Ghostwriting, Warren and Yippee
Let's be crystal clear: ghostwriting is when someone writes for another person and the item is published under the other person's name. In books, you might see it as "By Very Famous Person, with Known Ghostwriter," although you may also see the "By, with" construct with co-authors when one is more well-known or made a greater contribution than the other. In blogs, you are not likely to see the ghostwriter's name at all; the item is posted by the "author."
While ghostwriting is a legitimate approach to communications vehicles like the CEO letter in the annual report, magazine article or a speech, it is not a good approach for blogging. As Shel Holtz points out, blogging is a new communications channel that is supposed to remove barriers, not create new ones:
[But] a blog by an identified senior executive is different. By blogging, the executive is specifically saying, “This is me engaged in a conversation with you.” While everyone knows that the quotes in the press release are fabricated, and that the speech was penned by a speechwriter, there is an expectation when someone reads and comments on Jonathan Schwartz’s blog that he’s engaged directly with Sun Microsystem’s CEO, not some anonymous proxy. When people learn that somebody other than the CEO is the blog’s true author, it will serve only to deepen the distrust and cynicism that characterizes most peoples’ existing perceptions of business.
That doesn't mean that if your CEO can't or won't write, you can't have a company blog or participate on blogs. You just need to take a different approach. Shel mentions some possibilities in his post. Here are a few others.
- Hire a writer specifically for the blog. It can be a staff person or an outside consultant. Depending on the "editorial mission" you pick for the blog, she can post as a more impersonal "Company Name" or under her own name. If you choose "Company Name" you should disclose the approach and contributors somewhere on the blog. That readers can actually find. When I blog for clients, I prefer to write under my own name, but will do the "company name" approach if that suits the blog better.
- Look around. See if there is a good blog on your company's topic already in existence, and consider sponsoring it. It can be written by a customer or expert. Maybe even an employee writing on his own time But remember: becoming a sponsor doesn't mean you now own it. The blogger should retain her independence. Note: this could be slightly different if the blog were written by an employee. In this case, you might want to acquire it outright and make it part of the employee's job.
- Develop a group blog, with an editor responsible for the editorial calendar. Much like a magazine. Contributors can be employees, customers, outside experts, etc. etc. This can be a challenging task but well worth it. The group brings diversity of opinion and distributes the posting burden among a larger number. That generally means more posts and ultimately more visibility. It's no accident that the top blogs are group blogs. Your editor can be internal or external, and post under his own name or the company's.
All these approaches are legitimate ways to engage with blogs without resorting to the artificiality of ghostwriting.
Two shout outs
To Mary Schmidt for her Yippees and Yawns. Excellent advice for anyone embarking on a Web site project. Or wondering why no one ever visits their site :-)
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