Why Ghost Blogging Is Wrong

A few months ago, following a presentation I gave on ethics at Centennial College, I wrote a post on the ethics of ghost-writing in social media.

This past Sunday I decided, on a whim, to present a very similar session at PodCamp Toronto. At that session, Leesa Barnes, a fairly well-known person in the Canadian social media scene, started a heated conversation when she revealed that her blog is ghost-written. She gave a couple of reasons (I’m paraphrasing here; hopefully I’m doing them justice):

  1. She “hates” writing, so outsources that which she hates;
  2. As her business grows, she needs to free-up time for other tasks;
  3. Writing blog posts isn’t a part of the relationship-building process – that comes from replying to the comments (note: Leesa says she does this)
  4. She uses other tactics, such as video and audio, herself.

First-up, I want to thank Leesa for saying what she did. It sparked a dynamic conversation that continued throughout Sunday and into Monday, and I want to acknowledge that. It would have been a much less interesting session without her contribution.

I had a very interesting conversation with Leesa, Danny Brown and Lindsey Patten (and others along the way) about this on Sunday night (viewable here – taken from this search – the posts I saw; read from bottom to top).

Writing is part of blog relationship building

With that said, I think that having someone ghost-blog for you is misleading and wrong. I do think that writing the posts is a part of the relationship building process and, to quote a recent post from Leesa (entitled Why You Should Never Outsource Your Social Media Tasks & What You Should Delegate Instead):

Huh? When did outsourcing your relationships become okay?

Now, there’s a nuance here. I have no problem with multi-authored blogs where different authors are listed. I’m fine with guest posts (though I suggest not over-doing it). I have no ethical problems with delegating the writing when that is clearly and plainly disclosed (though I would argue the blog’s effectiveness would drop so it’s not a good approach). My problem is with undisclosed ghost-blogging.

Why undisclosed ghost blogging is wrong

Here are the reasons I think ghost blogging is a very, very bad idea. From my perspective:

  • People reading a blog expect the person listed as the author to be the one writing the post. This expectation is critical, and is a key difference between new and old media (where, for many people, this kind of practice long ago eroded the credibility of many tactics);
  • The danger of damage to your credibility and reputation if you get found out easily outweighs the benefits you get from hiding the true author;
  • The CEO doesn’t need to be the face of a company online. If your company has grown and the CEO needs to focus elsewhere, someone else could write, or you could set up a group blog;
  • There are plenty of other social media (and other online) tools out there. If authentic, transparent blogging doesn’t work for you, use a different tool;
  • Social media is built on trust. By misleading people as to the author, you lose the trust when that deception is revealed, especially if you’re an “expert” in this area. In another quote from the aforementioned post:

“Well, you know the old adage which is people do business with those they like and trust, right?”


So, what options do you have if you really don’t want to write but realize that you shouldn’t have a blog ghost-written?

  • Multi-author: Have multiple people in your organization (or a group of friends, if it’s a personal site) write – under their own names. This way you can reduce the workload
  • Different blogger: Do you have to be the face of your company online, or is this an ego issue? If you don’t have to be that face, perhaps someone else could write it under their own name.
  • Disclosure: Include a note on each blog page that someone else writes the post, e.g. “I don’t write these posts, but I do read them and I stand behind them.” I think it’s sub-optimal as some authenticity is lost, but it’s feasible.
  • Use different media: Do you really have to have a blog? How about using video, or micro-blogging, or any other social or “traditional” digital tactics? Blogs are just one tool.

If you’re thinking of having your blog ghost-written, reconsider. The risks outweigh the benefits.

Your take

I’m well aware that there’s plenty of debate on this issue, so I posted a quick poll online for people to take. At time of writing, with 78 responses only 19 per cent (15 people) thought undisclosed ghost blogging was ok.

What do you think? Take the poll, leave a comment and let’s debate this.

114 Responses toWhy Ghost Blogging Is Wrong

  • Jessica Robnett
    ago9 years

    I agree with this post. Blogging is a way for people to engage with their readers, not a way to deceive readers. Yes, there are arguments for ghost blogging that are logical. However, if one is unable to take the time to write a blog, then they should not have a blog in the first place.

  • Ellen Thompson
    ago9 years

    The answer like so many other questions is it depends. As the owner of a small business, my personal blog is more likely to get read than my personal one. That is the reality in the social media world. The problem is my ideas are great, but writing skills are average at best.
    The perfect solution for me was to write or dictate a rough draft, have someone else clear it up and then read, make revisions and approve the final version. This allowed me to retain my voice and the integrity of my ideas but to save about 1/2 a post getting from 80 to 100% done. We now offer this service to our own customers and it’s been really well received.

    •  @Ellen Thompson I think that makes sense, Ellen – that way you maintain control of the topic and the content, but delegate some of the writing while maintaining ultimate control of what goes live. Thanks for sharing.

  • As a professional writer, I love to research and write. I love to blog, write press releases, reports… whatever. I don’t think there is anything wrong or unethical on my part for selling my trade. Whether they put their name to it or attribute it tome is their business, they paid for it and own it. While I do agree that blogging is a big/important part of touching your audience, I do think that ghost writing can still be a part of that. If I write a blog post for someone, they still need to read it over and agree before they post it to their blog. 

    •  @Dachia_PhD I think the distinction comes down to transparency and that final review. Several years down the road from this original post, I’ve come to the conclusion that the key comes to either disclosing the author (or using a generic name, thus not misrepresenting them), or ensuring that the named person  reviews, edits and ensures that (a) it reflects their voice and (b) they stand behind it before it goes out under their name. 

  • Brecknell Media
    ago4 years

    I consider the headline of this blog post misleading and ethically questionable. It’s far-fetched to make such an absolute statement when obviously there are very similar areas of life and business where it’s normal for a byline or a statement attributed to a person to be written by someone else – for example, a press release from a government minister or business. From the percentage of social media users who feel ghost blogging is not okay, perhaps people feel a bit differently about ghost blogging than about ghost writing for other things, but the meaning of the stats may depend on how people define “ghost writing”. It’s a thing of degrees that varies greatly depending on the level of the ghost writer’s involvement. My view is that it can often be more appropriate to use another person’s byline if the ideas are primarily theirs, but if I’ve come up with the main idea, given a ghost-writer points to build the article on, have the knowledge relating to the content and then check and edit it once it’s written, I’m not for a moment going to entertain some moralistic assertion that I’m doing something ethically wrong. Even if the person to be bylined only acquires the knowledge after the post is written, using the byline is still acceptable if the bylined person checks it closely enough to affirm that it contains what he or she wants to say. I don’t think it’s as good, but it’s not unethical. If people declare it to be wrong, it’s simply because they’ve taken it upon themselves to make rules for other people that they don’t have the right to make.

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