Finding a Working Definition of Ghost Blogging

With all of the controversy that seems to swirl around the acceptability of ghost blogging, I realized we weren’t really arguing about the same thing. The acceptance seemed to be based on their definition of the term.

Is it writing a blog post with the full input approval of a client? Or is it writing a post that doesn’t have any input, but does have approval? As I read descriptions and arguments by Jason Falls, Lindsay Manfredi, and other blogging luminaries, I realized it was the definition that was the problem.

So we created a short little survey to figure out what the most widely understood definition of ghost blogging to be. Survey respondents were given 5 different options of what ghost blogging might entail, and then asked to rate them on a 5 point scale (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree). These are the results out of 51 responses, out of a 5 point scale*:

  1. CLIENT writes a post, YOU proofread, edit, and publish under CLIENT’S name: 4 people disagreed or strongly disagreed (7.9%), but 43 people agreed or strongly agreed (84.3%). Rating: 4.41/5
  2. Interview CLIENT and write a post based on their answers. CLIENT approves before article is posted. 1 person strongly disagreed (2%), 47 agreed or strongly agreed 92.2%). Rating: 4.49/5
  3. Write a post for CLIENT using their ideas and past statements. CLIENT approves. 4 people disagreed 7.8%), 44 people agreed or strongly agreed (86.3%). Rating: 4.29/5
  4. Write a post on behalf of CLIENT, using their ideas and past statements. CLIENT does NOT approve post. 31 people scored SD or D (62%), while only 15 people scored A or SA (30%). Rating: 2.5/5
  5. Write a post for CLIENT, using YOUR ideas. CLIENT does NOT approve post. 40 people scored SD or D (78.4%), 8 people scored A or SA (15.7%). Rating: 1.86/5

(*These numbers won’t add up to 51 in this description, because I left the “neither agree nor disagree” out of this text for simplicity and brevity. The actual numbers are at the bottom of this post.)

Bar chart on the acceptance of ghost blogging

From these results, we can infer a few basic ideas about ghost blogging’s acceptability:

  • Ghost blogging is acceptable to most people as long as the client approves the posts before they are published. In fact, this was the most important factor in deciding whether ghost blogging is appropriate or not.
  • Ghost blogging is acceptable, as long as the client has input (#2), or at the very least, the ideas used have been addressed in the past (#3). Option #2 is akin to a copywriter sitting down with a client, and synthesizing the client’s thoughts and ideas into a piece of text. Option #3 is similar to a presidential speechwriter who is already familiar with the president’s stance on certain topics, and can write about them with authority.
  • At least 8 people thought it was acceptable to essentially put words in the client’s mouth without their knowledge. Personally, I can’t think of any instance where this would be acceptable, in business or government, let alone blogging. Even when I was writing speeches for the Indiana State Health Commissioner, everything had to follow her vision. Her administrative may have assigned the speech or project, but I had to know the Commissioner’s stand on the issues.
  • Conversely, 4 people thought it is wrong to even proofread and edit a client’s writings, and then post it on the client’s website on their behalf. While I’m a little worried that nearly 16% of the respondents thought it’s okay to pose as a client without the client’s knowledge, I can only wonder at how rigid the beliefs are of the people who are opposed to editing and then copying, pasting, and clicking “Publish.” It also worries me what they would think if they knew I had four editors poring over my book before the publishers printed it for me.

Because the first three options all scored above a 4.4, I can conclude that most people will accept the idea that ghost bloggers need the client’s input and approval before a post gets published. Anything that does not have at least the client’s approval crosses the line of acceptability, and anything that has both input and approval.

So, that is our baseline for acceptable ghost blogging. The next step is to find out how strongly people feel about it, and see if we can get a bigger group to respond. More on that later.

Ghost Blogging Survey Results

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He co-authored three social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; 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.

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