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The rise of social media has posed a challenge to the well-known. That challenge: working social media without being forced to work too hard on social media. After all, if you're rich and/or famous, blogging and tweeting is more likely to seem like a burden on your lifestyle than, say, a pastime.

An obvious solution: hire a ghostwriter. Which is precisely what many business executives, media personalities, professional athletes and celebrities have done. The February issue of Entrepreneur Magazine goes behind the scenes and profiles some of the 'ghostbloggers' who blog and tweet for well-known clients.

The article, 'The Ghost Speaks', makes for an interesting read if you're involved in the business side of social media. After all, words like 'authenticity' and 'transparency' are repeated time and time again at social media conferences. Yet the rise of the ghostblogger reminds us that the social media ideals and best practices that get discussed academically are not always the way the business operates in the real world.

The question is: is it good business? When dissecting the touchy subject of ghostwriting, it's worth noting that ghostwriting isn't new. While blogs and online communities may have turned ghostwriting into a growth industry again, it's an industry that precedes the internet.

But the internet does pose some new challenges:

  • There's often the expectation of authenticity. There are people writing their own blogs and tweets.
  • The internet can be unforgiving. If your fans believe "it's really you" and it's later discovered that it isn't, watch out. At the very least, you can expect your fans to lose interest because, after all, it isn't you.
  • Standing out is hard to do. With just about everyone jumping on the social media bandwagon, attracting and maintaining attention can be really hard to do.
  • Social media is social. From Shaq to Ashton Kutcher, when you look at the people who have been truly successful in building up a following, one thing is clear: nothing beats positive interactions with fans. Social media isn't a one-way street. That means ghostwriters have to be more than just your writer; they have to become you. That, of course, is a tall order.
  • There is risk. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, some ghostwriters charge up to $100 per post. And some charge up to $500 a month for daily tweets. Not bad for the ghostwriter, but when you're a media personality with a multi-million dollar brand, do you really want to put that brand in the hands of someone who is making even $2,000/month?

For anyone grappling with hiring a ghostwriter, these challenges can be tough to address. This isn't a black and white subject. Under certain circumstances, hiring a ghostwriter may be completely unadvisable; in others, it may be acceptable.

For those who do go the ghostwriter route, a few tips:

  • Don't 'outsource' your personality or creativity. Think of a ghostwriter as a writing assistant, not servant. The people who are interested in what you have to say want to hear what you have to say. Even if you're not writing your blogs and tweets word for word, make sure that your creativity, personality, passion and originality are what's being conveyed. In other words, if you're asking your ghostwriter to do all the work, why bother maintaining a blog or Twitter account in the first place?
  • Think twice about lying. Sometimes, honesty really is the best policy. Consider what you really gain before explicitly conveying the message that your blog posts and tweets are yours alone when they really aren't.
  • Be careful who you hire. A good ghostwriter takes the words out of your mouth. Hire the wrong one, however, and he or she might put words in it. That's why it's so important to choose the right person. Ideally, you're looking for someone who knows a bit about you or what you do, and that you genuinely like and get along with. While a track record is nice, you don't necessarily want someone who writes for 10 other people. Focus more on finding someone who 'feels' you and understands your business or lifestyle. Pass over the uber-professionals who look at you as just another $500.

At the end of the day, there's one truth to social media: like real relationships, you get out what you put in. Whether you're blogging and tweeting on your own or having someone help, that rule always applies.

Photo credit: mattwi1s0n via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 29 January, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2405 more posts from this author

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Martin Gross-Albenhausen

This is a very important topic. Today at Retail Weeks E-Commerce Summit there was a discussion about how to work with bloggers. It is very different from hiring some PR-guy, because credibility is the most important value.

In Germany, we have Blogger-Networks offering "Blogs as a Service" to Companies. While this might be a way of monetizing freelance journalism, the long-term investments should be in a personal, authentic blog written by an inside person. Otherwise, there is always a disclosure necessary, IMHO.

over 6 years ago

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Sam Deeks

Your title asks a simple question.  My simple answer is "No." :-)

My longer answer is: it depends on what you believe social networking is about. I see it as a way to have a conversation with other people (customers, prospects, competitors, colleagues, fans, detractors...). Call me old-fashioned, but I like to actually be in the conversations I'm involved in? :-)

You, on the other hand, might see it more of a one-way digital communication channel for your business, in which case, getting someone to write for you may well be a good thing to do.

Personally, when I'm using social media, I'm looking for the 'real' in the people behind the business.  As a result, a CEO blog written by someone who isn't the CEO doesn't do it for me; quite the opposite in fact.  It leaves me wonder why someone is pretending to be the CEO and why the CEO doesn't feel capable of writing this him/herself.

I had a client meeting yesterday with a comms director who told me he wrote all the keynote speeches for the CEO to deliver in their big values programme a couple of years ago. The CEO just read them out word for word. The values programme wasn't a success.  Connection? I think so.

over 6 years ago

Jonathan Moody

Jonathan Moody, Freelance at Language4Communications

As a personality/celebrity etc, I'd say yes but with the caveats set out by Patricio.

As an organisation, brand, product or service I'd say no, it has to come from your people, although this requires the training, guidelines, remits, tools and time (this last one cannot be underestimated) to it consistently well.

over 6 years ago

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Jim Osterman

OK -- off the top I'm a writer and one of the things I offer is Web content. On occassion I have ghosted. Here are my guidelines:

1) If I ghost anything going out under your name you must sign off on every post, Tweet, blog, etc.

