Content marketing, ghost blogging and authenticity: You can have it all2013-01-02
(c) CanStock PhotosContent marketing holds a world of promise for organizations seeking to be visible in a fragmented-yet-crowded media landscape. It also is full of potholes that can rattle your organization’s reputation and landmines that can blow it up entirely.
The need to become a media company, to produce an ongoing stream of quality content despite limited resources, can lead marketers and communicators to make some very bad decisions. One of them is embracing the idea of ghost blogging. On a recent podcast episode, a ProBlog Service writer explained the company this way:
We are primarily content marketers. We’re ghost bloggers. We write blog posts for other companies, and we do SEO through content for these other companies so they basically win search for their chosen keywords.
When asked about the notion of authenticity in blogging, the writer responded, “I can never understand why this one thing, this one last bastion of naivete, people insist that we can’t have ghost writers. “You have to have your own voice.” People who think that don’t work in the real business world quite that much.”
That’s wildly inaccurate. I’ve spent 37 years in the corporate world, with global consulting firms and Fortune 500 companies, then consulting with large organizations, and that’s exactly how I think. And I know I’m not alone. Yet I fear that the rise of content marketing will lead to a resurgence in ghost blogging. Fortunately, this is one of those rare situations where companies can have it both ways.
The point the the writer—Erik Deckers—was making is that we’ve come to accept the fact that someone’s words can just as easily have been crafted by someone else. Few business leaders or politicians deliver speeches they’ve written themselves. Celebrities hire ghost writers to pen their autobiographies. Executives’ letters to shareholders are authored by investor relations specialists. Deckers scoffed at the idea that blogging should be “the last bastion where people question whether you should have ghost bloggers.”
Blogging arose amidst growing cynicism surrounding business and politics. While we accept speechwriters and ghost writers, it does little to build trust in a world in which trust is so deeply prized. Blogs were an antidote to opacity, an exercise in authenticity and transparency. One of the great concerns expressed in the early days of blogging, as the first businesses began to adopt them, was that they would suffer the same corruption as other media. Abusing a medium that gained popularity, in part, because of its authenticity characteristics will only reinforce the cynicism leveled at your brand.
Blogs are part of social media, and social media works when organizations are open and honest. Reports appear regularly about the consequences of deception in the social space. Pure ghost blogging is just that: deception.
While they may work with writers in other media, executives like Bill Marriott (author of the Marriott on the Move blog) understand that the very fact that the blog has their name on it means readers actually believe it’s them. Imagine what would happen to the trust that had been built over years of blogging and engagement with readers if it were revealed that, all along, a copy writer from an agency had been drafting those posts.
It is easy enough, however, to take advantage of talented professional writers like Decker and services like ProBlog Service without violating that trust. Just follow some simple guidelines:
- Content doesn’t have to appear in a blog that’s clearly labeled as one person’s point of view. Consider the fact that media properties like Mashable, VentureBeat and ReadWrite all use blogging platforms, while companies like Southwest Airlines have had huge success with multiple-author blogs. As long as the content is compelling, readers won’t care about the author.
- If you deem it important to have a single-author blog and still want help writing it, just be honest about it. Disclosure erases a lot of sin in social media. Including a statement on the blog that “These posts convey my thoughts, but I get help writing them” means you’re not trying to pull a fast one.
- There’s no rule that says content has to appear in a blog at all. Consider all the feature articles that drive Cisco Systems’ The Network. These articles are by-lined by the freelancers who wrote them. Does that diminish the value of the content originating on the Cisco site? Not one bit.
- You could always give your ghost blogger credit. That’s what a lot of celebrities do with the books they’ve “written.” My first boss in the corporate world, back in 1977, was the late Ken Estes, a former newspaperman who (among other things) was the ghost writer for Bill Carter’s autobiography. His name appears in the book’s listing of authors. It’s in much smaller type, but at least the ex-president’s late brother wasn’t trying to kid anybody that he’d done all the writing himself. So why not end a blog post with italicized credit to others who contributed to the work? Again, it takes nothing away from the value of the content but maintains the authenticity readers expect with blogs.
Why wouldn’t an organization adopt these kinds of practices? Is there truly a benefit to deceiving consumers who have embraced social media channels largely because of the belief in their authenticity?