Three Simple Rules About Blogging Ethics and Money

Yesterday’s clarification by Judge Marco A. Hernandez about treating bloggers as journalists points out the need for bloggers to follow basic ethical principles, especially as it relates to accepting money or requiring payment for our services.

Oregon blogger Crystal Cox had been sued for defamation — and lost — after writing blog posts that were critical of Obsidian Financial Group and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. Cox had claimed she was a journalist and used Oregon’s Media Shield Law as her defense. But Hernandez decided she wasn’t a journalist at all.Roll of money

The reason she lost, the reason she was deemed to be not “media,” was that she basically tried to get Obsidian to pay her to repair the damage she was causing. As Hernandez wrote: [Read more…]

Inc. Magazine is NOT Charging You to Write Their Story

Hi Erik, this is Ken Lehman of Winning Workplace. You wrote that blog post about Inc. Magazine’s Top Small Company Workplaces.

Uh-oh.

I recognized the company name, even if I didn’t recognize Ken’s name.

Photo of Ken LehmanKen had read my blog post where I questioned the ethics of Inc. Magazine’s Top Small Company Workplaces story, and the fact that they were charging $149 for the application review just to be considered for the TSCW review.

Turns out I was barking up the wrong tree. And I have to thank Ken for patiently, and kindly, setting the record straight. Here’s what he told me:

Winning Workplaces is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by his family in 2001. They were the Fel-Pro family, a business that was started and run by his family for more than 80 years, before they were sold.

Winning Workplaces was created to help small and mid-sized enterprises to become great places to work. They have done this project for 8 years. This is their 9th year for the award.

2010 was the first year Inc. was their media partner. Prior to that, they worked with the Wall Street Journal, and prior to that with Fortune Small Business.

In other words, Winning Workplaces gives the awards, and they have a relationship for Inc. Magazine to write the article. From there, other journalists pick it up, and it gets published in other news outlets.

The fees that are assessed — and they didn’t assess for the first several years — are paid to Winning Workplaces, not to Inc. They are nominal and cover the administrative costs to do the project. They are not any kind of editorial or advertorial, as I had previously thought. No one needs to apply without seeing the application first, and on the website, you can preview the application before you put any money up.

Winning Workplaces is made up of a small staff and his family has put a lot of money into the project over the years. Ken doesn’t even get paid for this. He does it for the satisfaction of helping other companies.

Ken said that the people who complete the application will often tell Winning Workplaces that the process is very instructive to their own businesses, and it helps them think about their workplaces differently. It gives them ideas about how they can improve themselves, regardless of whether they win, become a finalist, or even miss the first cut.

This year, they have 28 people lined up to do the initial reviewing and screening. Some of them volunteer, and others get paid nominal amounts to follow their whole methodology to do it. That’s where the money goes, not to Inc. Magazine.

When Ken’s family started Winning Workplaces, they did it because there was no recognition project for smaller organizations. In the 90s, when Ken was working for Fel-Pro, they made Forbes list of one of the good places to work in America. And when Fortune magazine started its 100 best companies to work for list, Fel-Pro was #4. When Fel-Pro was sold in 1998, one of the things they did was to share what they had learned with others, so they hit upon starting an organization. That’s where WW came from.

However, in 2000, Fortune Magazine stopped accepting applications from companies under 1,000 employees, and there was nowhere for smaller companies to go for this kind of recognition. That’s where the Top Small Company Workplaces project came from.

Since that time, it has proliferated, and there are now a number of recognition projects and lists around the country.

But — and this is where Winning Workplaces is different — theirs is the only ones where you can win once. Then you go into their hall of fame, and you can’t repeat.

Everyone else, on the other hand, has a business model where they sell their feedback to help companies move up the list, and earn a higher number, or at least to not fall off the list. In other words, companies will “sell” you consulting to keep you on the list; Winning Workplaces purposely avoids that kind of contamination.

So, having learned all that from Ken Lehman, I can see how the Top Small Company Workplaces award is actually worthwhile and beneficial to companies. I have to say a special thank you to Ken for calling me and setting me straight.

