The Blog

Is It Unethical to Use a 'Ghost-blogger'?

I have a golden rule with all my clients for whom I do this kind of work. I will never engage in a conversation with anyone online using a named social media account and pretending to be that person.

Of course, CEOs, politicians, and other important leaders have their speeches written for them. And since the press started publishing articles by business leaders, they have employed journalists to draft words that would be published in their name.

So how can ghost blogging be fake?

There is nothing wrong in supporting a CEO, in helping them to articulate their ideas into blogs and then publishing them in the name of the CEO.

But for a social media program to work and avoid the accusation of just being marketing spin, it is important to involve the real person in responding to comments and questions.

For example, as I mentioned earlier, the writing team may use the Twitter account of the CEO to promote the published blogs and to watch over the influencer hit list - reaching out and saying hello when an influencer mentions an area that would be of interest to the business.

I have a golden rule with all my clients for whom I do this kind of work. I will never engage in a conversation with anyone online using a named social media account and pretending to be that person. Everyone has a right to believe that if they are chatting to someone on a tool like Twitter, then it is the real person answering their questions.

I don't know if this applies to every business leader online. When I see the amount of content Sir Richard Branson manages to publish - blogs, video, and photos - each day I can see that he obviously has the Virgin communications team supporting him, but I do wonder if the real Sir Richard would reply if I messaged him? I hope so, and I have seen him blogging about how he really does interact with his readers.

I was once talking about the James Bond movie 'The Spy Who Loved Me' with a friend, Peter Ryan, on Twitter. We were talking about the Lotus car that can travel underwater. I asked him if he knew where the scene was filmed where Roger Moore drives the car out of the sea onto a beach full of tourists. We both thought it was Malta, but then Sir Roger Moore tweeted the correct answer, "Sardinia."

Peter and I were astounded, but when I recounted the story to someone else, he just dismissed it and said it was a PR or film company hack using the Roger Moore account.

I hope not. Tools like Twitter are very personal. If you are representing a CEO and ensuring that their account remains active with tweets on the latest news and rumours in their industry, that support has to stop when people send messages and expect the real person to respond.

Even if your writing team is using the Twitter account of the CEO to promote blogs and monitor the hit list, if anyone sends a message then your team needs to alert the named individual and get them to respond personally. So in this example, the writing team would need to be able to send a text or email directly to the CEO asking him or her to check their Twitter account.

The executive embarking on a social media program cannot be entirely ignorant of how these tools work. They need Twitter installed on their iPad or phone even if they don't look at it on a day-to-day basis. But when that journalist from the New York Times sends a tweet asking a question about what the company thinks on a specific topic there is no way you want a marketing or writing team member to be replying to that message - public or privately.

Always involve the management team in your online content activities. If they are putting their name to blogs and tweets then they must be available to answer questions online even if they have a support team helping to generate the original content.

Think of it like ghostwriting a speech. You can prepare the words and feed the lines to your CEO, but when the Q&A begins, there is no prepared script; they need to know their own business.

This is an extract from Chapter 7 of my new book 'Customer Engagement Officer (CEO): Content Marketing and the Realities of Executive Blogging'. Published earlier this month the book explores how many company leaders, politicians, and celebrities are blogging more than they can possibly write.