falls short a bit because writers are often credited at the end of the show. (It might be cool to try a whole show where he attributes each joke to its writer. We could install galvanic skin response meters at each seat and banish the least energizing writer at the end of the show!) I like the idea of having the ghost identified for each post, and I don't think this causes the corporate blog (or the celebrity blog) to lose its value. What I would like to see, though, is the CEO or Brad Pitt getting engaged in the discussion with commenters. That allows the personality to come through and answers (maybe) the critique about the conversational imperative of the medium. Some bloggers have arrived at the point where they have staffers who do research that makes the “author” appear sharp and in touch. Should the blogger identify the work of her assistant? I'm hoping for a web ethicist's feedback before I look into the number of sermons that use unattributed material (God help us).

    • Well said, Michael. I don't have any issue with writers of any kind using others to help with research. I'm one that believes anyone who works for you needs to receive some credit somewhere, but that's just an opinion. Still, I don't see that as an end-around to good or transparent writing.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • I've got to ask again, since Obama has speech writers, does this make him a bad speaker? Is he being dishonest? Is it not transparent? Since Conan O'Brian and David Letterman don't write their own jokes, are they dishonest? They don't disclose to anyone that they are reading other peoples' words. I don't believe they lose any credibility doing this.

    I think the hang-up here is associating 'deception' with 'ghost-blogging'. They are independent of one another. If you choose to deceive, I'm going to slam you. If you simply have a ghost-blogger who methodically studies you, writes it, reviews it with you, and publishes it with your permission – that's not deceptive.

    Keep in mind that many CEOs and executives are crappy writers. I'd rather read a blog that's well-written by a ghost blogger and reflects the message and vision of the executive than not read any blog that provides some insight into the executive of the company at all.

    Personally, I've got too big a head to have someone else pen a blog post under my name. But I would not hesitate in recommending a ghost blogger to companies struggling to build a relationship through social media with their clients or prospects.

  • I've got to ask again, since Obama has speech writers, does this make him a bad speaker? Is he being dishonest? Is it not transparent? Since Conan O'Brian and David Letterman don't write their own jokes, are they dishonest? They don't disclose to anyone that they are reading other peoples' words. I don't believe they lose any credibility doing this.

    I think the hang-up here is associating 'deception' with 'ghost-blogging'. They are independent of one another. If you choose to deceive, I'm going to slam you. If you simply have a ghost-blogger who methodically studies you, writes it, reviews it with you, and publishes it with your permission – that's not deceptive.

    Keep in mind that many CEOs and executives are crappy writers. I'd rather read a blog that's well-written by a ghost blogger and reflects the message and vision of the executive than not read any blog that provides some insight into the executive of the company at all.

    Personally, I've got too big a head to have someone else pen a blog post under my name. But I would not hesitate in recommending a ghost blogger to companies struggling to build a relationship through social media with their clients or prospects.

  • I've got to ask again, since Obama has speech writers, does this make him a bad speaker? Is he being dishonest? Is it not transparent? Since Conan O'Brian and David Letterman don't write their own jokes, are they dishonest? They don't disclose to anyone that they are reading other peoples' words. I don't believe they lose any credibility doing this.

    I think the hang-up here is associating 'deception' with 'ghost-blogging'. They are independent of one another. If you choose to deceive, I'm going to slam you. If you simply have a ghost-blogger who methodically studies you, writes it, reviews it with you, and publishes it with your permission – that's not deceptive.

    Keep in mind that many CEOs and executives are crappy writers. I'd rather read a blog that's well-written by a ghost blogger and reflects the message and vision of the executive than not read any blog that provides some insight into the executive of the company at all.

    Personally, I've got too big a head to have someone else pen a blog post under my name. But I would not hesitate in recommending a ghost blogger to companies struggling to build a relationship through social media with their clients or prospects.

  • I've got to ask again, since Obama has speech writers, does this make him a bad speaker? Is he being dishonest? Is it not transparent? Since Conan O'Brian and David Letterman don't write their own jokes, are they dishonest? They don't disclose to anyone that they are reading other peoples' words. I don't believe they lose any credibility doing this.

    I think the hang-up here is associating 'deception' with 'ghost-blogging'. They are independent of one another. If you choose to deceive, I'm going to slam you. If you simply have a ghost-blogger who methodically studies you, writes it, reviews it with you, and publishes it with your permission – that's not deceptive.

    Keep in mind that many CEOs and executives are crappy writers. I'd rather read a blog that's well-written by a ghost blogger and reflects the message and vision of the executive than not read any blog that provides some insight into the executive of the company at all.

