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Should a ghostblogger for a CEO reveal him or herself?

19 September 2006 11 Comments

Yesterday's responses to the question, “Is it OK to ghostwrite a CEO blog?” added up for the most part to “Yes.” I still have some reservations, idealist that I am.

Disclosure: I'm a non-corporate type who relishes *not* being locked up in a cubicle. Don't get me wrong; I love working with the smart folks who are brave enough to work within the confines – and exciting potential – of a large corporation. I envy their big salaries, big budgets, business cards stamped “SVP of” and all that. No quibbles there.

But practicality rules. A lot of CEOs (most?) are not naturally talented writers. Many don't have the time or don't want to spend the time to write the blog.

So… given the reality of blog editors and/or ghostbloggers for CEOs and other senior executives, should the ghostblogger reveal him or herself?

This could be done by a disclaimer on the blog. Or via the “bio link” of the CEO blogger at the bottom of each post. For example, you might click on the CEO's name and up would pop a mini bio and words to the effect of:

“Hi, I'm Sally Top Dog. I'm excited about sharing my ideas, thoughts and observations with you. As you can appreciate, I'm pretty busy running XYZ Corp. So I'm delighted to introduce Bob Blogger, my not-so-secret ghostblogger. Bob and I talk frequently and you can be sure that all the content of this blog originates with me. Bob does a super job of translating my ideas into fun and provocative prose. Thanks Bob!”

Er, now that I've written that, I don't know if it really works. So, fire away. Waddya think? Should a ghostblogger for a CEO reveal  himself and if so, how?


  • Anonymous said:

    What would you think if Bill Gates finished a speech with “By the way, I didn't really write this speech, but I agree with everything it says”?!
    Ghostwriting is not co-authoring or even “as told to.” It's a virtual extension of the alleged “writer.” It's a spurious honesty to disavow one's own blog. Even if “one” didn't write it. Sorry to say this, but blogging is too new a “tradition” to have developed such a rigid code of ethics. Better worry about the honesty of the “content.”
    In the words of one great “author”:
    This is the sixth book I've written, which isn't bad for a guy who's only read two. –George Burns

  • Anonymous said:

    But isn't blogging *different* from an executive speech? It's two-way, for one thing.
    Isn't the whole point that it's something new? Why can't the rules be different??

  • Anonymous said:

    An executive speech can have a question and answer period. But that's not the point. Yes, the rules are different, because it's a different medium and format. But it reminds me of the old folk music scene. I was a folk purist back then and it took me a long time to be willing to sing or even listen to a song that I knew somebody “wrote.” Somehow knowing it didn't come from the Appalachians or MIssissippi meant ipso facto that it came from Tin Pan Alley.
    Then I realized I was singing songs by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan… and eventually started writing my own “folk” songs.
    I say let the people decide if it's a folk song or a fake song. Or if it's a blog or a bluff. If they don't like it, they'll stop reading. The punishment for bluffing is death by mouse.

  • Anonymous said:

    Debbie – I really like your content disclaimer for Sally Top Dog's blog. It's nicely put and could be a great career boost for Bob Blogger to get public credit. Certainly if a CEO (or other personality) blogger wants to roll credits like it's a movie production, you've provided a good model.
    Of course in your large, complex organization model, even Bob Blogger might not be able to take credit. By the time the content passes through legal, HR, marketing, etc. it may no longer be recognizable as Bob's work. Bob might not even want his name on it. But that's a blog that won't last long anyway. As Morty says, it's the honesty (and quality) of the content that will make Sally's blog fly.
    Don Dunnington

  • Anonymous said:

    Don and Debbie,
    OK, here's the other side of the coin. (Or maybe a different view of the sphere!).
    I just had an article published somewhere. It went up and back to the editior a few times. The results were good… but I couldn't find myself with a divining rod! My “style” was excised from the piece.
    I later foudn out that it was intentional. They wanted a piece of reportage. And I was doing new journalism. Not their speed.
    Were they “dishonest”? No way. I did the work and got credit for it. But they took all the “blogger” out of it and were left with the story.
    Ultimately, they were right! It was an article about the person they had me interview, not about me. I can play Tom Wolfe on my own time!

