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Ghostwriting blogs: at what cost?

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how important it is to be authentic in social media (including blogs). I’m even in the midst of writing an ebook on the subject with my good friend, Ron Miller. And, yet, I’m on the deep end of a controversial debate about blogging itself.

The debate looks like this: is it okay to have someone else write your blog? And it sounds just plain UGLY.

I’ve got to say I ride the fence, see both sides, struggle intensely and feel many things when this gets discussed. But, if I had to choose, I’d say it’s okay (and I have some guidelines that I follow).

Side ONE

I absolutely ghostwrite blogs for certain clients, I’m proud of my work and I feel good about the services I offer. My reasons for doing so:

1. I love blogging and think it is an incredible and beneficial practice that everyone should have the option to enjoy.

2. Some people seriously can’t write. Why is it that writing is taken for granted and design isn’t? Is it because we all learned how to read and write in the 1st grade, but only some people learned graphic/web design. There is a difference between being able to literally write letters and being able to write skillful copy or prose. The ‘I can write, so I’m a writer‘ assumption is inherently flawed.

3. I don’t think a writing inability should exclude a person from the power and joy of blogging.

4. Time. Many people want to focus on their business and don’t have the time to write their blog. The number one reason for blog failure is time and commitment.

5. As best as I can, I approach blog ghostwriting like I approach all marketing writing: I listen to my client’s voice, personality, passions, business mission/goals/philosophy. I do market research and immerse myself in their industry. We talk regularly so that the blog really is theirs, I’m just the writing vehicle. (Disclaimer: This last part does not always happen, but it is always my goal to educate the client about its importance and then move in that direction).

6. I love blog writing – it is my all time favorite writing platform, so the work gives me great (and steady) work that I simply adore.

7. I wonder if there are two levels of blogging – or maybe a million, maybe there are as many levels as there are bloggers. The level is determined by the desired result. Are you looking to showcase a portfolio, write, hear your voice, connect with others, sell something, document a process, establish yourself as an expert, be public, be private, build a business, offer services…?

In some of these scenarios, it makes no sense, and in effect, would be detrimental to have someone else blog for you, in others…not so much. Can an architect document their process for a project with pictures, plans, etc. but have me write the accompanying text so that it sounds good? Can they tell me their philosophies and have me create copy that will be readable so that they can widen the net they cast? I’m going to say yes.

Side TWO

1. I understand the other side. The side that says that any blog value will be lost when the owner is not the author. I get it because it is all too true for my own blog. No one else could write this blog for me and get the same results (most definitively, because I’m a writer – so it would just be wrong. But if I was a prize-winning baker that was dyslexic? Different story).

2. This scenario was pitched to me: what if someone came up to one of your clients at a cocktail party or networking event and started talking to them about a blog post and they had no idea what they’d said (really, what I’d written). Of course, I see that this poses a problem. If someone writes your blog for you, you need to read it – and, as I mentioned in #5 above, it’s best if you are involved in the ideas and philosophies that stand behind the blog.

3. But, just two days ago, someone started talking to me about something that I wrote and it took me (someone literally married to and consumed by this url) a bit of discussion before I could locate the exact post they were talking about. It’s not out of the question that a blogger might need some time and help to identify each of their posts.

4. Back to #7 above, I think there are so many different kinds of blogs – some would be decidedly wrecked if they were written by someone else.

5. There’s also an honesty issue at play here…I know and understand that some people, if they found out that a blog they read was written by someone else, would feel lied to – that the blog was misrepresented. One of my clients insisted that we be transparent about the fact that I wrote for her – and the whys and hows – it was quite interesting, not to mention fun, to be a tag team visible to the world.

Wow – I’m rereading this and seeing that I’m heavy handed on the ‘it’s okay to ghostwrite a blog’ side…maybe it’s because I feel good about the how and why I do it. I’m not just filling someone’s blog with salesy, impersonal ‘crap’ (‘scuse my French)…see how there are so many levels to this debate?

I know that a lot of you feel very differently and quite strongly about this topic – so let’s hear it! Because on this blog, there is plenty of room for discussion…we’re looking at the world through multi-lensed (and rose-colored) glasses ’round here.

FYI, for the record, I do not think it’s okay for a ghostwriter to write someone’s social media (Twitter, for example) conversations or to respond to blog comments (though if a client really can NOT write, I will edit the text). I know there has been a lot of conversation about how you can draw a line here, but I think it’s simple – a post is an article, a conversation or content posted on a social media site or as a comment on another blog is different. Regardless, this post is about ghostwriting blogs.

