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March 2007

Should corporate blogs use ghostwriters?

So you’re interested in corporate blogging and think your company should have one. Only problem is there is no one in your company who has time to blog. Should you hire a ghostwriter for your blog? Bryan Person brought up this topic on a recent episode of the FIR podcast

My advice is look for a way to blog for your business in an open and transparent way. I’ve got two main reasons which can be summed up like this. 1.) The old Sir Walter Scott line “oh what a tangled web we weave… applies here.  Ghostwriting is one of those little white lies that can easily spin out of control and backfire. 2) Blogging could be a waste of time and money for your business if it’s not willing to embrace the concept of what it means to participate in social media.

Ghostwriting a blog is a slippery slope. While it may be acceptable in the book publishing world, it’s not ok with many bloggers. And, bloggers are known for having an innate ability to detect shills and other forms of BS.  How far are you willing to go to perpetrate in the illusion?

Let me just list a few ways in which a seasoned blogger can start to catch on that the writer of your blog is really not the listed author. The writing style, cadence and voice does not match other published writing samples. What if someone puts the named author on the spot in some sort of public setting about a past post or comment dialogue? Who responds to the comments, the ghost or the person who’s supposed to have written the post? Part of blogging is commenting on outside blogs, whose name is on those comments? It’s very easy for a blogger to look at an IP address and establish where the comment is coming from. If that comment has not been written from a contradictory location then there’s your proof. It just becomes one big lie wrapped up in a riddle. For an example, see John's Cass' post about how a person from Alaska Airlines was caught "annonomusly" sniping Jeremy Pepper's coverage of the incident.

The social media space is quite new and the natural tendency that most people have is to apply their familiar model to this new channel for communication. Education needs to happen so that the person considering the ghost writing option understands that there is a certain set of blogging best practices. In a nutshell, the blogosphere is very welcoming to honest dialog and engagement. Many of the people that you will want to influence or appeal to as you blog are people who care deeply about this culture and the sanctity of their particular blogging community. You best believe that they will feel obliged to call you on it (especially if you’re a big fish). It’s not because they’re mean spirited. It’s because they’re trying to preserve what’s great about social media, which is the idea that people trust other people more then they trust the corporation. Once the blogosphere becomes just another venue for the company spin and speak it will loose all of its value and usefulness to the consumer. Bloggers are going to fight like mad to preserve the “purity”.

As blogging consultant, the mere mention of ghost writing makes me start to question whether this company is really ready to engage in social media at all. That’s not because I’m a blogging purist throwing down the gauntlet about what blogging is and isn’t. I think that companies can contribute to the validity of social media without eroding it at its core. As the owner of a blogging service for companies, I feel it’s very important that our first clients to produce exemplary case studies of what successful corporate blogging can really mean. We have three active clients (Spherion's The Big Time is the only live example at this point, but we have two other client blogs that will be launching in the next two months) for Scout at this point and all have found a way to leverage internal resources to write their blog posts. Rationally, it makes the most sense to work with companies that are ready to embrace the concept of transparency and engage under the new rules.

I’ve found that some companies are ready and willing to embrace social media and I think it really helps when someone at the top actively reads other bloggers in their industry or has read books like the Cluetrain Manifesto or Naked Conversations. If they don’t read blogs or haven’t been “clued in”(as some like to say), that's not a show stopper if they’re open-minded and express willingness and the ability to change a few things about their company culture. On the other side of the spectrum are companies that have interest in the virtues of corporate blogging but are strongly attached to the old command and control mentality. From my narrow point of view, these cases represent a longer selling cycle, before and after the sale, and have a lower likelihood for success due to the fact that part of our job will be changing an entire company culture. (Here are some factors to consider before you start to blog from the recent Blogging Success Study we conducted with Northeastern University)

One final thing, ghostwriting is not a black and white issue. I’m sure that there are cases where the choice is ghostwrite now or no blog. I’m not going to judge anyone who decided blogging is important enough to hire a ghostwriter or their PR folks to do the job. The main idea that I’m trying to present here is that in the long run the transparency approach will produce better results with lower risk. The closer that you can get to that ideal before you lauch your company blog the better.

Correction 8:29PM Stephen T. corrected typo. ghost writers to one word - ghostwriters.

Tags: ghost+writing+blog ghost+writer blogging choosing+a+blog+writer online+pr social+media+strategy
Filed under: Blogging Strategy, Blogging Tips, CEO Bloggers

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on March 23, 2007 3:34 PM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)