Blogging requires personal participation

Yesterday I led a workshop on blogging in London for the CIPR during which the group spent a bit of time talking about ghost blogging.

Scott Adams’ perceptive Dilbert cartoon, first published two years ago, takes an extreme but comical look at a topic that is often discussed in the online PR community and which usually results in two schools of opinion – the “it’s ok to do it” group and the “over my dead body group.”

What, exactly, is “ghost blogging”? This Blogossary definition is as good as any I’ve seen:

A ghost blog is a blog run and managed by an anonymous author(s). A ghost blog can also be a blog written by a company or person on behalf of another company or person.

Example: person B is blogging on behalf of person A

A ghost blog may also be a blog about or dedicated to apparitions and poltergeists.

There has been much debate about whether ghost blogs should be taken seriously and whether they can hurt the blogger’s overall reputation in the blogosphere.

In yesterday’s CIPR workshop, we heard about an example of an organizational blog where the content ideas come from one individual, and the content itself is written by communicators, approved by the ideas-originator, and then published to the blog.

You might argue that there’s nothing wrong with that: this sort of thing happens all the time.

Communicators write the CEO’s speeches. We do press releases containing pithy words of wisdom by named people which they didn’t really say because we wrote those words. Prime Ministers and Presidents spout wondrous things in Parliament or Congress and yet we all know it’s the speechwriter who is the eloquent one.

So why should we be concerned about whether a blog post – and, bringing the topic right up to date, a tweet – is actually written by Executive A or written by the communicator, someone who often has a better way with words?

I found it encouraging that during the discussion yesterday, the majority of people argued a case as to why they felt ghost blogging is not a good idea, which is all to do with authenticity and trust.

To encapsulate the discussion, I can summarize it like this:

  1. You as a CEO or other executive write a blog, others read your content, perhaps leave comments or write their own posts linking to yours, and so a connection develops that over time may lead to an actual relationship.
  2. People will connect to you because it’s you they’re connecting to. It’s your commentary and opinion they read and form their own opinions about.
  3. Imagine how the deck of cards will come tumbling down if it turns out that your commentary and opinion isn’t actually you at all but someone who writes and publishes in your name and that fact wasn’t disclosed.

The bold text in 3 above is the key point.

Whether or not you think ghost blogging is a good idea – and, for the clear record, let me state my view: I think it’s a terrible idea (although I had a very different view in 2004 when I was still trying to figure out this business blogging malarkey) – you could argue it’s ok as long as there’s open disclosure.

So everyone would know that when you read Executive A’s blog posts, they’re really written by Flack B: The ideas may be A’s but the words are B’s.

And I’d agree – as long as you disclose, there’s no perception of pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes and your risks of reputation damage when you’re found out (there will be nothing for anyone to find out) are minimal.

Whether it’s an effective form of communication and relationship-building is another matter entirely.

Yet with social media like blogs and Twitter, things don’t really work like that. Don’t take my word for it, though – read what Michael Hyatt, a long-time and credible CEO blogger, has to say:

[…] social media only works well if the communication is personal, authentic, and near-immediate [… it] requires your personal participation. You can’t hire it done. You can’t fake it. If you’re not willing to make the personal investment, don’t bother. You won’t fool anyone.

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