Wednesday, January 11, 2006

just say no to ghost blogging

Now, friends, we are going to once again tackle a burning question in the blogosphere, a problem that won't go away, and it's similar to that perennial thorn in my flesh, the crummy Fictional Character Blog.

[NOTE: This is an exact replica, with variant title, of a post published simultaneously at my Blog Core Values blog, which is getting rather heavy and dark lately, like a gathering storm, a brooding reign of havoc and blog mayhem is brewing over there. It's going to get ugly soon, on the topic of Anti-Business Blogs and the coming Blog Backlash.]

Our pseudo blog today is the infamous Ghost Blog.

Ghost = someone one else, invisible, often anonymous, writes in the name of another person, is thus the "ghost writer" of a "ghost written" book, newspaper column, press release, memoir, or blog.

To mean old Vaspers, having someone write your blog is like hiring someone to write your personal memoirs, intimate correspondence (paper letters), or autobiography.

What triggered my thought patterns on this topic was...

"So What's Wrong With Ghostwriting An Executive Blog?"

Neville Hobson
Expert Author
Published: 2006-01-09

BTW, NevOn is an extreme professionalism blog, a New Super Blogger blog, with high quality content, good writing, very well designed, and a good role model for all business bloggers.


I've been thinking about an item in a recent survey that says only 20 percent of senior business executives write their own blogs.

The survey was conducted in October by PR veteran David Davis who published the results last week. Shel and I talked about it last Thursday in show #100 of our biweekly podcast.

While I take this survey overall with a little pinch of salt as apart from geographical facts it doesn't provide any detailed information breaking down the survey group, nor say how many actually sent back responses, the item in question about executive blogging is quite interesting as I think it shows the tip of an iceberg as to what is already happening in some organizations.

Let's look at the specific survey questions re executive blogging and the posted results:

1. Do you write your own blogs without advice?

- Yes 17%

- No 83%

2. Why don't you write your own blogs?

- Too time consuming 48%

- Difficulty in expressing themselves in writing 39%

3. How would you describe a 'ghost written' company blog?

- 'A sham' 8%

- 'Totally misleading' 5%

- 'Marginally misleading' 43%

- 'Acceptable' 44%

The answers to questions 1 and 2 don't surprise me a bit. This would be broadly in line with what you'd expect in many organizations where senior executives don't produce their own communication material. That's one of the reasons why those organizations have communicators!

Communicators devise, plan and write the content and messages that CEOs and others will use and deliver. Press releases, speeches, presentations, etc. Why should an executive blog be different?

Before you say "Yes, but..." in relation to those phrases we hear all the time about blogs (authentic voice, personality of the author, etc), let's look at question 3 - the interesting one.

The answers are quite telling and, in the absence of any other detail, must be based on one crucial assumption - that there is full and clear disclosure somewhere as to who the author is.

I cannot really imagine that the 44 percent of those senior executives who say it's acceptable to do this would have said that otherwise.

On the other hand, this view is countered by 43 percent saying it's marginally misleading (although I'm not sure what the word 'marginally' means - it's either misleading or it's not).

Let's be clear on what we mean by 'ghostwritten.' Consider this definition from Wikipedia:

A ghostwriter is a writer who writes under someone else's name, with their consent. Ghostwriters are often employed by celebrities to write autobiographies in situations in which the celebrities themselves may not be talented writers, or are too busy doing other work.

Other writers are also employed, with proper billing, by authors whose names alone will sell a book, such as Tom Clancy, many of whose recent works bear the names of two persons on their covers -- Clancy's name in larger print and the other author's name in smaller print. Sometimes a professional writer will receive partial credit, signified by "with" or "as told to". Credit may also appear as a "thanks" in a foreword or introduction. Strictly speaking, if the less famous writer's role and name are clearly acknowledged in the work as published, this is not ghostwriting but collaboration.

Just because a book is ghostwritten does not necessarily mean that the credited author did not make a significant contribution to the work; a ghostwriter is often employed to polish and edit existing material, or to work directly with the credited author to shape the book from start to finish.

You can simply substitute 'blog' for 'book.'

So with clear disclosure, I don't see any problem at all with an organization having someone write a senior executive's blog. I'm willing to hear any persuasive argument to the contrary, though.

