Making the Argument for Ghost Blogging. Yet Again.

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. . . )social media ninjas

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:

  1. I interview the client, who tells me — in his own words — his thoughts about their industry-specific issues.
  2. I transcribe the interview and clean it up, turning it into 350 – 450 words of clear, informative copy.
  3. The client approves the article.
  4. 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.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

    Comments

    1. Let’s just confront the elephant with the tiara in the room, shall we? If I could stuff a dirty, wadded up sock in efriedland’s mouth and duct tape it shut, we would all become deaf by the rapture of applause.

      We get it. You’re the all-knowing, sparkly clean ethics gestapo. You’re the (plus-sized) MODEL of perfection when it comes to PR and social media. What would all of us toddlers do if we didn’t have you to show us the way in this confusing world of lie-telling and fraud?

      I hold myself to higher standards than that? Really? You know what, I think everyone would respect you a little bit more if you stopped pretending like you never break the rules. Or even bend them for the price of PR. Let’s just say as a former coworker, your level of professionalism was pretty laughable. Obviously, not much has changed.

      Inserting sock now.

    2. Paul Lorinczi says:

      Sara,

      I laughed at your response. I agree.

      It has been a circular argument here in Indianapolis for the past 12 months.

    3. Just found this site through Twitter and I’ve got two words: big deal.

      Businesses/authors have been hiring ghost writers for all of time. This is not a new concept and really not a big deal. Should the President be providing attribution for every one of his speeches?

      Ummmm…no.

    4. I had a conversation with a client yesterday about my time while I was at ATA Airlines.

      We had hired Bain and Company to tell us we needed to reduce heads and put more work onto fewer people. The result was people had far more to do, than they had time to do it. The outcome was a bunch of grumpy people working overtime and on edge. And, if you asked them to do one more thing, it could get edgy.

      The books were cleaned for a merger with another company, but the boss decided against it. ATA Airlines would go on as a footnote in airline history.

      With the recent layoffs and cuts in the workforce, there is a lot of this going on even today. Companies just do not have the resources or time to generate all their content. The only people they have left, spend most of their time in meetings talking about what they need to get done.

      While I appreciate the hip idea that all companies should generate their “authentic” content, corporations are just not that efficient for it to be done. They are not going to invest headcount to do it themselves without first getting a grasp around what it all means.

      So, they turn to companies like ours to not only figure out how to do it, but also get it done. So, they can go to their meetings.

      There is no deception taking place. It is just simple execution of content from someone’s brain.

      Bob Crandall, if you ever want to start a blog and need writers to do it for you – hire me. I would be the first in line to hear what is in your head. I know there are a lot of other people that would too.

    5. Now that Halloween is over, I’ve stopped all ghosts from blogging. They will have to wait until next October. http://www.jackodile.com
      .-= Jack Lugar´s last blog ..Sex Education =-.

    6. Sage McGreen says:

      I’m intrigued by the different attitudes involved with social media branding. Real transparency is a comical illusion to argue for PR. Reality is a new base for selling a message, but awkward miscommunication can kill a brand. Yes, some trendy minds offer up bi-polar content and knee jerk PR campaigns. But that’s not a good way to promote anything that will last.

      Good words give a good consistent message, end of story.

      Erik offers good words and seems delightfully cheerful when sidestepping drama.

    7. Chris Theisen says:

      A better topic of conversation may be if the ghost blogee is being dishonest not the ghost blogger.

    8. Chris Theisen says:

      Elizabeth,

      While you make a valid point on the surface I dont think its completely true. Eric is basically saying he re-writes and re-edits what the “author” tells him to say. He isnt acting like he is Joe Smith and putting words in his head or mouth. I agree with previous points on your blog about perhaps putting a line that says as told to or something to that effect but its not outright lieing. If Eric logged onto a company blog that he ghost writes for and posted something on his own but said it came from the CEO that is lieing. All of his ghost posts are derived from an actual conversation with the person getting credit. I think you can play both sides of the line on this one without being dishonest.

    9. Because we don’t see it as lying, we see it as a service to be provided. The clients don’t see it as lying, they see it as a service they need. And since they’re the ones whose opinions actually matter, we’re completely cool with it.

    10. Elizabeth Friedland says:

      Yeesh. Why can toddlers grasp this concept but grown men can’t? If you say, “Written by Joe Blow” and it’s not written by Joe Blow, that’s a lie. And that’s not cool.

      A catalog does not say, “Written by Joe Blow.” A commercial does not say, “Written by Joe Blow.” Web copy does not say, “Written by Joe Blow.” Sales copy does not say, “Written by Joe Blow.” And if in fact they do say that, and if the copy is not in fact written by Joe Blow, you are lying to the public. If that’s cool with you, awesome. But I hold myself to higher standards than that.

      I’m done arguing this now. I don’t know any other way to teach people what the words “lie” and “truth” mean. Of COURSE you’re going to argue for ghost blogging. Without ghost blogging, you don’t make a living. But please realize you’re going against every single professional organization’s guidelines in our industry. Show me one industry organization that endorses the practice of ghost blogging and I will bow down to you.

    11. Chris Theisen says:

      Good points on the subject. I’ve thouroughly (sp?) enjoyed chiming in with snarky comments in the Indianapolis Twitter stream the last few days. Some people are on their high horse about this like its a sin or someone should go to jail over it. My only issue with the whole thing is the name ghost blogger. Wouldnt it better serve the ghost blogging industry and this subject in general to create a new title for this kind of service. I know it is kind of a slang term but I think a more flattering and accurate term should be portrayed perhaps creating less of a firestorm. There are many companies who use discretion in divulging who they work with and for, but its not dishonest.

    12. Great post, Erik.

      As a ghost blogger (among other things) myself, with the obvious UK perspective, I don’t find a great deal of question or opposition relating to the trade.

      99 per cent of people can’t write effective copy. It’s a fact of life. Here in Britain at least, people with the requisite talents are appreciated and there’s no question of the way to progress.
      .-= Dave Thackeray´s last blog ..The 21st Century Company =-.

    Trackbacks

    1. […] Ghost blogging is a service that is provided by ghost writers. We transcribe interviews from our clients, get their approval for what we’ve written, and we post it to their blogs. […]

    2. […] presenting one or both sides of the issue. Fellow ghost blogger Lindsay Manfredi talked about ghost blogging this year, which has been a big hot button issue for our industry for a few years. Chris Baggott, […]

    3. […] on it. It only brings in a few thousand dollars a year, certainly not enough to make a living. Ghost bloggers, on the other hand, can earn a decent living writing blog posts for other clients. Part copywriter, […]

    4. uberVU - social comments says:

      Social comments and analytics for this post…

      This post was mentioned on Twitter by edeckers: New post: Making the Argument for Ghost Blogging. Yet Again. http://bit.ly/1tFFLf.