Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 16, 2010 9:37 PM

Ghost Blogging And Last Rites

If there's one debate that never gets tired, it's the one about Ghost Blogging.

We've come to this strange intersection with Social Media where companies want to Blog, but they feel like their CEO (or others within the company) would best be served if that voice was created by a ghost writer. It's an issue that irritates me because I don't agree with it, but I do understand why businesses do it (hence my frustration). Mark W. Schaefer (over at Grow) had a great Blog post titled, Why It's Ridiculous To Argue About Ghost Blogging, that ran contrary to a post I had published on this Blog titled, The Death of Social Media (which focused on executives now hiring individuals to tweet for them on Twitter). Mark and I decided to have a debate about the topic, which culminated in this audio Podcast: Six Pixels of Separation - Episode #214 - The Ghost Blogging Debate With Mark W. Schaefer.

The Long Tail kicked in today.

The Spin Sucks Blog by Gini Dietrich published a post today titled, The Ghost Blogging Debate, that re-sparked the conversation (from her Blog and the comments to Twitter, Facebook and even other people picking up on it and Blogging their own take).

My two main reasons for not liking Ghost Blogging:

  1. These Social Media channels fascinate me because they are human channels. They enable people to have real interactions between real human beings. As easy as it is to say that nobody thinks Barack Obama is inauthentic because he doesn't write his own speeches, I believe that Social Media is a different type of media. Blogs are not corporate speeches or annual reports. These are different (you can argue that Blogs are like any other type of publishing or communications, but I'd argue that they are different).
  2. Ask the readers/community. It's just that simple for me. Ask the readers and the community members of a ghost written Blog if they mind that the content is not being written by the person whose name is on it. Let them know that it is ghost-written (you can even walk them through the process of how the Blog posts are created and approved). If nothing changes in terms of your web analytics, sales or level of trust, then who cares what anyone says (and this includes me)?

The best Blogs are personal spaces that share more personal thoughts.

I believe this one thought (and I will stand by it): corporate Blogs being presented as a personal space to share insights have a predisposed and inherent understanding that the person whose name is on it is the actual author. If we agree that Blogs are supposed to be more "human" aren't we undermining them by starting out with a lie (or undisclosed ghostwriter)?

This is why people think that all marketers are liars (to steal a great book title from Seth Godin).

How about we deal with it in a professional and enlightened way be agreeing that a Blog is a part of the Social Media ecosystem. And - if it is - then we should consider the pillars of what makes something "social". I would argue that this begins with transparency, openness, honesty, human and real voices (not corporate mumbo jumbo) and a culture that embraces sharing between these real voices.

Why is everyone who defends ghost blogging so afraid to state that ghost blogging's first act is one of deceit and misdirection?

We're saying we want to be a part of the Social Media conversation, but we're not even willing to be transparent about who the actual voice is? Then again, it's easy to misdirect that point by simply saying that a Blog is just like any other form of publishing, so why should it be any different? I don't believe that to be a valid argument (and no, this isn't a finite rule, it's more of a personal philosophy). If those who defend ghost blogging do think it's just publishing, then why not simply disclose that the Blog is the thoughts of so-and-so, but they are ghost written by an editorial team (or whomever)? Or, do we not even believe in the spirit of what makes a Blog truly a unique publishing platform?

What do you think?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Mitch Joel

    I believe blogs were always meant to have that personal touch.

    It's one thing to have some random person posting on a corporate blog as a corporate writer. The problem enters when you have a personal blog and then come to find out it's not that person. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in feeling a bit of hurt and a bit of being deceived.

    Nobody ever said that the corporate blogger HAD to be the CEO/Founder or even that the blog had to have the CEO/Founders name anywhere on it, but it does have to stay honest; ghost blogging completely removes that business/client honesty.

    Reply
    • I think there are other avenues individuals within an organization can choose to publish their ideas if they can't commit/don't have the time/are challenged when it comes to writing. Blogging isn't the "be all, end all" - there are other options.

      Reply
      • Mitch Joel

        Exactly Mitch.

        Blogs are great, they can give great visuals and can be an essential part in the social space. But why mislead readers/visitors just to stick with what certain persons tells you is the norm? If a CEO/Founder isn't efficient in his/her writing ability, they should put their efforts in a form that makes them more comfortable while leaving the text mediums to those that have those kinds of skills.

        Deception isn't at all the right way to handle ones inability to communicate in text.

        Reply
  • Posted by John McLachlan
    Mitch Joel

    I 100% think ghost blogging is a stupid plan. If I sense it is happening, the brand is toast in my eyes. WHY do they do it?

    Reply
    • They do it because they can. They do it because they feel it's not unlike other media channels. They do it because their competition is doing it. They do it because they think it's what their consumers want.

      If it's done well and the consumers don't mind, I have no problem with it. Again, personally, I don't like knowing that someone's personal Blog is actually a team of writers that are running everything through legal.

      Reply
  • Posted by Cyrus Alcala
    Mitch Joel

    This reminds me of a quote by T.S. Eliot, "Great Artists steal, Inferior ones borrow"

    It is hard to know if something is the copy or the source and people measure also measure it if someone may care or not.