And now I want to enter the contest myself. But since we just moved into our new space 2 days ago (and we’re sharing it), I don’t know that we qualify.

Really? We’re STILL Talking About Ghost Blogging?

What is it with these social media purists and ghost blogging? What exactly do they not understand?

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.

This is no more inauthentic than hiring a social media agency to run your social media campaign, or an ad agency to create your TV commercials. It’s no more inauthentic than private labeling/white labeling a product made by someone else — food companies do it all the time, and no one complains.

Avinash Kaushik makes a misinformed tweet about ghost bloggingMy friend, Doug Karr, recently wrote a post about Avinash Kaushik’s rather misinformed statement about “ghost blogging being the antithesis of everything social.”

Doug said:

It’s always interesting when someone with as much authority as Avinash throws out a rule like this. Not only do I disagree with Avinash, I know many, many companies who would disagree as well. Ghostblogging is not the antithesis of everything social… inauthenticity, dishonesty, and insincerity are the antithesis of everything social.

As a professional ghost blogger, I’m sick to death of people who paint ghost bloggers as some sort of moral leper, the used car salesmen of the social media industry. (Oops. There, now you’ve made me offend used car salesmen. Happy now?) These social media purists decry ghost blogging as being less than honest because CEOs of large corporations and small businesses don’t spend 1 – 2 hours a day crafting a single blog post.

“Oh, but if you were serious about it, you’d make the time,” they lilt, wagging their fingers at the slacker CEOs who whine that they’re “tired” after a 14 hour day. “Because social media is all about the conversation and community and the inherent good in other people.”

No it isn’t. Social media in the business world is all about making money. Businesses can’t pay their workers with conversations. You don’t appease shareholders with community. And their vendors don’t want to hear about all the good you’re finding in other people when they ask why you’re 60 days overdue.

If we followed the social media purists’ logic to its logical conclusion, we would not be allowed to use these other ghost-type services:

  • Businesses would have to produce their own ads, commercials, and graphics in-house. They could not hire an outside agency to do it. Or if they did, there would be a big disclaimer on it saying it was produced by that agency.
  • Software companies could not outsource their programming to freelance coders. They should do it all themselves.
  • Celebrities should not hire ghost writers to help with their books. They should be allowed to suck on their own.
  • Politicians would not be allowed to use ghost writers to write their speeches. They would have to mumble and fumble their way through every speech, no matter who they were. Or if they used a ghostwriter, they would have to interrupt their speech every 10 minutes with, “This speech was written by my ghost writer, Jeff Shesol.”

Ghost blogging is the last bastion of any kind of ghosting, where some purist thinks that we shouldn’t be allowed to do it because it’s “inauthentic.”

Do you know what’s inauthentic? Inauthentic is following fewer than 100 people while 25,000 people follow you on Twitter. f you’re in “the conversation” business, don’t you think you should have a conversation? Otherwise, you’re just holding a one-way broadcast with 25,000 people, and are showing that you’re not willing to listen to anyone else. That’s not authentic in the least bit.

Whether the purists like it or not, ghost blogging is going to only get more popular. As companies want to enter the social media marketing realm and realize they can’t, because they just laid off their best writers, they will look for other ways to gain that competitive edge. If they’re going to outsource their web design, their ad creation, and their strategy, why shouldn’t they outsource their writing too?

There are freelance writers in all other parts of business — marketing copy, TV scripts, radio scripts, ad copy, web copy, annual reports, press releases, white papers, grant proposals — so why is blog writing so different from all those other forms of ghost writing?

It isn’t. If you hire someone to write something for you, and you don’t stick their name on it, they’re a ghost writer. I don’t care if it’s marketing, advertising, or grants. They’re a ghost writer. No one is complaining about their inauthenticity or their non-transparency.

So the purists need to get off their high horse, learn how the world works, and accept the fact that ghost writers are skilled writers who are paid to provide a service for other people. And we’re going to be here for a while.