My good friend Lindsay Manfredi and I were both interviewed about ghost blogging last week, and asked whether we thought it carried any ethical dilemmas.
The answer is no, it doesn’t. Not if it’s done correctly.
I’ve talked about ghost blogging before, and said if it follows a few basic procedures, it’s as ethical as, say, public relations. (Er, on second thought. . . )
Yet, the issue keeps getting brought up, as if we’re committing some unpardonable ethical sin, like medical testing on baby seals. But the only people who seem to care are social media purists and “social media ninjas” who talk about transparency, yet work in industries where their efforts, if done correctly, are anonymous and behind the scenes as well.
Ghostwriting = copywriting
Anyone who does freelance copywriting can tell you that their name doesn’t go on squat when it comes to their efforts. Sales brochures, web copy, sales letters, speeches, you name it, the writer’s name is not-so-noticeably absent from the final copy. And that’s fine. That’s the life we choose.
Marketing agencies don’t get their names on their clients’ campaigns. No one whines that “my name isn’t on that sales brochure I wrote” or “my name isn’t in the newspaper article I sent the press release about.” Frankly, if you’re worried about getting credit for your work, you’re in the wrong business. If you want a byline, be a journalist.
Maintaining Ethical Boundaries for Ghost Blogging
A good ghost has procedures they follow with their clients:
- I interview the client, who tells me — in his own words — his thoughts about their industry-specific issues.
- I transcribe the interview and clean it up, turning it into 350 – 450 words of clear, informative copy.
- The client approves the article.
- I publish the article on their blog.
It’s the clients thoughts, the client’s words. I just transcribe it. Or as we like to say, “we do the work so you can go to your meetings.”
How is this any different from the CEO’s letter at the front of the company’s annual report? Or a politician’s speech to her constituents? Or the catalog copy that was supposedly written by the company’s founder? How is it any different from a PR flak’s press release that becomes the basis for a news article? (I say this as a former flak whose press releases were often turned into “Staff Wire Reports” by one county newspaper.)
Answer: It isn’t. Not a bit. They are exactly the same thing. (In fact, Jason Falls says that we’re not ghostwriters, we’re copywriters, and that it’s okay.)
These are the same steps that every other copywriter, speechwriter, and marketing director in the world follows when they produce work for a client. This has been an acceptable practice since well before Judson Welliver ghosted for Warren G. Harding, thus becoming the first presidential speechwriter.
The only place ghostwriting isn’t acceptable is journalism and academia, as it should be. Your merit is based on the work you produce; in business, it’s based on the results you achieve. (Although academia seems to have some of its own ghostwriting issues.)
So if you are against ghost blogging, you need to be against all ghostwriting. You need to speak out against speechwriters for politicians. You need to put an end to all freelance copywriting. You need to stop sending out press releases that don’t include your name as a quoted source.
Otherwise, it’s a non-issue. The people who hire me are the ones I’m concerned with. The social media purists? Well, you just give me something to blog about, thus boosting my own search engine rankings.
So, thanks for that.