Home > PR ethics > Is Ghost Blogging Ethical?

Is Ghost Blogging Ethical?

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

This post is the first of the 4 Communications Issues. 4 Perspectives. 4 Weeks. Blog Series. The brainchild of Steve Farnsworth. Every Wednesday for the next four weeks Steve, Lou Hoffman, Todd Defren and I will blog about the same topic. This week’s topic – is ghost blogging ethical?

So, I need to start with a little full disclosure to explain my perspective on this topic. When I first started my PR blog (for a number of well-intentioned reasons) I did so under a pseudonym….actually, pseudonym makes it sound too noble, let’s just say I blogged under a fake name.

For several months, I blogged and tweeted as Tony Mackey. After hypocritically posting about the horror of ghost blogging and other ethical topics, I decided that it was time to come clean. See The First Day of the Rest of My Blog or Tony Mackey – Unmasked. It wasn’t exactly ghost blogging because Tony Mackey was just a made up name, but the experience helped to shape my option on ghost blogging.
For me, the stages of enlightenment on ghost blogging were Ignorance, Outrage and finally Acceptance. When I first started blogging, I (obviously) didn’t give a second thought to ghost blogging. Then I started reading blogs by some really smart PR folks who had clearly given this topic more thought than I had. The more I thought about it, the more I started to think that any and all ghost blogging was wrong – no questions asked.

But then, as often happens, reality and real world implementation gives way to a middle ground. But, where is the middle ground?

I’ve heard some draw the line between a personal blog and a corporate blog. There are some that say a corporate blog is like a company newsletter, so people probably accept that there are marketing folks behind it. Some others will argue that  it is unethical to ghost blog a corporate blog – if it it tied to a personality. This makes sense to me, but I draw the line a bit differently.

One-to-many communications – not unethical for ghost writer. Having someone ghost write a one-to-many communication is not unethical. To all you purist out there, I’m sorry to tell you, but that ship has sailed thanks to ghost written quotes, books, articles, speeches etc. I don’t think it’s good practice, but I have to stop short at unethical.

One-to-one communications – is HIGHLY unethical for ghost writer. Once the original one-to-many communications turns into a one-to-one conversation (e.g. in the form of a tweet or a blog comment) it is HIGHLY UNETHICAL for the ghost writer to carry on the conversation.

My answer could end there, but I wanted to add a bit more perspective. There are a number of moments in a person’s life that live on forever and impact a person’s view of the world. For most of us over the age of 14, September 11, 2001 is one of those moments. For those of us that are well a little older, the space shuttle Challenger is another. Having graduated high school in New England in 1986, I clearly remember the space shuttle disaster that claimed the life of ‘Challenger Seven’ including NH school teacher Christa McAuliffe.

And I remember watching Ronald Reagan deliver the address (about the tragedy) from the oval office. Remember, this was 1986, the early days of cable back when MTV played music videos and american’s still watched presidential addresses and nightly news.

The speech concluded with the poetic words…
“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

I remember just being wowed by those words and the moment. Well, it was a couple of years later that I learned that those words were written by speech writer Peggy Noonan (and based on a poem from John Magee). Does that make the moment any different? Had I really given it some thought back in 1986 – would I have really have expected that Reagan said, hey George you run the country for an hour or so, I need to write a moving speech.

Ghost writing is simply too ingrained to be considered unethical.

Final answer: Ghostblogging is NOT unethical. It is uncool, unnecessary, insincere, disingenuous, avoidable, and just down right silly, but I won’t go as far as to say that it is unethical. I’m more inclined to say ghost-tweeting is unethical (unless a simple news feeder system). But, maybe that is a topic for another day.

Now, see if Steve Frarnsworth, Lou Hoffman and Todd Defren think ghost blogging is ethical.
  1. September 8, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Hey Paul I like your take on this topic. I read Todd’s blog post this morning too and he has a pretty good position on the ethics of Ghost Blogging. Of course you know I had to get in on this, so I added my own perspective: http://ow.ly/2AU5H

  2. September 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Good topic, Paul. I would say that whether or not ghost blogging is ethical depends on the type of post, too. For instance, with real estate blogs often times an agent’s personal experiences are woven into the stories shared. Does the ghost blogger make those up, avoid them, get a story verbally and clean it up? The ethics of it may well depend. Those stories really tell consumers who the blogger (or agent) is. Are the stories authentic? Does the ghost blogger come across like the blog’s owner? Or will members of the public meet that blog owner and really not feel like the person resonates?

    Some blog topics are very dry – such as with statistics or links or even just sharing an image. Those may not matter so much, and a lot of bloggers who are Realtors may employ their assistants to just put something up on the blog along those lines. Other topics are more involved and to me would require more time & attention by the person who’s supposedly doing the blogging.

    I would suggest that if there’s an in-depth post that relays the blogger’s experience, it is ingenuous at best to utilize a ghost blogger, and very likely unethical because of the deception involved.

    Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, let’s aim at better practices:
    1- have guest bloggers (with credits) participate
    2- if you’re a terrible writer, create the post and hire an editor to clean it up

  3. September 8, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I worry about being so concerned about the word unethical. I have been learning about social media and how we should be authentic. So,if I hire an person to help me with writing a blog, am I authentically being a smart savvy “with-it” blogger? Let’s just say if the content is based upon one’s personal experience and reflects the essence of that experience – the fact that we hire a wordsmith to enhance our image is irrelevant in my opinion.

  4. September 8, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    I think you hit the key to answering this question. It’s the middle way. Also, I got a kick out of the fact that we both looked to the office of the president to illustrate our point, although in your own way. Great minds run in the same gutter…

  5. September 9, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Paul – thanks for spurring this one and for the call to participate. Lot of fun and looking forward to the other questions. And, think you touched on a follow-on post with ghost tweeting!

    -Don J.

  6. September 9, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Thank you all for the comments. I appreciate the thoughts. This was clearly a topic that lots of people are interested in.

    Don, Larry and Steve – Thanks for your comments and it was lots of fun reading your posts. For the most part I think we are all kind of in agreement. Maybe we’ll have more to argue about in the coming weeks.

    Mary and Ike, thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you commenting again. If you are interested in the topic you really should check out Don’s blog post http://bit.ly/9ZUsUr and Larry’s post http://theprsituation.blogspot.com/2010/09/invisible-hand.html and Steve’s post (that started it all) http://stevefarnsworth.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/is-ghost-writing-ethical/.

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