    So people may mix it up or add their own in the mix.

    But still, authenticity lasts and the world cheers it more.

    Reply
    • I agree - Different strokes for different folks. I'm not speaking in absolutes here and I'm not making any hard and fast rules. This is just my opinion. I lprefer Blogs that are personal and have real community attached to it.

      Reply
  • Posted by Ben Pobjoy
    Mitch Joel

    Ghost Blogging, to me, is sort of like the 'advertorial' of blogging- it's supposed to look and sound authentic but it's based on duping people (who are led to believe it's authentic when it's not). However, certain Advertising Standards Authorities require the issuers of advertorials to label them as such- so there is transparency and people are aware. I wish this sort of caveat would extend to blogs so readers would be aware of the presence of ghost writing.

    Reply
    • We know the FCC is coming down hard (or trying to) on Bloggers that are not disclosing when they are talking about a brand, product or service that they were given for free or in exchange for content creation. I know we won't see this happening with Ghost Blogging, simply because almost all traditional media that we consume is Ghost Written, but it would be interesting to see/better understand what percentage of the mass populous even knows this about the messaging they are seeing?

      Reply
  • Posted by Meg
    Mitch Joel

    What if, by definition, all marketers ARE liars? Our nobel and personable aspirations with Social Media won't change them, they will change Social Media.

    Reply
    • Yep... and that was my thesis in the Blog post, The Death of Social Media. I would like to hope that Social Media is changing Marketing, and not that Social Media is just becoming like traditional Marketing. My fingers are still crossed.

      Reply
  • Posted by Peter Osborne
    Mitch Joel

    As a former journalist, I think reporters deal with the low pay by defining what they do as a a "higher calling" and that can lead to a sort of arrogance that has undermined their relationships with readers. I mean no disrespect with this comment, but I think many "professional" bloggers are taking on that persona with their views on the sanctity of their blogging.

    I think that we run a risk painting this issue with such a broad brush. I believe small businesses -- with one or two owners -- are being told by social media consultants that they need a blog and a web presence. It scares many of them and they don't often have the time for it but they do it because they don't want to look back and wonder if not having one was the reason their business failed.

    So they hire one of these consultants -- a ghost writer, if you will -- to help them execute in a way that doesn't embarass them. And now we want to criticize them because they're not telling their customers that they were so scared they hired someone else to make them read a bit more coherent. And besides, it doesn't seem like all that big a deal because they're providing input and making sure it "sounds like them." All they want to do is engage and maybe drive some incremental sales and maybe even save their businesses...because one of us told them that was the best way to do it in one of our blogs.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you've got a CEO of a big company who thinks this whole social media thing is kind of silly, but some of his direct reports (or people three levels down) have been reading blogs like yours and putting their careers on the line to convince their bosses' bosses to give it a try. And now you also want them to go one step further and put on the blog that the boss didn't write it; he did.

    I don't know if you've ever played the game Whack a Mole at the beach or an amusement park. But that's what you're asking some of these people to do with their jobs at a time when many people are scared about job security. I think you're asking a lot.

    Peter
    Let people take baby steps with their social media, if that's what they feel they need to do.

    Reply
    • I actually agree a whole lot more with you than you might expect. The process should actually be:

      1. Why should we engage with Social Media (what is the strategy/what are the business objectives we're trying to accomplish)?
      2. Who can create this type of content for us? (text, images, audio or video)?
      3. Who is going to engage and help us push this forward?
      4. How will we measure success?

      Brands should start there. And yes, by all means, if you don't have the time to Blog, bring in someone to help. But, let's also be upfront about it. No one will not read your Blog because it says, "we're a two person operation, so we brought in Jane Smith to help us put our passion into print. We'll be following along and answering questions and we hope you enjoy how we think..." I'd be more inclined to follow along than hearing down the road that it was actually not the business owner when they were claiming it was. A little shady, no?

      Reply
      • Posted by Peter Osborne
        Mitch Joel

        Mitch,
        I actually hadn't planned to get involved in this discussion across two blogs today. I wish I was in the position that you and others with such strong, passionate brands are able to take. But I'm also in a place where people have read my blog and asked me to ghost write for them without that disclaimer. I'm struggling with the request and thinking about whether I want to be the tool that helps someone undermine their own authenticity. It's a difficult revenue choice for me and one that I'm glad you've raised and driven. Thanks.

        Peter

        Reply
        • Who not ask for a compromise? Why not ask to co-author along with the executive? Why not ask that the Blog allow you to Blog under your name? Worse comes to worse, why not ask the Blog owners if it would be ok to disclose that the Blog has multiple writers (or maybe just one) expressing the opinions of the person you are ghost blogging for?

          Reply
  • Posted by Eric Bisson
    Mitch Joel

    I think Ghost blogging exist simply because corporation try to follow the crowd. However, they want to control their image so much that the message they give have the inverse effect.

    Know that no debate will ever occur and that the comment on their blog will be filtered and analyze and deleted if it's not in sync with their image.

    A blog is suppose to be personal and not corporate. Trying mixing both together will result in a controlled "ghost blogger" that will never be interesting.

