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):
- She “hates” writing, so outsources that which she hates;
- As her business grows, she needs to free-up time for other tasks;
- 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)
- 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.
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.