2) We have to collaborate so I'm true to your voice.

3) No one should allow another person to distribute content under their name.

The process for me works best with an open line of communication and unfettered access. I will suggest a topic, makes not notes on what THEY think and write.

But the simple fact is many execs do not have the time.

One final note -- assignments like this are rare.

over 6 years ago

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Susan Baird

I'm a copywriter and content developer, and I think this is a tough question.  The best case scenario is that people who communicate through social media do so authentically and transparently, and ideally personally.  That's what I advise when people ask me.

But, a lot of my cients are small business owners who are having to get by with a smaller workforce and ever-growing demands on their time just to stay in business.  They can't afford to ignore social media, but they don't know where they'll find the time to learn how to be effective, and then consistently engage every single day.  They know other people in their situation are doing it, but they feel overwhelmed and frustrated.

So, if the answer really is that outsourcing social media engagement is unacceptable, then is not engaging at all, or starting and then not following through the better solution?  I don't know the answer, but I'd love to hear more perspectives!

over 6 years ago

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m

In my opinion, it should not hire a hostwriter  to be your social media personality. Anything has its two faces.

over 6 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

Hi Patricio,

Good topic again. We do this sort of work. Really, busy executives just don't have time to be maintaining three or four social media profiles. On the other hand I insist that our writers take on the personality of the client. Ideally the ghost writer has easy access to the client to ask the client's opinion on the issue. I think I'll push that access/interaction issue a bit further over the coming months.

If the ghostwriter is spreading the right message, this is effectively not much different than an executive assistant. It's called leverage.

And you of all the Randian fiends should understand and appreciate the concept of leverage. Surprised to hear you cheering for authenticity.

over 6 years ago

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Ian Truscott

Absolutely spot on Patricio, nice article. I agree that this is a key decision when defining a social media strategy and I am not sure there is a "one size fits all" right answer. 

It's easy to say no to the ghost writer - but I agree that organisations need help. The problem of course is that you will be busted, due to it's personal nature or your message is generic and corporate and you lose engagement with the crowd. 

Honesty has to play a role here I think, if you need to hire someone to help - be honest about who's voice it is. 

I've wrote this on my blog: http://bit.ly/cFPLKg - after one of your Econsultancy blogging colleagues (Kevin Gibbons) wrote about this: http://bit.ly/9zyvyM

Cheers!

Ian

over 6 years ago

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TSSVeloso

Patricio, first of all, congrats for bringing this up.

I'm not surprised you had so many comments against hiring a ghostwriter, after all, it is a delicate and almost irreversible step in your social-media strategy.

I work as a ghostwriter on a regular basis for several Brazilian companies. And the reason why I'm having a great demand is simply because most executives and marketing departments haven't fully understood how to maintain a social presence without loosing their main focus - making business happen.

Of course, in countries like the US or in some European and Asian nations, where the usage of social medias has been suported by an easy-to-get cheap internet connection, companies and consumers are much more engaged and all the points concerning speech authenticy are fundamental.

However, here, the outsourcing of Twitter postage, blog writing and brand monitoring has been well accepted, even with some relieve - after all, it's much cheaper to outsource than to hire someone to do something outside the core business (labor laws in these coutries are terrible, almost medieval, and home based work, like ghostwriting, allows an easy, less expensive way of getting inside the social media fuzz).

The bottom line is that, when you write for a company, it's not about you, it's about them. You have to fully understand their goals, their business (sometimes even better than they do!), their organizational culture, and their brand positioning.  And if you develop a coherent Editorial Plan, plus working hand-in-hand with the company's Marketing Departament (or Agency), you'll help it to keep a constant posting routine, stimulate the adoption of social media networks amongst workers, and avoid to depend on a employee (who by tomorrow may land on your competition, doing the same thing).

Keep up the great work!

Cheers

@TSSVeloso

over 6 years ago

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Jules Fam

Personally, we know tons of celebrities do it. But is it a good thing to do IMO? Nope.

But then again, its like a celebrity's website, really we know they aren't the ones who 'made' it and put all the content in it, so I guess I've also seen the social media networking in that angle as well, so I just assume its not them. But then again, most people would think a thing like social networking is more personal and all, so its more delicate. I don't agree you should hire a ghost writer unless that person knows almost everything about you, your thoughts and views. If that's the case then they aren't a ghostwriter. Or else, yes, you definitely are putting your life/brand in some else's hands. That is dangerous!

over 6 years ago

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Heather Baxter

If you are 'tweeting' for a person then it would be wrong to use a ghost writer who is claiming to be 'the person' - however if you are 'tweeting' 'blogging' for a brand/organistation in my opinion that is fine - ie: to outsource that part of the organisations marketing.  Isnt outsourcing your PR quite similar - twiiter, blogging, facebook groups all forms part of an organistations pr/communication strategy does it not?

over 6 years ago

Fran Jeanes

Fran Jeanes, Internet Business Consultant at i-contact web design

I would say no. I think unless that person is very close - like a sibling - they just won't be able to convey the personality well enough. Also, if you believe SM is about relationship building then building them on falsehoods is destined to be a failure eventually. 

over 6 years ago

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