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.

5 Tips to Become a Professional Blogger

Someone once asked me, “How do I become a blogger?”

“Simple,” I wrote back, “Raise your hands over your head, and shout to the heavens, ‘I. Am. A BLOGGER!!‘ And then you are one.”

It really is that easy to become a blogger. Truly anyone can do it. You just need some basic software, and know how to type. After that, you’re good to go.

But becoming a professional blogger is a whole different matter. Here are 5 tips to becoming an actual professional word slinger.

    1. Make sure you define what you mean by “professional.” There are two types of professional blogger: the person who makes a lot of money selling something via their blog, usually either Google Ads or ebooks, and the professional ghost blogger. While finding success as the former is possible, finding it as the latter is more likely. I have one friend who has a very popular blog, and sells Google AdWords 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, part social media geek, part blog manager, the ghost blogger is your basic freelance writer, but working in this specific electronic format.

 

    1. Make sure your writing skills are strong. Writing is easy, writing well is hard. I realize that we can all write in complete sentences and organize our thoughts into semi-coherent patterns. So can your average eighth grader. Unfortunately, some people never progressed beyond that level of skill. If you want to be a professional blogger, your writing needs to be of a higher quality than most.

      If you’re not sure, find some other writers you trust and whose skills you admire, and ask them to honestly evaluate your writing. Tell them you don’t want the typical pat on the head and “it’s pretty good” assessment. Ask them to be honest, and to give you a real evaluation of your skills. If they truly like it, then you’re on your way. If they don’t, start a blog, and work hard to improve. I’ve been a writer for 20 years, and am still learning and improving.

 

    1. Try to specialize in an area you have experience in. It’s not a requirement, but it will make your life easier. The one interesting thing about newspaper reporters is that they are an expert for a day, absorbing enough information to write their articles. The next day, they move on to a new subject. Ghost bloggers do this. They learn as much about the client as they can, and will write whatever the client wants them to. The client will usually dictate what they want said, the writer writes it, and then gives it to the client for approval. This way, the writer learns about the client, much like a reporter learns about his or her beat.

      When we take on a new client, we spend a lot of time learning about their industry and their company. As we work for them over the months, we do become knowledgeable about their field. But the clients we truly excel at are those we have experience and knowledge in. With them, we can hit the ground running, and our learning curve is significantly flattened.

 

    1. Associate with other professional writers. It’s often said we’re only as good as the 5 people we hang out with the most. If that’s the case, make sure you’re spending it with other professional writers (or at least really good amateurs). In fact, some of your best mentors and referral sources will be your competitors. Read their blogs, meet them at conferences, hang out with them at coffee shops. You’ll learn a lot from them. Then — and this is the important part — be willing to do the same for other, younger writers who come to you for advice and education.

 

  1. Read a lot. Every writer has a writing style they learned from reading someone else’s stuff. I learned mine from reading Dave Barry, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Waits, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ernest Hemingway. To keep my own style from becoming stale, I revisit my favorite works and re-immerse myself in their words and style. I also seek out new writers with similar styles, and draw inspiration from them.

    It’s important to remember, however, not to copy your favorite styles, but take the best from each of them, and synthesize them into your own. By creating your own distinctive writing style, you’ll stand out as a quality writer and blogger, worthy of the fees you demand.

What about you? Do you have any writing tips or suggestions for aspiring professional bloggers? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Photo: Brad J. Ward (Flickr), noted social media marketer

We’re Ghost Bloggers, We’re Here, Get Used to It!

Someone recently posted a discussion on Smaller Indiana, saying he didn’t recommend ghost blogging for his clients, but would write a blog post for the client as long as he could put a link to an email to his service as a way to show people the content was provided by a third party.

This is an oddly Puritanical viewpoint to have about writing, since ghost writing goes on everywhere else. Blogging is the last frontier where ghosting is frowned upon.

As a freelance writer, I have written sales letters, web copy, press releases, brochure copy, speeches for US Congressional campaigns, and of course, blogs. No one assumes that these things are written by the person who signed it, owns it, delivers it.

No one complained that I wasn’t being transparent. The client never said, “we’ll put your company URL on our press release.” I never got any credit for the sales letters or press releases, I got money. That was all the credit I needed.

Look, we outsource things in this world. Small businesses outsource their accounting to independent accountants. No one complains about that. Large companies outsource their advertising production to ad agencies. They don’t buy cameras and software, or hire full-time actors to wait around the office until they need another commercial. And of course, we’ve all been on the phone with the tech guy named “Steve,” who speaks with a thick accent. Think that’s not outsource? Think again.

So why the bias against ghost blogging? Is the only problem the fact that when I wrote it, I didn’t have an office and get a full-time salary from that client? Is that the hangup? That I don’t make 100% of my income from that particular client?

“It’s not transparent and authentic” say the so-called social media “experts” (and don’t get me started on those guys).

