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

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.