    Personally, I've got too big a head to have someone else pen a blog post under my name. But I would not hesitate in recommending a ghost blogger to companies struggling to build a relationship through social media with their clients or prospects.

    • Glad you asked about speechwriters, Doug. If you look at my outline above, the speechwriter falls into the category of copywriter. Obama guides the policy, outlines the talking points, gives direction to the writer, is (I assume) actively involved in editing, revising, etc. (Certainly not to the high time commitment level we might take for our companies, but still.) He does make sure that the advisors around him help filter and revise, but he doesn't blindly walk up and say something someone else believes without it being from his own standpoint.

      Writers on TV shows get credit, so I don't see how that works against my point.

      I think our biggest gray area point here is on the point of deception. You say “reviews it with you,” indicating the named author has a role in the writing. Depending upon how large a role, I don't think it's “ghost-writing”. I think it's copy writing. But if the writer pops off an article the named author didn't instigate, had no role in crafting and only reads it over and says, “yeah, I'd say that,” that's deceptive in my book. I understand it's not definitive for everyone, but I feel duped if that writing goes live under the named author's byline.

      I wouldn't rather read a well-written blog by a ghost writer. I'd rather read a well-written piece by Kathy Writerperson who authors the CEO standpoint blog on CompanyX website.

      I don't disagree with you overall sentiment here, just think “ghost blogger” is an incorrect label for what we're talking about for the most part.

      • Do some digging on Jon Favreaux, Jason. You'll find that the reports have shown that Barack makes little or no edits to the speeches that this wonder-kid have written. “Yes We Can!” was even penned by Jon Favreaux. Barack's speeches to largely minority crowds were even written by Favreaus, a white guy. He's done an amazing job! And Barack continues to shine in his delivery of those speeches – being called one of the greatest orators of our time.

        Imagine calling a blogger with a ghost-blogger one of the 'greatest bloggers of our time'. People would have a stroke!

        This is the talent I'm speaking to when I say that I appreciate ghostwriters. Not some kid chained to a desk in a third-world country who hasn't ever seen nor talked to the company they're blogging for… a professional writer who does the homework, understands the message and vision, and delivers it effectively.

        • Okay, you certainly have a point. But do you really think that Favreaux just goes off and writes what he wants without direction or editing and filtering through the Obama policy team? I don't argue at all he's a fantastic writer, but without the constant direction and attention from Obama and other senior advisors, the speeches would be Favreaux's and not Obama's.

          I realize I might be standing on a bit of a weak leg here and that speechwriting may be an exception area to my rule for consideration, but I just don't buy that Obama just reads the words and never participates in writing his words.

          • Aha! Yet you assume a CEO with a ghost blogger doesn't “read the words and never participates in writing his words”?

          • I don't assume that. I'm saying when he or she behaves that way, the premise is dishonest. If they are actively involved and participate, then the writer is a writer for them, not a “ghost blogger.” My argument is mostly semantics, not philosophical.

  • I've buttered a lot of bread by ghostwriting articles, so I can't exactly speak against it. To my mind, the biggest ethical question there is whether or not the bylined author or speaker takes ownership of the content.

    But I also recently blogged at length about ghost-blogging, and there's still a lot left to explore on the topic. For me – as a reader not a writer – the ethical differences between ghostwriting and ghost-blogging arise from the medium.

    The value of static content (e.g. articles, speeches) is in the information or perspective of the by-lined author. I'm interested in whether the position they take has any merit or value. I'm not thinking about whether they wrote it.

    Bloggers also take a position. But the position they take is an invitation to discussion. That's the difference.

    Blogging is – or should be – a conversational medium. If I make a comment, I want to know that the by-lined author will read it, and that they'll be the one who responds. I want a relationship with them, not some middle-man toadie.

    So, frankly, ghost-blogging has less to do with ethics as it does with effectiveness. Why have a blog if you don't intend to engage with your readers? Either take an active role, or fashion your blog to present a more anonymous authorship and delegate accordingly.

  • I've buttered a lot of bread by ghostwriting articles, so I can't exactly speak against it. To my mind, the biggest ethical question there is whether or not the bylined author or speaker takes ownership of the content.

    But I also recently blogged at length about ghost-blogging, and there's still a lot left to explore on the topic. For me – as a reader not a writer – the ethical differences between ghostwriting and ghost-blogging arise from the medium.

    The value of static content (e.g. articles, speeches) is in the information or perspective of the by-lined author. I'm interested in whether the position they take has any merit or value. I'm not thinking about whether they wrote it.

    Bloggers also take a position. But the position they take is an invitation to discussion. That's the difference.

    Blogging is – or should be – a conversational medium. If I make a comment, I want to know that the by-lined author will read it, and that they'll be the one who responds. I want a relationship with them, not some middle-man toadie.