Today, via Josh Hallett, I read Steve Warren's article in which he talks about hiring bloggers to write the content for corporate blogs.

A trend, Steve says. I agree. I think the picture he paints is something we will see much more of.


It seems I must endlessly, relentlessly stress and defend the 9 Core Values of Blogging.

Ghost blogs are wrong -- because they're a lie. To mean old Vaspers, they stink of False Advertising, and even perhaps bordering on Consumer Fraud.

Passion in a ghost blog is paid passion, thus fake.

There is no Transparency, Authenticity, Integrity, or Credibility in a ghost blog.

There is no possibility of personal contact, mediated by the web and browsers, with an individual. When I don't hire a team to write emails and blog comments for me, so why should a blogger hire someone to write his blog for him?

A blog that is ghost written is a Pseudo Blog. Period.

Basically, it's a false pretense.

Even when the blogger, say a CEO for example, admits, in the blog About page, or in the sidebar, that he "has help" writing the blog. Or that a professional blogger polishes up his posts. I may be alone in this, but I think such activities suck. Suck big gigabyte time.

Would you write a paper and pen journal, a diary in a spiral notebook, with the help of a team, a PR pro, or an ad writer?

What would people think?

Unless you are legally illiterate, and have to sign with an "X", you sir or madam, Write Your Own Blog, for cryin' out loud.

Ghost blogging is like paying some dude to have sex with your wife, so she is satisfied.

It may be done, but I don't advise it. And it makes your marriage a sham, to some degree, to a very intimate and important degree.

Don't pay a ghost to write your blog.

Be your own ghost.

Improve your writing skills, Mr./Ms. CEO. Have your best ad/PR writer teach you a few literary tricks.

Read a lot of good blogs for a few weeks. Pay attention to how short the paragraphs are. Observe how quickly, politely, and aggressively the bloggers respond to comments, good and bad. Learn. Then do. Just like everything else in life.

Any CEO who has a ghost written blog, that CEO is a jerk and a loser.

In the rough and tumble world of the blogosphere, full of sharp-tongued caustics, of whom I Vaspers the Grate am foremost, we will slaughter and annihilate any Ghost Blogs we stumble upon. We blog cops can smell 'em. We'll know, then we'll blab it all over the blogosphere.

I am VtG, the Chief Confrontation Officer of the blogosphere. I am always in the attack mode. I never rest, I'm relentless and reckless and raw as hell, hoping for a heavenly realm, the Blogosphere 4.0

Here's what I wrote as a comment in Neville Hobsons' NevOn blog:

[QUOTE--my comment]

Yes, the broad category of Pseudo Bloggery, as I define it, does include both Fictional Character and Ghost Blogs.

I have focused my expertise and observation on usability, credibility, and practical value characteristics of business blogs and corporate web sites.

A blog is a neutral void, a blank slate, a software application. So in one sense, you can do whatever the flip you want, immoral, ineffective, con artist, anti-blog, whatever. But in a values sense, you are limited in what you ought to do with a blog.

For example, a blog generally must have comments enabled, or it's not a true blog. It's a legit link log, like Robot Wisdom, or it's a unilateral old media preaching platform, a "shut up and passively absorb my propaganda" type device.

The basics of an ideal blog are the 9 core values I've assembled: authenticity, passion, transparency, credibility, individualism, creativity, originality, relevance, and integrity.

Now, I sympathize with any CEO who has no time or no writing skill for blogging. Blogs, and all web entities, require a very specialized writing and text format style, almost the opposite of print media. Short paragraphs, bulleted or numbered lists, boldface, heads and subheads, as necessary, per the individual stylistics of the blog author.

I know some CEOs need help with blogging. As I ponder this problem, my theory is that you can teach a CEO how to create, write, and maintain a blog. You can even write a few sample blog posts, until the CEO approves of the content and style. Then once you have an ideal post model, it's the CEOs job to master it and use it.

CEOs and other highly educated and highly motivated women and men are not accustomed to being told they need to learn how to write better.

Typical CEO will chuckle and say, "I'll just give it to my creative department, they've got some beatnik Shakespeares in there, they can do it for me, and I'll simply sign off on it." WRONG.

We, as consumers, do not wish to interact via comments and email, with a half-CEO/half-copywriter.