Update: I love what Alisa Bowman added to the conversation below in the comments. She is a ghostwriter and she puts this soooo well:

“I see it as an exchange of skills: One person has the idea (ideal world) and I have the skills (way of putting that idea on paper).”

Join the discussion 22 Comments

  • It’s completely fine to ghostwrite a blog, just like it’s fine to update/maintain Twitter accounts for people. This really isn’t a question in my mind. Some people don’t have the time or the know-how to blog. It’s people like you who provide these services for those who are willing to pay for them. This isn’t a problem — at least not in my book.

  • Hey, what a great post! Amazing that you have broached this subject specifically today, for me amazing.
    I have been reading my NetEffect magazine from StomperNet and was enlightened as to what the “big boys” do with their social responsibilities. They hire others to tweet,post on FaceBook etc…
    For me, how do we develop a sense of knowing someone or trust to do business with them, if we have not been communicating with “them” in the first place? And should we really look at the whole “ghostwriting” as acceptable because what we do not know will not hurt us?
    For me, I want to always put “my” best foot forward and if I blunder, I will accept dealing with it. Same goes for doing,knowing,integrity etc…
    and of course I do not yet have the experience of walking in the “big boys” shoes!
    Great post!

  • Julie Roads says:

    Okay, did not expect my first two comments to be on my side…(not to mention from two of my favorite people)…just love hearing everyone’s thoughts.

  • todd Todd says:

    I am a bit on the fence, but absolutely prefer non-ghost written blogs. But for busy artists, public figures, and such, an editor coming in and tweaking or doing a collabo is just a reality. A smart one in many cases.

    This response was written, in part, by Casper and a grant from Exxon, Full disclosure and all that.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Todd – I love that you picked Exxon…

  • Ari Herzog says:

    A company that hires a ghost blogger may as well fire its marketing, communications, advertising, and public relations personnel and outsource those, too.

    Why the fuss over Obama and change? Could it be the authenticity?

  • Turtle says:

    Hmmm, i would honestly have to think more on this one. Hadn’t realy ever thought about it before but it is an interesting question!

  • Julie: Before I read this post, I was decidedly against ghostwritten blogs. But what you wrote made me think. Where is it written that blogs must be written by the blog owner? Why can’t blogs be written by paid professionals? Magazines and newspapers are. I know many people who are very knowledgible about a subject, but are unable to string two sentences about it together in writing. Does that mean they don’t get to share their expertise with the world? I think disclosure is important and saying you wrote a post when you didn’t is bad, but the important part is the sharing of information.

  • Sorry. Knowledgeable :o))

  • JR Moreau says:

    I guess as a cash-strapped young person, it would take a lot for me to deny a ghost-writing blog opportunity. I simply feel like I’m providing a service and as long as I’m doing a good job and getting paid for it, what’s the problem? Putting away one’s ego, especially as a writer or artist of any sort is the hard part.

    As far as Ari’s statement about firing one’s marketing department, etc… why? On principal? I’m not sure I get the point of that statement. Outsourcing work to qualified freelancers is fine by me if the in-house capacity can’t make due.

  • Ari Herzog says:

    JR, when I see corporate operations outsourced left and right, I pause and wonder about the long-term viability of the company.

    While there is nothing wrong with hiring freelancers to do select work, I ask to what end? It relates to Julie’s point above about being approached at cocktail parties and not recollecting past blog posts.

    When a company cannot speak to its financials because an outside agency is running the books, when a company cannot speak to its marketing because an outside agency is running the collateral, and when a company cannot speak to its management because that, too, is secured by permanent employment agencies, I question why the company exists.

    Maybe the answer is in itself. Maybe by outsourcing, a company opens its doors and becomes a community, and that is a good thing.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Ari – I really appreciate you being so involved here…and the way you are truly exploring the issue. Your opinion, which differs from mine!, is very welcome…

    I’m finding, more and more, that it’s quite stimulating to see both sides.

  • Rebecca Levinson says:

    To hire a corporate blogger is one thing and acceptable in my opinion. I don’t believe anyone should ghost blog. Especially in the industry I consult to, real estate. This is a time when the real estate industry needs to become as transparent as possible and hiring a ghost blogger just lends the industry to more ridicule and attacks.

