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Ghost in the machine: who should write your blog?

There’s a debate in the blogosphere about whether it’s right for a blog to be ghost-written, particularly one advertised as being written by a particular author. Rather than get exercised about whether this is right or wrong, the question is: can it ever work effectively?

Ghost-writing almost certainly happens a lot in B2B – after all copywriters are used for pretty much everything else  - web pages, brochures, white papers, ad copy… – so we shouldn’t be surprised they’re used for blogs.I’m focussing on blogs that purport to be from a particular individual, rather than generic company blogs written by multiple individuals.

There are a few arguments in favour of ghost-writing such a blog:

– The purported author can’t write – or at least not in the right way. She  may have a lot of important and interesting things to say, along with insight about her customers’ needs, trends in the market, predictions about the future and so on, but just can’t write entertainingly, coherently or engagingly. We’ve all met senior executives who are great talkers, managers and salespeople whose written offerings don’t reflect their charm or insight. Making a blog interesting enough so that visitors come back time and time again, feel engaged enough to leave comments and tweet and re-tweet  is frequently as much about creating an attractive, distinctive voice as it is about the subject matter. Lots of people find it hard to inject  energy, humanity, wit and fun into their prose. For them – and for their readers  - ghost-writing makes sense.

– No time. The person simply doesn’t have time to polish her prose twice-weekly, but can spend the 15 minutes or so on the phone required to download her thoughts. Having said that, there’s usually nothing more deathly than the PR-Department-produced CEO blog – does anyone know of a single good one?;

– A great ghost writer. For great read understands the person, the company, the sector, the customers, the technology almost  (sometimes more) than the supposed author. This will often be someone that’s been writing for the company for a while or has developed their own domain knowledge in other guises.

Here are the reasons why ghost-writing doesn’t make sense:

–Authenticity. The best blogs have this in spades. I read Seth Godin’s blog because he knows what he’s talking about and that gushes from every line and word giving me an interesting perspective on marketing that takes my thinking forward. It’s hard for a ghost to be authentic if he doesn’t understand the subject area as well as his ‘name’, even if only by a fraction. Authenticity is a particular problem when the subject of the blog is deeply technical or experience-based (actually we think marketers should just get out of the way when techies need to talk to other techies). It’s hard to fake technology insight. It’s also hard to convince readers that your blog is authentic if, say, it’s about the ins and outs of running a global company when you haven’t been a CEO but have close access to one; or that your insights about IT restructuring are compelling if you haven’t been a CIO but talk to one twice a week. Having said that most B2B blogs fail the authenticity test, ghost-written or not.

–Ethics. I said above  that I wasn’t going to talk about this,  but it feels important when the blog stakes a lot on the name and personality of the author itself; and where the reader thinks he has an intimate, albeit virtual, relationship with the writer – because he visits daily, occasionally comments and receives responses back and so on. It would really piss me off for example if I found out that Seth Godin’s blog was written by an army of  assistants.

If you’d asked me in September 2007 whether Velocity would be ghost-writing a lot of client blogs, I’d have probably said an emphatic ‘yes’. Our social media work was just beginning and we were starting to experiment with online content marketing. Since we produce a lot of content for clients, I figured then that we’d do a lot of blog writing too. It really hasn’t turned out like that, and I think the authenticity issue is the reason. Of course we do write some client blogs – but only where we have real, proven domain expertise. There’s also a case for ghost-writing what we call the ‘grout’ of any blog (‘check out this white paper I discovered’, ‘we won this award and here’s why’…). Today though, our role is usually more strategic – helping decide the editorial content and future direction of the blog, promoting it, improving it.

It would be interesting to hear from other people what they think about this issue. Let us know.

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2 Responses to “Ghost in the machine: who should write your blog?”

  1. Roger, C&M Online PR Agency

    Nice one Stan.

    I’d probably add *CASH* as the big reason the Ghost doesn’t work. Brands could buy a great deal of authenticity and insight with great writers on retainers… and this would work (as it does in other media). Pricing and perceived value the issue. ie, I’m happy to spend a stack of cash on the content for this web site/script/brochure/bla, but I’m not happy to pay the same for a blogger retainer.

    My view is that blogs deliver way more value that the normal gumph, and I think most brands will come come around to this. When they do, I think we’ll see either more execs becoming better writers and devoting more time to it (cos it helps them sell/communicate/turbo their SEO/etc/etc), or more subbers on the case – perhaps in a mixed mode… ie, internally or externally more resource will be applied.

  2. Teena Lyons

    You’ve raised some great points here, for all those considering a career in ghost writing, or simply those looking for more information on the process.

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