Is Ghost Blogging Unethical?

Do you know who is writing this blog post?

I bet you would like to think it’s Lauren Old, PR student and practitioner.

Well, it is.

But who is to say that I haven’t hired a ghost blogger for the week? How do you know for certain that the blog you want to read was actually written by the person whose name is on the byline?

The short answer is that you don’t.

There is no sure fire way to tell if the person writing the blog post is in fact the regular author, or if they are a paid for ghost blogger.

So does that make ghost blogging an ethical practice? 

If we’re living in a world where social media, including blogs, is about promoting two way communication and interaction between consumers and organisations then I would have to say that it is not.

Passing off someone else content as your own opinion does not promote transparency, especially if it is your name on the byline and you haven’t written a word.

But what’s the difference between a personal blog and a commercial organisation?

Personally, I think the difference is always in who has the byline. Readers of personal blogs, with specific author attached, are right to expect the content to be written by that person. While blogs from larger companies afford a certain anonymity and expectation that the content is produced by teams of PR or Marketing staff.

For example…

If you’re lucky enough to be Beyonce and put your name to articles on your own blog the readers will expect you to have written the content, unless stated otherwise.

Those people who take the time to search out a personal blog have a vested interest in the writer, and their opinion could effect the profitability of the writer’s commercial interests. If Beyonce writes a blog about her new fragrance that’s about to launch by giving a sneak peak, or talking about the hard work she’s put in to it, I’m betting that it would generate enough of a buzz online to increase sales.

But if it’s a commercial organisation – say a company like Hugo Boss – announcing their new fragrance, the reader would usually expect the blog to be written by a spokesperson of the organisation. While the aim of the post might still be to generate awareness and increase sales, the content is less personal and not attached to a specific author’s byline. I would argue that this would be content writing rather than ghost blogging.

CIPR Guidance 

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In order to promote transparency where there is a fiscal interest, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) have included guidance on blogging as part of their overall Social Media Best Practice Guide (which you can read in full here).

Basically, if it is a PR practitioner who usually manages the social media accounts of an individual or company, this should be stated in the ‘About’ section of the platform. This promotes transparency and lets the reader know exactly who has provided the content.

However, if the platform is a company blog then it is assumed that the author has a vested interest in the organisation. While it is good practice to state who usually manages the channel, it is not necessary.

But what about single posts?

Ghost blogging still remains a grey area as far as ethics are concerned. While I would argue that any instance of ghost blogging is unethical, the rise of content marketing has also created a wealth of content writers and the lines between the two are starting to get blurred.

I decided, in my go-to information gathering fashion, to take to Twitter.

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In my poll, 62% of people agreed that ghost blogging is unethical, while 38% decided it was not.

While I struggled to make sense of the minefield of ghost blogging and content writing I found that Jason Falls put it most succinctly when he states:

  • If there’s no author byline for the final published product, you’re a copywriter, not a ghost writer. (ethical)
  • If person whose byline appears on the piece is very active in the idea, content, dictation, and editing of the piece, you’re a copywriter, not a ghost writer. (ethical)
  • If the person whose byline appears does little more than a read-through at the end, suggesting a few edits, you should have had a shared byline, and you’re a ghost writer. (not ethical)
  • If the person whose byline appears never looks at or lifts a finger to assist in the post, you’re a ghost writer. (not ethical)

 

I would love to hear your views, is ghost blogging right?

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Is Ghost Blogging Unethical?

  1. You’ve summarised a complex area with great flair. It’s indeed a tricky one for PR practitioners who have in effect been ghost writing media statements and speeches on behalf of senior executives and politicians for years without questioning the ethics of this practice.

    Yet the rules that applied in the mass media age (journalists knew the rules) do not apply in the social media age (when the public can be fooled). So it’s good to raise this topic. The spotlight should now be on the transparency of ‘content marketing’.

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    1. Thanks Richard. Once I started looking into it there is so much to consider. It’s accepted that journalists will always get the byline on a news release, but when you apply that thinking to blogging it becomes an entirely different concept. There is so much cross over between content writing and ghost blogging and for me the difference will always be whether you are speaking on behalf of a collective or individual, and how best to promote transparency.

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