Someone I know recently asked a private group of bloggers the question:
When, if ever, is it appropriate to pay a ghostwriter to write for your blog?
There’s a really thought provoking article on Squawk about the subject. To summarize, there are at least three types of ghostwriters: A) people who put your ideas into their own words, B) people who take your disjointed words and form coherent ideas, and C) people who provide most of both words and ideas.
In the book publishing world
Ghostwriting is a popular and established practice in many book writing circles. Many celebrities pay a ghostwriter to make their memoirs more fluid and accessible to mass market audiences.
Ironically, I don’t think we the readers ever really appreciate or condone the process of ghostwriting. And for good reason. As consumers, we expect the names on the book or the blog to match the names of the people writing them. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
We don’t even mind when a celebrity has a co-author, because not everyone can write like Stephen King. But we expect a level of transparency for each person to give credit to contributing authors. It just makes sense.
In the blogosphere
Blogging is our family business. We have gratefully accepted many guest posts over the years, often because of a significant life event like a newborn baby or a family vacation. But EVERY SINGLE POST on our main site has been attributed to the actual person who wrote it.
I have no real problem with copywriting services for static pages such as landing pages, product pages, etc. These pages in general don’t provide attribution, and often not written from a 1st person perspective.
Ghostblogging as a strategy
So let’s just look at ghostblogging as a strategy. What would be the point of paying for blog ghostwriting without attribution? To keep the writer from becoming known and respected? To keep them from gaining enough acclaim to not need you anymore? To continue building your personal name brand without doing most of the work?
The way I see it, writers either deserve credit for their work or they don’t. If you’re willing to publish a writer’s content on your blog, I think we know that you value their content. And I know that my wife and I certainly don’t deserve credit for anyone else’s work. We also value the trust our readers put in us too highly to risk disappointing them with blog posts that we claim to be our own that really aren’t.
As you can tell, I have a few opinions on this subject, and with good reason. I was a copywriter for several years after college and experienced firsthand what it’s like to put other people’s values and ideas into impactful words that sell and still find my work undervalued.
I don’t see the strategic benefit of ghostwriting on a blog post. Paying for research or proofreading/editing, okay. But the point of being a blogger is to blog, right? And if it’s time to evolve the business into being a Blog Manager or Senior Blog Editor rather than a Blog Writer, then there should be no problem attributing authorship to contributing writers, right?
Many websites have gone from being 1-2 person blogs to multi-million dollar blog magazines. Sites like Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, LifeHacker, HuffingtonPost, and dozens if not hundreds more have made the leap into global stardom. But they did so by evolving their business model. The 1-2 man show wasn’t going to cut it, so they brought in more writers. These writers many times brought their own audiences with them and developed niche topical specialties within the companies they blogged for.
Ultimately, you can be a blog writer, a blog editor or even just a blog owner/investor. But none of those options require secrecy. My opinion after a decade of study and practice is anything blog related done in secret probably isn’t necessary and the risk of long term brand damage far outweighs the short term benefits.
Yes, you could build a personal brand on the backs of ghostwriters whose names never see the light of day. You could also get outed by a disgruntled ghostwriter someday, though, and look pretty bad for having kept it to yourself. Food for thought.