    So, frankly, ghost-blogging has less to do with ethics as it does with effectiveness. Why have a blog if you don't intend to engage with your readers? Either take an active role, or fashion your blog to present a more anonymous authorship and delegate accordingly.

  • I've buttered a lot of bread by ghostwriting articles, so I can't exactly speak against it. To my mind, the biggest ethical question there is whether or not the bylined author or speaker takes ownership of the content.

    But I also recently blogged at length about ghost-blogging, and there's still a lot left to explore on the topic. For me – as a reader not a writer – the ethical differences between ghostwriting and ghost-blogging arise from the medium.

    The value of static content (e.g. articles, speeches) is in the information or perspective of the by-lined author. I'm interested in whether the position they take has any merit or value. I'm not thinking about whether they wrote it.

    Bloggers also take a position. But the position they take is an invitation to discussion. That's the difference.

    Blogging is – or should be – a conversational medium. If I make a comment, I want to know that the by-lined author will read it, and that they'll be the one who responds. I want a relationship with them, not some middle-man toadie.

    So, frankly, ghost-blogging has less to do with ethics as it does with effectiveness. Why have a blog if you don't intend to engage with your readers? Either take an active role, or fashion your blog to present a more anonymous authorship and delegate accordingly.

  • I've buttered a lot of bread by ghostwriting articles, so I can't exactly speak against it. To my mind, the biggest ethical question there is whether or not the bylined author or speaker takes ownership of the content.

    But I also recently blogged at length about ghost-blogging, and there's still a lot left to explore on the topic. For me – as a reader not a writer – the ethical differences between ghostwriting and ghost-blogging arise from the medium.

    The value of static content (e.g. articles, speeches) is in the information or perspective of the by-lined author. I'm interested in whether the position they take has any merit or value. I'm not thinking about whether they wrote it.

    Bloggers also take a position. But the position they take is an invitation to discussion. That's the difference.

    Blogging is – or should be – a conversational medium. If I make a comment, I want to know that the by-lined author will read it, and that they'll be the one who responds. I want a relationship with them, not some middle-man toadie.

    So, frankly, ghost-blogging has less to do with ethics as it does with effectiveness. Why have a blog if you don't intend to engage with your readers? Either take an active role, or fashion your blog to present a more anonymous authorship and delegate accordingly.

    • How about this idea – Instead of calling it a corporate blog, call it a corporate position perspective or some other such name that intimates that it's a company voice, not a person's individual stance? Just a thought that came while I read that. Thanks!

      • Exactly… I blogged at length recently to map out a new model for the “corporate blog” that repackages it as an “industry blog.” The new model aims to build credibility and authority by informing and educating readers about the industry-at-large (e.g. trends in the supply= or value-chain, IP, government regulation, etc.). …All from the company perspective, of course.

        The “company voice,” as you put it, can then be be legitimately delegated to one of the thousands of unemployed trade journalists out there who understand that sort of mission.

        Bottom line: I think ghost-blogging is a symptom, not the disease. If a business feels it needs to hire a ghost-blogger to write for the CEO, it's a good bet the blog (and business) lacks a clear marketing strategy.

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  • While ghost writing has been commonplace for decades, I agree that it doesn't transition as smoothly to blogging, where there are greater expectations of transparency and ownership. When professional copywriters are used, I like the idea of using the company name for the author instead of giving a particular executive the byline.

    It's a good point that there are many types of blogs and thus applying blanket codes of conduct can be difficult. But I still think full disclosure is most in line with user expectations, and is the safest and most credible approach.

  • While ghost writing has been commonplace for decades, I agree that it doesn't transition as smoothly to blogging, where there are greater expectations of transparency and ownership. When professional copywriters are used, I like the idea of using the company name for the author instead of giving a particular executive the byline.

    It's a good point that there are many types of blogs and thus applying blanket codes of conduct can be difficult. But I still think full disclosure is most in line with user expectations, and is the safest and most credible approach.

  • While ghost writing has been commonplace for decades, I agree that it doesn't transition as smoothly to blogging, where there are greater expectations of transparency and ownership. When professional copywriters are used, I like the idea of using the company name for the author instead of giving a particular executive the byline.

    It's a good point that there are many types of blogs and thus applying blanket codes of conduct can be difficult. But I still think full disclosure is most in line with user expectations, and is the safest and most credible approach.

  • While ghost writing has been commonplace for decades, I agree that it doesn't transition as smoothly to blogging, where there are greater expectations of transparency and ownership. When professional copywriters are used, I like the idea of using the company name for the author instead of giving a particular executive the byline.