    So, for the industry I consult to, I would absolutely say no ghost blogging. For industries outside of real estate, as a consumer, I would say, “And you want me to trust you?”

  • JR Moreau says:

    Ari, I think the term “community” that you used is key. Using freelancers and outsourcing seems to be the more organic evolution from a traditional office and corporate setting. Whether you are outsourcing your projects overseas to non-native speakers, that is something entirely different…

    Obviously ghost writing isn’t the ideal situation for any freelancer, but I hardly have a problem with it.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Thanks for chiming in, Rebecca – what if the real estate agent is transparent about having a writer help them?

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    I don’t ghost blogs–mostly (ok only) because no one has ever approached me–but I do ghost books. This is how I look at it:

    1) I’m the breadwinner in this family and someone needs to pay the bills. It’s not a glam thing to do for a living, but it keeps my heater running and my fridge stocked.

    2) I get paid well, so I have time to do my “love writing” that gets low or no pay but a big fat byline (ie blogging).

    Of course I do paid bylined magazine work and the like, but the ghosting allows me to have 4-5 months of work lined up at a time. It pays well. And I see it as an exchange of skills: One person has the idea (ideal world) and I have the skills (way of putting that idea on paper).

  • Susie Parish says:

    At the sake of maybe being slightly naive here, instead of being a ghostwriter, couldn’t you just be a writer that is hired as a consultant (not full time employee) to write for the company? It sounds like since you need to know the business so well in order to blog about it that you are actually a part of the business anyway. In that case, they pay you a consultancy fee per blog post or however you get paid, give you an email address to legitimize you, and you would actually represent the company. I’m intrigued by the concept of writing blogs for small companies who do not have the time or the wherewithal to figure out how to leverage social media techniques like blogging to help market their products and services. So this topic piqued my interest.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Susie – great comment. I think the issue of being a ghostwriter is when someone has you blog as them…you present a great option – but it has a different effect.

  • Hi Julie,
    I held a corporate blogging position for an internet based real estate advertising company for almost 1 1/2 years before I struck out on my own as a real estate marketing consultant to r.e professionals.

    So I guess, I have a unique view from experience. I did interview many real estate agents in that year and a half and openly disclosed their interview sessions in my posts.

    Here’s the bottom line.

    Many consumers are unhappy with real estate professionals and the industry itself right now. I have worked within the industry for 17 years and have seen many different facets. I have worked with the gamut of r.e. professionals and vendors, as well as consumers.

    I have blogged to both consumers and r.e. professionals. The reason why there are successful real estate professionals who are getting clients thru their blogging efforts is because consumers are getting to know them.

    In the industry it has always been, know, like and trust. This is just as important now, if not more so, than it was 17 years ago.

    If I call a real estate agent and start talking to them about what I believe they’ve written and they don’t have a clue, that is going to be an immediate turn off to me as a consumer.

    R.E. Professionals have options. They don’t have to write. They can do a 5 minute podcast, a radio interview, they can record utterz in their car or while waiting for a client on an appointment, they can do video, they can invite guest bloggers. It doesn’t have to an insurmountable task, it just should be real.

    I want to hire real people….not people who appear real thru others.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Thanks for your well-experienced opinion, Rebecca…we have such a wide spectrum here, it’s fantastic!

  • Dan McCarthy says:

    Good perspective, Julie. I’ve blogged about (i.e. struggled with) this topic as well. Full disclosure: I built my freelance career as a ghost-writer, but I had to really review how that skill set transferred in the age of social media.

    As a form of social media, blogs are about building 1-1 relationships. So, the question of ghost-blogging isn’t simply about ethics, it’s about effectiveness.

    Like any marketing medium, businesses tend to forget to ask what their goal is before rushing into a blog.

    If the goal is to make the CEO more accessible, or even to spark discussion and engage readers, then hiring a middleman probably defeats the purpose.

    If, however, the strategy is to build credibility and attract traffic to company website, then blog content can simply aim to inform and educate readers about the industry at-large. This model retains plenty of marketing value, and it allows a lot more wriggle room for legitimate delegation to a pro.

    I guess my point is that ghost-blogging isn’t intrinsically unethical, it’s how it’s applied to a business’s end goals. Maybe that’s a “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” mentality. But, like I said, I’m still wrestling with this myself.

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