How to be a friendly ghost (blogger, that is)

You know what is so cool? Having a job where you have a bona fide excuse to communicate through cartoon characters. I simply must work in Bugs Bunny soon. Love that wabbit.

My recent post on ghost blogging (Can you out-source authenticity? ) generated a “spirited” discussion. Is it possible to be a friendly ghost?

There were many well-articulated comments AGAINST ghost-blogging of any kind. To those folks, this is anathema to the implied promise of authenticity of the social web. I invite you to return to the original post to read these important comments by Marian Sparks, Jamie Wallace, Nate Towne, and Phil Corbett.

Other contributors, including Danny Brown, John Bottom, and Michele Linn , suggest it’s more appropriate to ghost blog for a “brand” instead of a person.

But I’m a practical dude. For me, it’s not so much a question of whether people should do it or not do it … because it’s already being done! Moroever, it’s a growing professional opportunity, fueled by the social web’s insatiable appetite for content. And, as Jamie Wallace submits, most CEO’s “can’t write their way out of a paper bag.”

If it’s going to be done (and it is) how do we do it WELL? If you’re a CEO looking for a ghost writer or a writer looking for a CEO, here are best practices suggested by the {grow} community:

>> There were many analogies that described ghost-blogging as an extension of other accepted business practices such as creating speeches, shareholder letters, power point presentations, etc. for executives. Today, PR and legal folks already prepare content for the company’s thousands – perhaps millions – of “followers.” In this rockstar world, personal connection seems impossible, and far less important than accurate and interesting information.

>> But even those who supported ghost blogging felt that Twitter needs to be held to a different standard. Twitter is a more in-the-moment representation of a personality and it seems deceptive to represent a “real-time” personality in that forum.

>> Likewise, any content aimed at a personalized connection – such as responses in a blog comment section – should be authored by the executive, not the ghost writer. Ever.

>> Be sure there is an approval process in place that can handle the need for flexibility, responsiveness and the opportunistic tendencies of the social web.

>> The host executive should provide general ideas for a ghosted blog post and a few bullet points expressing key thoughts for the writer to work from. Obviously the writer needs to spend as much time as possible with the host to get a feel for their language and opinions.

>> The executive should approve every blog post before publishing under their name.

>> Several people opined that the there should be a way to discern who is actually writing or helping with the blog. Perhaps this information, as well as other guidelines of the corporate blog process could be contained in an “about” section.

One of the last comments of the blog is by Jeff Hurt and provides a poignant coda to the topic:

“Ultimately, it’s about words and their context. Words are used to build trust and destroy, persuade and influence, communicate feelings and beliefs, divide and conqueror, sell and pitch, love and hate. Words are powerful. … People put a lot of stock into another person’s words and if they discover that those words are not really the true words of the perceived writer, there can be negative consequences … You are trusted or distrusted by your words. If you don’t have any words to share, and must hire someone to write them, then perhaps there is a bigger issue at hand. If a ghostwriter is giving your concepts and words fresh life, stringing them together attractively, it seems that might be acceptable, as long as the original thoughts are yours.”

What do you think? Are these guidelines ghost-friendly?

All posts

  • Jamie Lee Wallace

    Mark – Kudos to you for once again sticking your neck out into the fray.

    There will always be projects that require complete anonymity and writers that will step up to fill those roles. (Just check out the google ads at the right!) That secret underground will always exist and the fact that it's secret doesn't make it evil. It is what it is.

    But, for those of us who prefer a more transparent way of approaching corporate communications on the social Web, I think that the consolidated guidelines you present above are a great starting point for sorting out what makes sense – professionally and morally – when it comes to ghost blogging.

    If I had to choose one element of success for a ghost-blogging venture, I'd have to go with "partnership." I would guess that unless there is a true sense of partnership between the executive and the writer, the whole thing will come up short – more like a mainstream article than a conversational blog post. Ghost blogging shouldn't be handled like some cub reporter assignment. The exec and writer have to develop a real relationship in order to create content that conveys the executive's ideas in the most authentic and accurate way possible.

    I'm so interested to see how all this develops. Thanks for continuing the conversation.


    See, I should have had you proofread this! Partnership is a key word. Great addition.

  • John Bottom

    Great summary Mark. Ghost-blogging is a fact of life (although I wish there was a term that made it sound less spooky) and I, for one, embrace it as a necessary evil (again, I wish there was a term that made that sound less spooky). If everyone followed the guidelines you've laid down, it would be better for all concerned. It's all about doing things in the right spirit (erm…)

  • Dan McCarthy

    Mark, I agree with all your points, and yet this post seems largely academic to me.

    The fundamental issue with ghost-blogging is that it misses the whole point of blogging: conversation, access, interaction. Forget whether it's authentic or ethical. It's simply ineffective.

    The underlying problem is a misapplication of strategy, not tactics.

    Think of it this way: There will always be PR hacks who attempt to create news where there is none. Is there any point in offering them tips about how to build credibility with the media? Would the perpetrators even care about that?

    My sense is that the only way to legitimize ghost-blogging, is to detach content from a particular personality. Make it a company blog, or an industry blog, or ghost-write a CEO-bylined newsletter. That could achieve many of the same goals as a blog, while eliminating the element of conversational interaction (and with it, many of the authenticity and ethical issues).

    I vote we keep advocating for better business blogging, and let ineffective practices die a natural death.

  • Jeff Hurt


    Thanks for including me in your post. I was humbled to see that I was included along with some great bloggers and commenters. There have been some interesting points raise by comments here too and I'll chew on these for a while.

    Thanks again Mark.

  • At first I was put off by the concept (realizing this post is a year old, but hey, we just met!). Now I see your point, and as someone who manages a blog (four, actually) full-time we’ve railed against this internally. In our spectrum authenticity is key. Without it we’re just random people griping and commenting.

    The context here is important. You’re talking about a business blog. To me, this is no different than a CEO having a firm create their PPT or Keynote slides for them. You have the key points, you make them pretty and clearly understood by a general audience. I think these are great guidelines.

  • Mark

    Bingo. My point exactly. Thanks Victor!

  • Pingback: How to be a friendly ghost (blogger, that is) | A Writer's Notepad |

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