There’s a good chance that many of you, as kids, were allowed to watch TV that wasn’t PBS, but here’s hoping that some of you will recognize the above educational program.
I recently was asked to participate in a survey around ghostwriting for a blog, er… “ghost blogging.” It ultimately asked if it’s OK for blog posts to be written by a PR firm and whether or not companies should disclose it. At first I leaned toward answering ultra-ethically, like I know I’m supposed to (you know, the “strongly disagree that you should steal music on the internet” answers…).
But, who are we kidding? I’ve been a ghost blogger – meaning that (by their definition) I’ve drafted blog posts (then tweaked, revised, reworked) that were featured on the company’s “corporate blog” that were not attributed to me, and were instead attributed to the CEO.
Let me first say that I don’t believe it must be one way or the other. I think there are brands that are what they are because of the genuine charisma and accessibility to the leadership. PR people should take advantage of that. Likewise, there are others whose CEO/founder would be a disaster if given the login to the WordPress account.
What doesn’t sit well with me is that there’s even an ethical dilemma in ghost-writing a blog in the first place.
In this new world where the company blog is the new mission statement / “about us” section / conference keynote… unless you’re one of those charismatic CEOs above, if you’re employing a PR team, it’s simply silly not to have the PR folks write the damn post. After all, they write all of your other public-facing material – why wouldn’t they pen the blog content, which is much more readable (consumer-friendly) than any press release. This is the team that handles (and likely came up with) all the messaging and positioning for the brand. Not to mention that they’re, you know, WRITERS who make words sound good.
In this way, a blog post is pretty comparable to a quote in a press release. You wouldn’t attribute a press release quote to the person who actually crafted it. It’s controlled messaging plain and simple.
Now that I think about it, when I did write a post for a client blog and later find it attributed to me, it made me very uncomfortable at first. My squeamishness stemmed the fact that I was afraid of representing the company as a non-expert and getting them the wrong kind of attention. The ultimate PR fail. It’s from that same nervousness that I aim to shield my clients when I ghost-write anything on their behalf, or conduct media training, or create any messaging – the list goes on. Crafting words to get the best message across is what I do. I don’t build the technology, or create the product, or design the hotel, but if you do, I want to help you talk about all of that in a meaningful way.
The transparency argument doesn’t hold much water when you can sort that out by collaborating with the “author” (CEO, chef, designer, developer, etc.) to create an editorial calendar, and incorporate the tone and voice into the writing, etc. And, now that I think about it, a blog isn’t really social media anymore (in the way that Twitter, Facebook are). It’s just another corporate comm channel. Let’s treat it as such.
It’s very possible that I’m missing some angle that could easily push me to either side of this, and one might easily assume that I’ve abandoned my social media idealistic ways of transparency and conversations, and listening and engagement, (etc.) and embraced some corporate agenda of people who don’t get PR or social media. The truth is, if I believe there is any value in my work at all, this is a high horse that I can’t hop onto. I think I’ll stay on the fence for now.
Let me know if you’d like more metaphors.