“Ghostblogging” is a red-hot topic in social media circles, with many experts railing indignantly against it. As someone who has been ghostwriting client speeches, soundbites and quotes for nearly two decades, I’ve followed this conversation with great interest…and, admittedly, some amusement.
The argument against ghostwriting revolves around authenticity and transparency. Blogs, it is felt, should reflect a personal voice and personal opinions, as opposed to company policy. Furthermore, blogs should be used to start a conversation, not broadcast in one direction. If you’re not willing to engage in that conversation, the argument goes, you shouldn’t be blogging.
While I mostly agree with these arguments, I do have some reservations. Obviously, it would be ideal for a company’s top-tier spokesperson to write their own blog with eloquence, insight and regularity, and, in the process, gain followers and position themselves as an industry thought-leader. Unfortunately, many chief executives have neither the time nor inclination for such an undertaking. So where does that leave us communications people, who are typically charged with establishing their client or boss as an industry thought-leader? Here are a couple of ways I’ve found to get them to commit to becoming an online voice for the organization:
- Prepare a list of “hot topics” that are generating chatter within your industry (and perhaps are being blogged about by competitive company CEOs). Ask your chief executive to pick several and then make brief outlines of his/her thoughts on them, from which you can develop a draft blog post on their behalf. Those drafts would then be reviewed and tweaked by the executive, hopefully with the addition of the executive’s commonly used words or phrases (“voice”). This model parallels the procedure typically used for the drafting of speeches, statements, releases or any other form of communications.
- Create an editorial calendar of topics, based on both buzz-worthiness and timing/seasonality specific to your industry. Here, once again, follow the outline-draft-redraft-finalize model.
- Have the executive write rough drafts of a series of blog posts for you to edit. Once you’ve shortened and sharpened those drafts, they go back to the original author for final approval and one more look before posting.
Again, the crux of the argument here is the need for blogs to be written in the blogger’s authentic voice. While I agree that is absolutely vital, it isn’t unique to social media. If anything, it is even more crucial in speechwriting, since there the client not only has to be comfortable with their comments, he/she has to actually deliver them to an audience. That’s why good speech writers have always studied the mannerisms, vocal inflections and metaphors used by their clients…knowing that drafts which didn’t accurately incorporate those nuances would come back needing massive revisions. Whenever possible, I meet in person with the executive I’m writing for. Short of that, I watch video of them speaking.
Another suggested downfall of ghosting is that a top executive might be caught in an embarrassing position if asked about a blog he/she didn’t actually write or read. Although that “outing” scenario definitely would be a nightmare, I honestly can’t imagine it happening. In 20 years of doing PR work, I’ve never had a client who’d allow me to send out a comment attributable to them without having read and approved it first.
(NOTE: Twitter is a whole different can of worms…and one I won’t open here. Look for a pros/cons discussion of “ghost-tweeting” in the next B+L e-newsletter.)
The bottom line? In my opinion, the job of the corporate communicator remains essentially the same as it has in the past — to distill the essence of a company’s positions (and its CEO’s) and articulate them as clearly as possible. Whether that process requires simple topic research, light or heavy editing or even full-blown ghostwriting is determined on a case-by-case basis…but in no scenario should it be done in a vacuum, or without full knowledge and acknowledgement from above.