    I don't expect the CEO/COO or anyone in upper management of a company running the show but I expect that the content of their blog is talking about what they think. Not telling us the same old PR speech or look like it was written by the lawyers of their legal department.

    My two cent.

    Reply
    • I think a lot of Ghost Bloggers see their role as writing through the eyes of the person who is speaking (but might not be great at Blogging). I think that the spirit of that can work (if there's an audience that cares). I still don't understand why we need all of this hiding. Why not co-create the Blog? Authors have co-authors, etc... why can't Blogs?

      Reply
  • Posted by jacob varghese
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,
    I have been following this on the other blog too but I respectfully disagree with you.
    Social Media is what the people make it to be. The CEO's included. Not everyone has the innate writing talents like you do. Not every great writer would make a CEO either. Put them together and an effective message is heard by the masses.

    As things evolve in the blogosphere there is more need to put ones message across effectively. A CEO who is not a good writer is well within his rights to get someone who CAN do so. In my books he would NOT be a good CEO if he tried to get his message across but failed due to his writing skills.

    What WOULD be wrong is if the message itself was misleading.

    The whole debate reminds me of the recording industry trying to prevent the internet from encroaching on their sovereign fiefdoms.

    I'm a noob in all this, compared to you (maybe with good reason...the above line of reasoning included:-)) but that's how I see it.

    Reply
    • I get the "Social Media is what people make it to be" argument (I've actually pushed that rock up a couple of hills myself), but I do think that there are some commonly held ideals within Social Media (the ones I Blogged about: transparency, openness, honesty, human and real voices and a culture that embraces sharing between these real voices).

      I get that people Ghost Blog and it works. I get that people use auto DM's in Twitter and get a response. I also get that spam keeps happening because, obviously, people respond to it. That doesn't mean I have to buy into it or accept it.

      If a CEO isn't a great writer, Social Media offers tons of other channels (audio, video, images, maybe even Twitter where 140 characters is pretty simple to fire off). I look at Tony Hsieh from Zappos. He's got a big business (his company was bought for a billion bucks by Amazon) and he makes the time to tweet because that's where he feels comfortable communicating in a more human way. If your CEO isn't a great writer or doesn't have time to Blog, give them an Olympus recorder and let them blab into that on the drive over to the airport and publish that as an audio Podcast.

      Whatever you choose is fine. The audience that cares will find it.

      Reply
      • Posted by Jacob Varghese
        Mitch Joel

        Hi Mitch,
        Thanks for your reply. I may be wrong but if I try delve deeper into what I think you are saying...it seems to be 'Level the playing field'. The fact however, is that that the playing filed was never level. There are always people with better resources who are in a better position (combination of timing, skills, money, persistence...even what people call LUCK) to leverage technology and trends, to suit their own means.
        At this point in time, I am in a better position to leverage trends than a majority of the Indian population (because I am in Canada...only about .8 % in India have access to broadband...if I remember right), you are probably in a better position to leverage trends than me and Steve Jobs is probably in a better position to do so than you.
        Demanding that people with greater resources in any of the above areas, play by our rules, is a well intentioned smokescreen until the playing field is really leveled.

        Again just my thoughts...your record speaks for itself.

        -Jacob

        Reply
        • I'm not at all talking about leveling the playing field. I'm talking about doing something with authenticity, candour and openness. So long as you have access to the Internet, Blogging platforms are free (WordPress, Blogger), access to the information is free (anyone can set-up Google Alerts or scour the Web for information). It comes down to what you want to do and how you wish to express it.

          Reply
          • Posted by jacob varghese
            Mitch Joel

            Isn't authenticity, candour etc. of the 'message' more important than the messengers voice? I read Mitch Joel due to the subject matter and the value it brings to me. Your thoughts on women's fashion (however credible to you) has no value for me. I have a lot of writers who write about womens fashion on my online magazine who I find more credible in that area than you.

            Similarly when I go to blog that is used for experimental short stories...I expect to see the short stories and not information about social media and technology.

            If I go to a corporate blog, I expect to see the corporate message. The fact that the ceo endorses it via his blog (ghost written or not) makes the message more official. It could be the secretary for all I care...who manages to effectively communicate the CEO's message and gets the final version approved by the CEO.

            In any case, everyone understands that CEO's can switch companies...what happens to the Brand then if the brand is too tightly associated with the CEO's writing skills only?

            Even if its the CEO himself writing his blog I am likely to be turned off by the message if I do not agree with it.

            If anything blogs should focus on their core message. That would be more authentic than worrying who is actually writing the message.

            If the message is not good enough, people will tune out. A good director cannot save a bad script.

            BTW: 50+ comments. Isn't that a record? :).

            Reply
  • Posted by Danny Starr
    Mitch Joel

    When it comes to upper management and ghost blogging - if they aren't the type that pull it off without sounding like a tool then they shouldn't do it. There should always be somebody in your company that can authentically take up that role or you shouldn't do it at all. Otherwise, I think you're just wasting everyone's time on a poorly executed SEO exercise.

    But then again, who says social media isn't going to end up like every other marketing/comm tactic -abused and played out. The end result is that is loses effectiveness and end up just another arrow in the quiver.

