Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ghost-Blogging: Inevitable or Indefensible?

One of the liveliest debates going on today in the communications world is over the use of ghost-blogging.  So when we came across this provocative, contrarian article by a communications executive named Mark Schaefer, we thought it was a perfect starting point for a discussion among our Gotham pros about the pros and cons of this controversial practice.

In Schaefer's view, there's nothing to argue against.  Yes, he concedes, in a perfect worlds CEOs would write for themselves.  But the reality is most CEOs don't have the time or tools to draft their own speeches or press releases -- nor does anyone really think they do.  Why should blogging be any different?

Many blogging experts strongly disagree.  Because blogging is so personal, they argue, it is a totally different medium with different standards and expectations; there is an assumption that when a CEO signs a blog item, he or she wrote it.  So to use ghosts to write these posts is deceiving the reader and undermining the very purpose of the blog in the first place, which is to build credibility and trust with your stakeholders.

Where do you come down?  Is ghost-blogging inevitable or indefensible?  We asked our writer friends to weigh in, and here's what they had to say...

I can't imagine that anyone could be so naive as to think a CEO of a large (or even a relatively small) corporation would keep a daily, or even monthly blog.  If someone sues a company, do its executives have to deal with the courts etc. or do they hire lawyers?
     -- Adam Engel, professional writer and teacher

Many non-professional writers don’t write very well.  And so what they write is often wooden and ungrammatical, unclear and frequently boring.  It sometimes doesn’t even express what they truly mean to say. What is unique about the art of writing is that many non-professionals think they can do it, since we all “learned to write” in school.  But there’s a difference between being able to form your letters and writing. Few people believe they can practice medicine without a degree or play the oboe without a considerable amount of tutoring and practice.  If pressed, I could probably build a deck on my summer house, but any number of professional carpenters I know could surely do a better, sounder and faster job.

So, yeah, an executive can write his own blog – as long as he or she is capable of doing it.  However, bad writing does not become meritorious just because you did it yourself.  And so, if you don’t have the time or skill to write what you need – a speech, a blog , even a love letter – you turn to a professional (like Cyrano de Bergerac in Rostand’s play) to help you say what you want and mean to say in a way that is clear, accurate and engaging.
     -- Peter Hayes, book writer and business consultant

I'd say blogging is a far more personal medium than, say, a speech or trade-magazine piece. The byline should be valid.
     -- Mark Sauer, Representative for San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye

Actually, blogging is something the exec can do with the ghostwriter.  The exec has to have some thoughts - it can't be completely fake or he/she'll be called on it.  But if the exec has some current thoughts on the business or related topics (and they should, because that's all they think about), the ghost can run with it, and it's a collaboration.  An effective ghost-collaborator can also be creative enough to present a list of topics and thought-starters.  It really doesn't take much input to produce a blog piece, just as with a speech.  Pros know how to do this.  And ethically, the exec can claim ownership.  The ghostwriter's advice is just as legitimate as the advice the executive gets from lawyers or finance people.
     -- Alan Perlman, executive speechwriter

I am entirely against blog ghostwriting. If one puts his or her opinions into writing it is hypocritical for that person to not put his or her name on it.
     -- Anonymous

Any writing for a CEO should be done with input from CEO, or by someone completely in sync with the CEO’s thinking. Blogging is no different.
     -- Cindy Spitz, Principal, CLS Communications Group


Judy Leaver, writer said...

I don't see the difference between the newsletter columns and memos that I write/draft for a CEO or exec director vs. ghost-writing a blog. The stuff I write for honchos is pretty personal and I think blogging is the same, only a newer form of communication. Being a CEO/exec doesn't imply that a person is a good writer or even likes to write, so I'm glad to provide my expertise and let them focus on bigger stuff--

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!