Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ghost in the Blog Machine

A week or so ago a discussion broke out in marketing blogland about the practice of ghostwriting blogs. Among those weighing in were Sallie Goetsch, Shel Holtz, and Josh Hallett, all with some interesting thoughts on the subject worth your time.

There's a lot of sentiment that "ghost-blogging" is never acceptable, but I think it's off base - though it's certainly not ideal. As with so many things that provoke controversy, there's no simple answer other than "it depends."

Josh and Shel come down firmly against ghost-blogging; their argument is that blogs are not just any business communications medium, but must be more personal. Sallie defends the practice, pointing out that skilled ghostwriting of any kind isn't simply doing the work for someone else, but requires the writer to get to know the bylined author's voice, style, and thoughts.

Sallie is convincing, and I think that the argument that blogs are inherently "personal" and this requires 100% personal authorship is one that bears some closer examination.

All blogs are not, as Sallie calls them, "identity blogs." (A great term that I'm going to use in the future!) The blog is a format for the web medium, not a tool unto itself. You can find a lot of older stuff that reads like blogs from customer newsletters and such that came out years ago; in fact, I often think of a colleague who sent a quirky, sometimes offensive, and always opinionated newsletter out to surgeons and physicians that was, in essence, a blog - except we didn't even have email then, and it was created via a typewriter and a local copy shop.

But that's not all that's out there. A local direct marketing agency here in Houston does a blog that highlights case studies (from their clients) and comments on DM trends. I have no idea who there actually writes it, nor do I really care. Other blogs have multiple authors.

Consider this Dell blog. For most of what's on there, I don't see what difference it makes whether someone sat and wrote it and posted it, wrote it and had someone do a quick edit and cleanup on it, or send a writer an email with four bullet points and said "please blog this."

And some people shouldn't be writing without guidance. If you're the CEO of a publicly-traded company, guess what? You don't get to just chatter away; you have to be very careful about what you say so you don't get in trouble with the SEC or your shareholders or your customers.

The point is authenticity. Some people have the and writing skill to be authentic and clear and interesting all at once. Some needs some help with that, and that's where ghost-blogging comes in.

Done well, you shouldn't notice it.

This is a regular question that I hear, and there's one final thing to note about it: ghost-blogging isn't the easy way to blog. Getting a writer up to speed requires a commitment of time, and providing direction is an ongoing commitment. And if you have a good writer producing material at blog-worthy frequency, it's not cheap.

It is, however, a reasonable choice for some blogs based on the goal of the blog and the bylined author's abilities and time commitments.

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