    It's the circle of life!

    Reply
    • This is where the Evangelist in me kicks in: I think Social Media has given Marketers a new opportunity. An opportunity to not be about "better, brighter, whiter and faster." I believe this to be our "second chance." It's not about blasting messages in everyone's face, but about Marketers becoming Publishers by really adding value to their relationships with their consumers. Dare to dream.

      Reply
      • Posted by Marcia
        Mitch Joel

        I love this comment: "It's not about blasting messages in everyone's face, but about Marketers becoming Publishers by really adding value to their relationships with their consumers." Traditional marketing is a one-way channel. Social media is a two-way channel. It offers ways to develop relationships with customers. And as with any relationship, the relationship requires honesty, integrity, and openness for the relationship to flourish.

        Reply
        • Clay Shirky would argue that the Internet is not a one-way or a two-way, but rather a group discussion. Think about that one for a second. Everyone, everywhere can take part - in small groups, in big groups. That totally changes the dynamic. Again.

          Reply
          • Posted by Marcia Waldman
            Mitch Joel

            Now that made me pause for a minute. I think you - and he- have a good point. Although I am replying directly to you, anyone else here can jump in at any moment and offer his or her viewpoint, indeed making this multi-channel. Others can also take the conversation in a completely different direction or carry on a side conversation at the same time. But at the core, it still feels very different to me. Traditional marketing has a reputation for talking at a customer; social media marketing, done well, can engage customers in a relationship in which the customer feels he/she is in the driver's seat. That's why it's important for blogs to be authentic. If they're not, it just feels like same-old, same-old -- somebody selling me something. I don't know about others, but I personally HAVE put my money where my mouth is. In other words, I'm well aware that someone is always trying to sell me something. I've worked in digital marketing for a long time; I understand how it works. BUT, I am also a consumer. I don't shop at a certain big box superstore because I don't like their politics or their HR practices. (I realize that I could use this post as a soap box for my politics, but I won't - the politics are not the point here.) What is the point is that the company has not earned my trust. They have not built a relationship of any sort with me. Trust and relationships are important to me. So I choose NOT to have a relationship with said big box superstore. I think that's the power of social media marketing at work.

            Reply
            • I often talk about how we live in a world where anyone can go on to a search engine for a product and come up with a place that will sell it (and ship it) for the cheapest amount possible, yet we also live in the most branded generation ever. What a mix!

              Faith Popcorn wrote in her book, EVEoltuion, that "women don't buy brands, they join them." I believe we've arrived at a very interesting point in time where it's true for both women and men.

              Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    What a great conversation you have going on with this post Mitch!

    I too dislike ghots blogging and I think that the reason behind it has deeper roots.

    CEOS (out side of the advertising / Marketing / Consultancy / agencies) independently of their writing and communication skills, are currently way more interested and focused on leading and managing a corporation rather than becoming thought leaders. (they are leaving this for their retirement, when they will write a book with their memories and share their experiences)
    Most bloggers on the other hand want to share their thoughts every day with as many people as they can reach.

    CEOS know that, because their formal title in an organization or in an industry people will be listening to them, and mistakenly think they don't have to convince others rather than the board, so they rahter focus their energy on this.

    And to tell the truth, there is nothing wrong with this. They are doing their job of leading and managing a business.

    What is wrong though is that some of them are giving into preasure to "join the conversation" and, since they have to focus their efforts in other priorities they end up hiring someone else to try and write for them.

    One solution I would propose to them is to stay away from the CEO blog. Instead of it, do a corporate one, where they can sometimes participate too and where they do not have to feel preasured into "writing" more than once every month.

    Another one would be to be really obvious about who is writing the blog and do something similar to a biography... Something like "Rants of a CEO, written / featured by the >name of the blogger here>" I even think there is an opportunity here! :)

    Keep sharing Mitch!

    Abrazo
    Efraín

    Reply
    • Both are great directions. I would caution to ensure that whichever route an organization takes, that they do it because it ties into the business strategy and not just because it's the shiny, bright object of the day.

      I love the idea of a corporate Blog because it does allow for multiple voices, and when the CEO does have time, it's an added bonus (or a special treat).

      Reply
  • Posted by Kathy Nicholls
    Mitch Joel

    I've been following this for awhile now and am really not even sure why I feel the need to jump into this except to agree with you. I think it's about integrity and that simply means be transparent. I know an organization who has someone handling their tweets. Problem is the same person does this for three branches of that organization and they are always word for word the same. Doesn't seem authentic. If we are creating communities, or tribes as Seth Godin calls them, then it makes sense for the leader (or blogger) to be clearly identified. I've never appreciated being tricked into thinking something was what it isn't and don't think this is any different.

    Reply
    • It's a subtle undermining that many people don't understand because all they're looking at is the SEO results or the web analytics. Traffic and attention does not equal trust, respect and comfort.

      Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Ing
    Kevin Ing

    Hi, Mitch.

    Great post and interesting discussion.

    I see 2 fundamental points that shape your disapproval of ghost blogging.