  • Anonymous said:

    Put me in the camp of nondisclosure; that is, you can disclose if you want to, but you don't have to in order to be on the right side of ethics.
    When a blog post appears with my name on it, I assume responsiblity for that post — just as the speech maker, and not the speech writer, must assume responsibility for a speech. I think as long as you take responsibility, authorship credits are a moot point. As Don and Morty point out, a lot of corporate writing attributed to an individual is really a team effort.
    I like the idea, Debbie, of the CEO who really writes his or her own blog trumpeting that fact.
    I disgree that a blog is a conversation, which you've mentioned a couple times now. I hope you'll talk more about that. About half of my favorite blogs don't allow comments, and the IAOC blog requires approval to comment. I can't imagine the CEO of a large corporation writing their own blog *and* reading and responding to comments. It would become an overwhelming burden almost immediately.
    Really Written By,

  • Anonymous said:

    Hi again Debbie
    I posted a comment to your article from yesterday, but thought I should also chime in here.
    In a nutshell, I think that most people who are ghostwriting blogs, especially on behalf of executives, won't have to worry about whether to “reveal” themselves. Given the high importance most blog readers place on authenticity and transparency, the ghostwriter will most lilkely be “outed” — and that's rarely fun.
    Yet another reason why I generally think ghostwriting blogs is a bad idea.
    I explain this in more detail in this post:
    “The Problem with Ghostwriting Blogs” (at “Capture the Conversation,” a client's blog I contribute to)
    - http://snipurl.com/wofs
    - Amy Gahran

  • Anonymous said:

    Thanks for taking a contrary stand to much of what's been said here, including my own musings. You provided food for thought here and in you comment on yesterday's post. My personal preference is for people to sign their own work.
    I have written for CEOs in the past who had a distinctive style and clear opinions. They provided sufficient input before I started writing so that I found it easy to write in their voice. They have the ideas and the passion to provide plenty of blog material, with or without a ghost. I have written for others (not for long) who had no style and took no clear stand on anything. Those with no sense of humor would want you to write jokes for them. Definitely not blogging material, with or without a ghost.
    One executive stands out in my mind (pre-blog era) who was a good writer in his own right but didn't have the time to do it all himself. Interestingly, he was far less prone to rewrite other people's work than those more communication-challenged executives. He may have been an exception, but if I were writing a CEO blog for him it would be very much his blog. Of course he also would likely have chosen to share the credit publicly.
    Don Dunnington

  • Anonymous said:

    I'm coming slightly late to this conversation, so I may have missed some context.
    While I can be fanatical about the need for authenticity and honesty in organisational communications, I think that the problem lies not so much in the disclosure of a ghost-blogger but in the attribution of the blog itself.
    If it's supposed to be the words of our leader then disclosing that it's actually someone else's words detracts – unless it's with the proviso that it's “dictated” or similar. “Written by X from our conversations” isn't the leader's words. It's someone's reporting/interpretation.
    If you've got a leader who's sufficiently human, you could always try “and X corrects my grammar, spelling and makes my thoughts intelligible” – but that's a big ask of any leader's ego.
    I think it's also an internal/external thing – although either way is it better to brand it as something other than their personal “bon mots”. Why not “From the Office of YYYYY” – at least that gives the flexibility of having other people blog on ideas that clearly stem from the top?
    Chaotic thoughts on a chaotic day…

  • Anonymous said:

    First off , I agree with Amy that the writer will likley be outed and that will look bad.
    My suggestions is that the writer actually own the blog. The CEO can post when he or she has the time and inclination or the writer can have posts that say things like, “When I was talking to CEO X the other day…”
    Identity is crucial in online media, and organizations should not try to be too clever, it will most likely backfire.

  • Anonymous said:

    Debbie, I think your positioning on this is perfect. Blogs aren't speeches, and as Jeffery mentioned in the last discussion, there are therefore identity issues that can't be ignored – this is a new channel.
    Also, I'd like to tackle the notion of “blog purists” (an amorphous group that's been mentioned more than a few times). As far as I'm concerned, there's no place for 'em. Blogging is too new and the rules are still being written. Applying real-world common sense is what we're doing here, and that's what will carry the day in the end.
    Finally, the critical issue (addressed only in passing) are the PR issues for any CEO whose blog is ghostwritten. If they're “unmasked” the consequences would be grave (and I envision this kind of thing becoming a professional sport for reporters in pretty short order); public perception would indeed be that they had been “pretending”, cynically using this new media to garner favourable press attention.
    Not good, and definitely not worth it.

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