I used to write copy for CEOs. PR, ads, newsletters, sales material, etc. Often I ghost wrote press releases or other things for CEOs. But first they told me what they wanted to say. I just polished it.

I can't recall ever "dreaming up" something for a CEO to say, what he "should" say. This is what's sick and inauthentic, non-credible and anti-consumer.

My fear?

That if enough blogs go Ghost, the blogosphere will be populated by spooks, insubstants, spectres, shadows only.

People will start saying:

"Why check the blogosphere? It's just ad writers and committees pretending to represent the head hauncho. And those teams will say anything to please the boss and hookwink the public."

When I go to Mark Cuban's blog, or Richard Edelman, or Bob Lutz, or Vaspers the Grate aka Steven Streight, I expect to deal with the guy or gal him or herself. Not a ghost flunkie. Not a team. Not an advertising agency posing as the Voice of the Highest Up.



One reason I always say

[signed] Steven Edward Streight aka Vaspers the Grate

is because I am flipping off the team, committee, ghost, and other pseudo blogs, signing my name, this is me, I am real, I bleed, I make mistakes and usually admit them, I have succeeded and failed.

I sometimes am a jerk and a rotten CEO role model, I own my own business, I face deadlines, I participate in client meetings, I persuade friends and colleagues to start blogs, I create blog sites for clients (complete with sample posts, recommended blogrolls, sidebar embellishments, digital imagery (photos/art), advice on post topics and monitoring the blogosphere, systems for stopping comment and abuse spam, and other functions, but not ghost writing services).

I've been known to conduct seminars, write books, publish articles in print magazines and online newsletters, and land mail my Streight Site Systems usability newsletters to mentors (like Jakob Nielsen and Prof. B.J. Fogg at Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab) and to prospective clients.

I have a staff, I treat them like garbage when I'm in a foul mood, which they claim is perpetual. [This was a joke. I don't treat anyone like garbage. Besides, even if I did, all it would mean is that I put them in the wheeled can and roll them to the curb on Wednesday night.]

I laugh ha ha ha at myself constantly.


Josh Hallett said...

I agree, ghost blogging is a very bad idea and chances are you'll get caught.

G. Randy Primm said...

sir ceo and straight guy,
ahem. blogs are for the people because they CUT OUT THE MIDDLEMAN.

otherwise, why the hell should i care about what some pr flack says he rethinks what the ceo may be claiming to be a thought? if you didn't write it, but you sign your name to it, as a blogger, you are a liar. period.

steven edward streight said...

Er, thanks, I guess.

Dang it. My big blog mouth. you just summed up the entire debate in three or four sentences.

you make me obsolete.

har har har

Are you into captcha-mancy? Seeing hidden messages in Word Verifications?

This one, for this comment is:


and ph fab

and publicity hacks fabricate

Clever little shit aren't I?

steven edward streight said...

randy c/o glenn:

a dismal package with music CDs by CompuMusik, and prob Camouflage Danse, will be ushered up to your domicile soon after I take them to Pack N Mail, my mailroom satellite facility, on this Friday.

Just a heads up that I have not fur gotten.

Word Veri: hdcgmy

Word Vari: had done cd giveaway message you

steven edward streight said...


I have to visit your blog, to read what Neville is alluding to.

Thanks for posting a comment here. Will say more after I read your post.

I think we must aggressively attack, ridicule, revile, shout, scream, and pull our hair out with black smoke pouring out of our ears, over this one.

Pseudo Blogs must be quarantined, scolded, and destroyed.


zafu said...

Be nice to your staff, GOD damn it!

(my word veirification "word" this morning is XOCLO, which I think means I should breakfast on chocolate).

steven edward streight said...

Zaf: I was kidding about "treat staff like garbage". The punch line is "foul mood...they claim it's perpetual".

I was merely trying to put myself down, knock myself down a few notches, somehow.

When I have what all men call a "mood", I would say I'm in a good mood most of the time, and make my staff laugh a lot, laugh constantly.

Actually, I'm not a very good story or joke teller. You can spot an Incompetent Storyteller a mile away. Just look for droves moving away from a central spot.

That spot is me.

zafu said...

Hah! Just like me :p

zafu said...