    1. Corporate blogs are presented as the personal space of the CEO (or whomever) to share insights.

    2. Blogs are part of the social media ecosystem.

    Now I'd like to play Devil's advocate for a bit and ask 2 questions:

    1. Is it fair to assume that corporate blogs are personal spaces?

    2. What percentage of the Internet population today sees blogs as "social media" versus just "media" without the social part?

    ...

    If I find that Company X's "official" CEO blog is ghost written, I'd shrug and move on because I associate the blog more strongly with Company X than its CEO. Ghost blogging? Probably not a hugely important matter in this case. Being a corporate blog, I figure the content is slanted anyway.

    On the other hand, I see Six Pixels of Separation as Mitch Joel's blog more than I see it as Twist Image the company's blog because, that is the way it seems to be presented. So if we found out that this was all ghost written, I'd feel deceived. (but I'd keep reading it because the content is awesome)

    So in the end it probably comes down to how the blog is presented (intentionally or unintentionally) and then how readers proceed to form their impression of the blog. Is it a highly personal piece, or is it sterilized marketing fluff and content for the sake of SEO?

    -Kevin

    ps- I wouldn't ask anyone to ghost blog for me, but I don't particularly disprove of the practice.

    Reply
    • It isn't about how it's presented. It's about who is presented as the main voice. I grapple with only one part: if this is about a more personal form of connecting (beyond newsletters and "letters from the CEO") than why not disclose who the actual writer of the Blog is? The two examples you give above seem like the same example to me. This Blog feels real because it is real. You can't fake sincerity. No CG animation stuff here.

      Reply
    • Posted by Danny Starr
      Mitch Joel

      Hi Kevin,

      Your second question is really interesting as I started to think about that myself:

      Does a ghost written blog make it just media instead of social media? I would argue that it does because at that point it's not really "real" in the sense that if we were at a cocktail party, it would be like me talking to a puppet of a person instead the real thing. Then I figured that if comments are turned off, then it's not really a conversation anyways because it's only one way. I tend to think both of those types of blogs aren't overly social.

      Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I don't know, I think blogging should reflect the personal feelings or thoughts of someone over a certain topic.
    Now, I have no problems on someone proof-reading or even editing your blog post in order to enhance it, but if the post is made entirely from scratch by the "ghost blogger", I think it's both wrong and counter productive (if the word spreads out, that is).

    Reply
    • This is part of the reason why Ghost Bloggers defend their trade. Their point is that the content is "the personal feelings or thoughts of someone over a certain topic," it's just that they write them down, edit them and nurse them into better shape for the Blog. When it's simple transcribing and editing, is where I find more understanding in the trade.

      Reply
  • Posted by Kimmo Linkama
    Mitch Joel

    This is an interesting debate and I can see the point on both sides. So far, however, the discussion has focussed only on corporate blogs.

    What about personal brands, honesty, transparency and deceit? At least two prominent bloggers come to mind: James Chartrand, who is not James Chartrand, and Johnny B Truant, who is not Johnny B Truant. (No disrespect for either, just bringing you guys up as examples.)

    Should we treat such instances as pseudonyms, or are we looking at deceit? Just asking.

    Reply
    • Posted by Gini Dietrich
      Mitch Joel

      Kimmo - it's an interesting discussion around personal brands. I am a purist in that sense - I wouldn't want someone else penning a blog that was supposed to be my own, personal thoughts. Just like I don't post recipes to my cooking blog that I haven't created myself. But we all grew up with George Elliot (who wasn't even male) and the like so maybe the ideas haven't changed, just the way we deliver the message has.

      Reply
    • I'm with Gini on this: If you start out using a pen name, I don't have an issue with that. If Flavor Flav wants to use that name instead of William Jonathan Drayton Jr., who cares? The problem is if someone else is writing the tunes and they're not saying who it is and Flav is passing it off as his genius. Think about it in a purer sense: is their deceit or intended mis-direction taking place?

      Reply
  • Posted by Eric Pratum
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, I've just come back from a long trip (honeymoon), so I'm still catching up on this debate, but from what I have gathered from your recent posts, Mark's posts, and this specific podcast episode (that I'm still in the middle of), you come across as being a purist. Would I be right to say that you believe that opaque blogging is only blogging in name, but not in spirit? I suppose that's a bit of rephrasing, but I gathered as much from your comments thus far.

    To be honest, I don't know whether I stand on the practical side, as Mark calls it, that says an "author" dictating and having a ghost-blogger write is okay or if I stand on the side that says the author has to be the single contributor and controller. Regardless, those are 2 sides of the same coin in my mind. The alternative is really just "blogging" for blogging's sake, which most people seem to be against in these comments. It is treating blogging, like you say, as if it is every other channel: speeches, company memos, etc. Unfortunately, I can't imagine that things will not go this way.

    It might only be one example, but I do know one social media agency exec (from a respectable & profitable agency) that has posts on Mashable and other such sites frequently enough that does not write his/her own material. Of course, the ideas are guided bis his/her thoughts (in the loosest sense), but written by him/her? Not even close. And, if a social media agency exec is not a purist on this matter, what hope can we hold out for a CPG, auto, banking, etc exec that just knows "I need to have a blog"?

    Reply
    • First off, congrats on the wedding. I wish you nothing but lifelong happiness.