    It's a good point that there are many types of blogs and thus applying blanket codes of conduct can be difficult. But I still think full disclosure is most in line with user expectations, and is the safest and most credible approach.

    • Well said, Adam. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Thanks for the resource and link, Ari. I think the tone question only amplifies the need for transparency in the authoring process. If there is a change in style or tone and the reader knows the author has changed, it goes unnoticed or assumed that the tone or style will be different.

    But good writers also write in the style or tone dictated, so if it's ghosted and noticed, you probably didn't hire a very good writer. Differences are always subtle and unnoticeable if the writing is good.

    Thanks for chiming in.

  • Thanks for the resource and link, Ari. I think the tone question only amplifies the need for transparency in the authoring process. If there is a change in style or tone and the reader knows the author has changed, it goes unnoticed or assumed that the tone or style will be different.

    But good writers also write in the style or tone dictated, so if it's ghosted and noticed, you probably didn't hire a very good writer. Differences are always subtle and unnoticeable if the writing is good.

    Thanks for chiming in.

  • Thanks for the resource and link, Ari. I think the tone question only amplifies the need for transparency in the authoring process. If there is a change in style or tone and the reader knows the author has changed, it goes unnoticed or assumed that the tone or style will be different.

    But good writers also write in the style or tone dictated, so if it's ghosted and noticed, you probably didn't hire a very good writer. Differences are always subtle and unnoticeable if the writing is good.

    Thanks for chiming in.

  • Whenever I read opinions about ghost blogging, I recollect to @writingroads' blog from December 2008 when she wrote a two-sided perspective of the issue and then the comments section exploded with more opinions: http://writingroads.com/blog/ghostwriting-blogs

    It's a contentious issue. My take is it's trivial whether you call someone a ghost blogger or a copywriter; if the person/agency creating the content is suddenly fired or quits, the style of content is destined to change–and readers will notice and perhaps ask why the change in style. What's the answer, then? Or, if the person/agency is also the social networking responder, what happens at said personnel juncture? Won't someone notice if the style of twittering changes? Will that style change be good or bad?

    Which goes to the bigger picture and the need for a long-term strategy that answers such what-if questions.

  • Whenever I read opinions about ghost blogging, I recollect to @writingroads' blog from December 2008 when she wrote a two-sided perspective of the issue and then the comments section exploded with more opinions: http://writingroads.com/blog/ghostwriting-blogs

    It's a contentious issue. My take is it's trivial whether you call someone a ghost blogger or a copywriter; if the person/agency creating the content is suddenly fired or quits, the style of content is destined to change–and readers will notice and perhaps ask why the change in style. What's the answer, then? Or, if the person/agency is also the social networking responder, what happens at said personnel juncture? Won't someone notice if the style of twittering changes? Will that style change be good or bad?

    Which goes to the bigger picture and the need for a long-term strategy that answers such what-if questions.

  • Whenever I read opinions about ghost blogging, I recollect to @writingroads' blog from December 2008 when she wrote a two-sided perspective of the issue and then the comments section exploded with more opinions: http://writingroads.com/blog/ghostwriting-blogs

    It's a contentious issue. My take is it's trivial whether you call someone a ghost blogger or a copywriter; if the person/agency creating the content is suddenly fired or quits, the style of content is destined to change–and readers will notice and perhaps ask why the change in style. What's the answer, then? Or, if the person/agency is also the social networking responder, what happens at said personnel juncture? Won't someone notice if the style of twittering changes? Will that style change be good or bad?

    Which goes to the bigger picture and the need for a long-term strategy that answers such what-if questions.

  • Whenever I read opinions about ghost blogging, I recollect to @writingroads' blog from December 2008 when she wrote a two-sided perspective of the issue and then the comments section exploded with more opinions: http://writingroads.com/blog/ghostwriting-blogs

    It's a contentious issue. My take is it's trivial whether you call someone a ghost blogger or a copywriter; if the person/agency creating the content is suddenly fired or quits, the style of content is destined to change–and readers will notice and perhaps ask why the change in style. What's the answer, then? Or, if the person/agency is also the social networking responder, what happens at said personnel juncture? Won't someone notice if the style of twittering changes? Will that style change be good or bad?

    Which goes to the bigger picture and the need for a long-term strategy that answers such what-if questions.

    • Thanks for the resource and link, Ari. I think the tone question only amplifies the need for transparency in the authoring process. If there is a change in style or tone and the reader knows the author has changed, it goes unnoticed or assumed that the tone or style will be different.

      But good writers also write in the style or tone dictated, so if it's ghosted and noticed, you probably didn't hire a very good writer. Differences are always subtle and unnoticeable if the writing is good.

      Thanks for chiming in.