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.