      I don't consider myself a purist at all. I'm more in the "anything goes" model. I'm more about this platform being "punk rock" than "classical music." All I am really looking for is transparency and disclosure (make it raw and real) so that we do not continue down the path of Marketing being equated with scumbags and slime-balls.

      I don't think that is such a crazy request.

      Reply
      • Posted by Eric Pratum
        Mitch Joel

        Thanks for clearing that up and for the best wishes, Mitch. So, after your clarification, I'm now wondering where you fell on the idea of dictating a blog post and then having someone else actually type it up, do the edits, etc. I think I recall that being mentioned in the podcast, but I don't remember if there was anything more than Mark saying he thinks that's okay. Regardless, it's all shades of gray really, right?

        As far as scumbags and slimeballs go, I can't help but question how long the marketing field will have to have its act together on blogging or whatever else before the wider public begins to change its perception of marketers. Through marketing, is it easier to change how our products and services are perceived than it is to change how we are perceived? I want to say yes, but truthfully, I don't know.

        Reply
        • I am fine with transcribing and editing, so long as the content is personal/human and that the person's whose name is on the Blog is engaged as the actual creator of the content versus someone's whose name is on it, but has little to do with it.

          As for Marketing, we just need a whole bunch of more people like us and we can make it happen!

          Reply
  • Posted by Gini Dietrich
    Mitch Joel

    I guess the way we do it - by providing research, ideas, topics, and supporting articles - doesn't feel inauthentic to me. It's still the CEOs voice, their passions, and their engagement. In a lot of cases, the client will say, "Can you just draft this for me so I have something to react to?" We all know it's easier to edit something than to write from a blank page. So I don't feel like it is deceit and misdirection.

    Two things:
    1. If we think of a blog only as a place for personal thoughts, then you are absolutely right - it should not be written by someone else. There are plenty of blog posts that I write that anyone could write (because I'm overly tired or swamped with work and don't have time or energy to put into a personal post). And then there are blog posts I write that no one else could write. Would it be okay with me if someone started a draft of some of those non-personal posts? Probably. Would I go in and add my own voice and make sure I stood 100% behind everything they'd written? Absolutely.

    2. I still think this debate is Main St. vs. Wall St. Wall Street businesses have people; Main Street companies do not. In a lot of cases, outsourced firms are those people.

    Perhaps the discussion needs to go in one of two directions: Either blogging becomes a form of publishing (as you mentioned in the podcast), but one of value and not sales or outsourced firms need to be the internal voices for companies, just like some of us in our careers have been hired to be the company's spokesperson in media interviews.

    I don't have the right answer. I do know, idealistically, I stand where you do. Realistically, I think it's impossible to help build a client's business without looking at all of the tools available, even if the company doesn't have the internal resources to do it themselves.

    Reply
    • Like everything else there is a lot of gray areas. I acknowledge this and I know that even my own feelings about this topic can sway when I read how you go about helping clients to Blog (which I think works).

      I don't think this is about Wall Street vs. Main Street at all. When I started Blogging, we had one employee and a handful of clients. I too was a chef, cook and bottle-washer. Now, being in a position of having over 100 employees in two offices, I still do a lot of that chef, cook and bottle-washer stuff too. It never changes. The other thing that never changed is my acknowledgment that based on the strategy of our company (we are four equal business partners), Twist Image, one of my main priorities is to Blog and share - in a personal way - why we care/love Marketing as much as we do. You always make time for things that are priorities or important.

      I see nothing wrong with businesses getting help in producing this type of content (my agency helps clients with this as well), my only struggle is in the dichotomy of using the platform to speak in a more real and human voice, but mis-leading that community about who that voice really is. It just starts and ends for me at that one point.

      Reply
      • Mitch Joel

        Mitch, "my only struggle is in the dichotomy of using the platform to speak in a more real and human voice, but mis-leading that community about who that voice really is." Well said. Like you if I know upfront, I'm more likely to respect the disclosure and not care about the process or the "name."

        If the blog is just from the company's marketing department or outside agency, why publish it under a name at all, if it's all just the corporate stance? That's why it's given a name, an author right, to humanize it? So better yet, why not recognize the different voices speaking for the brand? I've seen that with co-tweeters and bloggers, and often it does serve to both humanize the brand while disclosing the fact that a lot of people are involved with representing it in social media.

        That said, there is something different about the words from above, that person who runs the company. You do get a different perspective.

        Kimmo raised a good point above about personal brands (a term I'm not in like with) but IMO it's the same. If it's an individual's blog, be it a lone practitioner, artist or CEO.. with their name and byline, it should be more personal. So this is still where I stand on the company blog, an individual's or even the "personal" blog of the CEO: Disclose, disclose, disclose.

        If it's the work of the marketing department, say so. If it's an agency helping a CEO blog as "the official CEO of Brand X" then show how it works, disclose that of course the PR and legal folks have had their sticky little finger prints all over it, etc. Now if it's a CEO's own truly personal blog... hosted and published not by the brand or company but him/her, then I come back to not liking the ghost blogging, even if disclosed. FWIW.