There’s a big difference between transparency and authenticity, and most people make the mistake of using them interchangeably.

“Transparency” means other people can see what you’re doing. “Authenticity” means you’re being truthful about what you say.

If we write a blog post for a client, the client is still being authentic. We’re echoing that client’s viewpoint. We’re saying the things they believe and espouse. We’re not making it up or giving them new ideas. We learn about the viewpoint through talking with the client, writing the information they give us, and then making sure they approve the post. (Inauthentic means I put words into the other person’s mouth, and say things that are out of character or completely contrary to their views.)

I would have to do these things if I were a full-time employee too. The only difference is I would then have to go to five hours of meetings to listen to other people blather on about the mission statement of this committee, and why it’s crucial that we use the word “provide” instead of “offer.” (Personally, I don’t think emotional torture and abuse of the soul is a prerequisite to writing authentic blog posts, but that’s just me.)

Transparency is a completely different issue. Yes, ghost blogging is not transparent. Neither is ghostwriting a book, a political speech, a CEO’s letter, or a press release. The politician doesn’t thank his or her speechwriter. The CEO doesn’t include a special P.S. shout out to their writers. Yet no one is clamoring that we need more transparency in those areas.

But speaking out against ghost blogging is like the Ladies’ Temperance Union decrying beer in restaurants, yet completely ignoring wine and liquor.

If you’re going to frown on ghost blogging, then you need to call for transparency in all ghost writing. Either freelancers need to claim credit on every ghostwritten piece of material that’s in the public stream, or we need to let go of this bias altogether. I think it’s inconsistent to take issue with ghost blogging and yet turn a blind eye to every other form of ghost writing.

The Challenges of Hiring a Ghost Blogger

Ghost writing is a tool. Hiring a ghost writer lets people who either don’t have the time to write or don’t have the talent to write communicate.

Without ghost writers, many people who have great ideas and insight would never blog.

It’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because the average blog post takes a non-professional 1 – 2 hours to write. If you think CEOs write every last one of their own blog posts, you are mistaken. They don’t write the letter in front of the annual report, they don’t write their speeches to shareholders, they don’t write their financial reports. Some of them don’t even write their own emails.

Would you really want a person who’s making $1,000 per hour spending 1 – 2 hours every day writing a single blog post instead of running the company? For that matter, if you’re making more than $35 per hour, do you really want to spend 2 hours every day writing blog articles?

If you bill or get paid more than $25/hour, writing a blog post may not be the best use of your time. The time you spend researching, writing, and editing is time you could spend billing and generating revenue.

The challenge is that hiring a ghost writer is tough because there are no real professional standards in the business. There is also no clear definition of “professional ghost writing.” Our professional experience has taught us that ghost writers and ghost bloggers generally fit into five buckets:

  • Cheap and Dangerous copywriting sweat shops typically charge $10 or less per post and usually promise keyword rich copy. The challenge is these writers rarely are paid enough to do original work (after overhead, they have $3 – $5 left to actually pay the writer). As a result shortcuts are the rule. Dangerous shortcuts like stealing content from other websites, using non-native writers, skimping on editing, and failing to do any fact checking can come back to haunt you later.
  • Solo Practitioners are often very good at what they do, except during their day job’s regular working hours, while on vacation, some weekends, or when life gets a little busy. The challenge with a solo practitioner is simply making sure they have time to meet your deadlines, can work with your legal department and are highly responsible. You’ll also need to make sure you have time for doing more editing on your own, as solo practitioners rarely have an editor. Solo practitioners can be a great value if you want to manage them. If you can find a solo practitioner who does this as a regular job, hang on to them. They’re worth what you’re paying them.
  • Social Media “Experts should generally be avoided. The general rule of thumb, at least according to Malcolm Gladwell, is you’re considered a top performer (an “outlier”) if you have 10,000 years of experience, and you’re considered “good” if you have 8,000. The problem is, a lot of social media tools like Twitter aren’t even 10,000 hours old, so it’s hard to become an expert in a field like this. Plus there are too many social media tools to truly become proficient at. You can have a passing knowledge about a lot of them, but a passing knowledge doesn’t make anyone an expert either.
  • Ad and Marketing Agencies are usually a good source for writers, but this isn’t their core business. They do ad campaigns, marketing campaigns, and online marketing. But they also have higher overhead, because you’re paying for people who typically don’t work on your project or technology.
  • Professional Blogging Agencies usually cost a little more, but have advantages, especially for businesses and high profile clients. Professional ghost writers should have a solid editorial process, access to a diverse stable of writers, provide safeguards against copyright infringement, have no issues with deadlines and can accommodate your compliance department.

When you’re looking for a ghost blogger, pay careful attention to your budget, your blog requirements, and whether you have any special requirements you need to meet, like passing posts through your legal department. Then see if you can work with a solo practitioner, a blogging agency, or whether you want to cheap out and risk it all with a sweat shop.