        Reply
        • Agreed, and this is where I don't understand how there's even a debate to begin with. Why do we feel that saying it's a CEO Blog when it's being ghost blogged is better than a corporate Blog that has disclosure? Why does anyone think that this might have a negative reaction from the masses versus simply lying or hiding the truth?

          Reply
  • Posted by Will Burns
    Mitch Joel

    Brands shouldn't blog. Brands are not people. Never will be. As much as ad agencies try to personify brands with a "personality" and claim to "build relationships" with its customers and say brands "stand for" this or that, a brand is still a creative concoction of that ad agency (particularly if the product is at parity with its competition). Brands shouldn't blog. But brands should USE blogs as a way to personify the brand in real, true, authentic ways. Because the blogs are from real people who represent, and subscribe to, the brand. Finally, the ad folks (like I was) finally have a medium that can TRULY personify a brand. Huge opportunity here that is largely untapped so far.

    Reply
    • I like the wording and phrasing here, Will. It is nice to think that a brand/corporate Blog can be great (look at Dell and Starbucks) when the brand celebrates the many people within the organization who have good ideas and strong values to share and build connections. Many people love going to Starbucks because the barrista knows them and connects with them in a very human way. Blogs can (and should) do this. Again, that's how I feel about it... I'm not defining rules.

      Reply
  • ... and with all of this, eMarketer reports today that there are steady gains in Blogging by Marketers:

    http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?R=1007871

    Reply
  • Posted by Josh Braaten
    Mitch Joel

    Ok Mitch, you win. At first I was on the fence and thought that as long as the exec gets to decide the editorial content, ghost blogging was OK. And yet, through the incredible journey that has been this ghost blogging debate (not just this post, I'm talking about the 4-5 posts over the last three months that comprise this recent conversation), my opinion has changed.

    I think there is a medium out there for everyone. If you can't find the time to blog, don't. Use Twitter. Or Facebook. Or a Friendfeed.

    And if you have to have a blogging presence as an exec, let your writers take full author credit and then make an appearance in the comments to be seen/heard.

    Thanks for taking the time to convert me :)

    Reply
    • Hearing, "you win" actually makes me feel yucky. My overriding desire here is to make Marketing a respectable industry (it's a dirty horse, but somebody has to ride it). I'm constantly shocked, surprised and disappointed by the mass amount of people who feel like there is nothing wrong with hiding, mis-directing, etc... If we want to be accepted in the c-suite and have a population that doesn't see us a slimy used-car salespeople, we need to elevate. Why do you think our industry has government and legal issues and regulations (do-not call lists, etc...)? It's because we have done enough offside things that demand that kind of response. Let's rise above.

      Reply
      • Posted by Josh Braaten
        Mitch Joel

        Haha don't feel yucky. It was great mental exercise and I certainly think you've shown all players in the debate a good deal of respect. Feel good that you let the conversation reveal insights to me that led me here by myself. :)

        Reply
  • Posted by Debbie Elicksen
    Mitch Joel

    Great piece. Certainly Barak Obama's people are brilliant at maintaining his voice as if he writes his own tweets or posts on Facebook. The problem is most "old schoolers" stepping into the "new school" haven't been taught the etiquette of social media and think spamming and flogging their wares is what it is all about. Ghost posts can be done if the person tasked with the posting has great direction and communication and sync with the owner of the account. I think that is rarely the case. I've been tasked to post for someone else and it's difficult to keep regular with meat when there is no communication coming your way as to what they are doing that could be posted. Spotting a phony on social media is far easier than anywhere else. They wear a third eyeball on their foreheads.

    Reply
  • Posted by Nick
    Mitch Joel

    What is a blog? It's a content stream that can easily be consumed via syndication technologies like RSS. That is a core idea that personal communication blogs are built on, but the idea is much bigger then personal communication. That creates a lot of pressure to grow, mutate and change.

    The question then becomes semantics. What words should we use to describe a marketing controlled communication channel? A personal communication channel? An automated communication channel?

    And looking to the past, why should the rules be different then speeches, letters, articles or books?

    Indeed, professional editing changes the tone of books so much that many author's original "voice" is lost in the editing work. Nassim Nicholas Taleb refused editing of his book "The Black Swan"- maybe there is a similar movement in print publishing?

    And what of interviewing to get content? Research?

    The variation here is huge. There certainly is a cynical, inauthentic creation of fake personas for marketing reasons that is distasteful, you could also take most of your ghostwriting arguments and apply then to professional editing.

    Indeed, most executive writing is poor enough that the editing process could be considered defacto ghostwriting.

    But then you can take the flip side- why make the world suffer through poor communication and not let professional communicators do their jobs. There is enough bad writing out there as it is.

    The anti-blog-ghostwriting argument isn't going to win this one- the paradigms of the past, and the increasing diversity of the future will be too strong. What is needed is an effort to change the discussion- maybe invent an Authentic Voice badge or blog type, and let people claim that for their blog. Evolution needs to define and classify the multiple species of blog that exist at this stage of blog growth.

    Indeed, blogs will continue to mutate and become many things are more ideas and technologies emerge. New language and distinctions will need to emerge with them. We can't cling to the past.

    Reply
    • Awesome additional insights. I would add/agree that there is no real answer and that's why I'm not talking about rules here or what a company should do. This is/was more of a philosophical point of view that Blogs can be different, so why not make a real go of it?

      Reply
  • Posted by Kyle McGuffin
    Mitch Joel

    Great post Mitch.

    Social media in the corporate world has enabled companies to engage and communicate with their communities that consists of customers, potential customers, and competitors.

    All very important. So when we share our vision or messages outside of earnings announcements don't we want these thoughts and views coming from the visionaries or leaders of the companies? It will not work any other way... You can't fake this and if you choose too have a stand in what message does this portray about your brand product or services?

    I like to keep things simple.

    Great debate!

    Reply
  • Posted by karim kanji
    Mitch Joel

    I haven't read the comments so please excuse me if I repeat something here.

    Some of us (I'm still a little bit on the fence) take offense of ghost bloggers or tweeters. Yet all of us know that the speeches of politicians and business leaders tend to be written by speech writers.

    Both are social activities. The messenger delivers a message that he or she agrees with but has not written. Yet both are treated different.

    We applaud Obama's speeches yet cry foul when a CEO has a ghost written blog.

    Curious, eh?

    Reply
    • ...and I think this is where the debate comes in. Why is one acceptable and why is the other not? In the construct of mass media, it didn't really matter: brands were not personal (neither were politicians) and people (for the most part) just accepted it.

      Perhaps it's the newness of Social Media and how the media is evolving that makes some of us want to keep it more personal and real? When I'm not sure why we want to keep it real and personal, I just pick up my copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto for inspiration.

      Reply
  • Posted by Jon Buscall
    Mitch Joel

    I'd decidedly with you on this, Mitch. After writing a few ghost blogs for the vice chancellor of a major Swedish university, I decided it wasn't for me. If they can't find their own voice, maybe they should try their hand at microblogging or a Facebook Page. After all, it can be easier coming up with 140 character posts than an engaging blog post day in day out.

    PS Loved the podcast with Mark.

    Reply
    • I think individuals within companies need to figure out why they're publishing and what they would be great at publishing. There's nothing wrong with getting some help to create the best results - just don't hide it from people or mislead them.

      Reply
  • Posted by Mark W Schaefer
    Mitch Joel

    Taping it shut. Taping it shut. Taping it shut. C'mon Mark, you can do it.

    Reply
  • Posted by Miriam Berger
    Mitch Joel

    Totally agree with your comments above. I've worked for 3 multinational companies and feel that if a corporation decides to go down the blog route they should be brave enough to have genuine leaders and those that represent the brand write the blog.

    Now that social media is so popular and is truly the way we all keep on top of things and communicate, creating a corporate blog shouldn't be done because it is seen as a necessity. If there truly is commitment to this method of communication in our world today, corporates and marketers need to take this onboard internally.

    Thanks for the great blog, Miriam (AppleCrisp Marketing Solutions)

    Reply
    • I wonder what/if the public would say if they learned that there was a ghostblogger doing the heavy lifting? Something tells me that the reactions will be different based on the type of Blog and the community that evolved out of it.

      Reply
  • Posted by Dave Wirsching
    Mitch Joel

    Two points:

    1 - We tend to discount the audience in this debate. The great thing about new media is that the end user has the power to ignore content that doesn't work for them. Which leads me to point two:
    2 - The results of the campaign are what matter - did it engage the audience and produce the desired result? Those that work will continue, those that don't will be consigned to that dustbin of history...

    That being said, I believe that authenticity is important and that the crowd is wise enough to discern when they are participating in an authentic experience. Most "ghosts" won't have any impact and will eventually go silent.

    Reply
    • It's hard not to discount the audience because they're being mis-led... and that was my point. Why not tell them who the author is or how the content is created, and let them decide (which was my second point as well)?

      As for ghostbloggers going silent, I'm not so sure. How would we know? Again, they're not disclosing.

      Reply
  • Posted by Mitch
    Mitch Joel

    As someone that writes blogs for other people, I'm going to go in a slightly different direction. Whereas I do believe that most blogs are for personal reflection and should show the personality of the person who's writing them, there are times when businesses are looking for ways of using social media marketing to enhance their business as well as help their SEO efforts. When I write for myself on my three blogs, it definitely is more of a personal conversation with the readers and, hopefully, commenters. When I write for others, there is rarely much personality involved, just purely information.

    I mention that first part to get to the second part, that being that guest blogging can help bridge the gap between personality and information. For instance, I don't allow any guest blogging on my business blog because that's supposed to show my authority, so to speak. But on my other blogs, I will often allow guest bloggers to write something on a topic that I myself have not covered, or probably will never cover on my own. I give him attribution, and I have to admit that most of the time I know who they are so I can say a little bit more about them. I think it helps them, and I certainly think it helps me, and I don't think it detracts from my main goals, which are education and entertainment.

    Reply
Add a Comment

Please complete all the fields below, including the spam filter (to prove you're not a robot).

  1. Fill in your email address to have your Gravatar photo included with your comment.
  2. Please type the word pixels here:
TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://www.twistimage.com/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/2123