Ghost Blogging and Twittering

A few years ago, I taught a seminar on blogging at one of our trade shows. The CEO from one of the largest, general market trade publishers attended. Afterward, he came up and introduced himself. He asked if we could have breakfast the next morning. “Sure,” I said.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/chaoss, Image #3118625

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/chaoss

So the next morning we met. He asked, “How do I get started blogging?” My heart lept. I knew he would have an instant audience. I, for one, would love to read what he had to say. I imagined all kinds of things I could learn from him.

Then he dashed my hopes. “Who do you use to ghost-write your blog?” he asked.

“Excuse me?” I choked.

“I mean, who do you use to write your blog? Could I possibly hire him or could you recommend someone that is really good?”

Honestly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The guy obviously did not get it. I blurted out, “I don’t use a ghost writer. I write every word myself.”

He then said, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that. I don’t have the time.”

Without thinking, I said, “Then you shouldn’t do it at all.”

I still feel that way. You can hire a ghost writer to write a book. You might even be able to hire someone to write an occasional op-ed piece or magazine article. Usually, no one will even know unless you choose to tell them.

But this is not true with blogs. It is especially not true with Twitter. If you try, you will be found out. Your readers will know and the word will spread. You will be considered a “poser,” someone pretending to be something they are not. And trust me, word will spread. In the end, you will do irreparable damage to your personal brand.

I have seen this trend of “ghost blogging and ghost tweeting” with authors, artists, and other celebrities. Forget the fact that blogging is at least ten years old and Twitter is three years old. Now that these and other social media have gone mainstream, no one wants to be left behind. Everyone is jumping on-board.

What some of these new converts don’t understand is that social media only works well if the communication is personal, authentic, and near-immediate:

  1. Personal. Even if people don’t know you, they can tell if you are the one writing. You might be able to fool them for a while, but blogging and Twittering require you to express your personality. If you don’t, readers sense that something is not quite right.
  2. Authentic. People will only trust you if you are wiling to pull back the curtain of your life and give them a peek inside. Of course, this is helpful in every form of communication. It connects people in a way that is powerful. But it is essential with blogging and Twittering. You must be willing to share yourself.
  3. Immediate. A book is a monologue. Take as long as you want to write it. Serve it up when it is ready. This is not true with blogging and Twittering. Both are a dialogue. You get to introduce the topic and may even moderate it, but you are expected to participate in the ongoing conversation. As a result, you must respond to blog comments and Twitter replies and direct messages.

All of this requires your personal participation. You can’t hire it done. You can’t fake it. If you’re not willing to make the personal investment, don’t bother. You won’t fool anyone.

Question: Can you tell the real ones from the fake? What tips you off?
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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/human3rror human3rror

    right on! love that story!

  • Jenifer_Olson_1

    Wonderful post, Mike, and so true.

    I think it would be helpful for many people to understand how you carve out time from your busy schedule to personally blog and Tweet.

    What do you delegate in your life — or choose not to engage at all — in order to have time for everything else? Do you sleep? :-)

    Thanks so much!

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    In a world where little is left of hand-made, heart-made, human-made let's at least not throw away one of the few chances which remain to be real and blog, twitter, comment with our own voice.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/human3rror human3rror

      i agree. definitely!

  • Colleen Coble

    Color me naive, but it never dawned on me that anyone I was reading on a blog wasn't writing their own material. And fake tweets? What's the point? Blogging and Twittering are all about connection and community. You can't have any of that based on a lie.

    The blogs and twitter friends I continue to read are genuine and heartfelt. That's as easy to sniff out as chocolate! :-) If they're self-promoting, I soon lose interest.

  • austinmc

    this is why Twittering is so palatable for Gen Y. they want raw, real, authentic, at 140 characters or less.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SynapticLight Phillip Gibb

    I sometimes wonder about certain high profile people who twitter, maybe it is a bad assumption, but I can't help wondering if they do 'ghost twitter' because I just don't understand where they get the time.

    I would guess that one way to 'catch' them out is to pose independent questions to the different social networking mechanisms they use and see how the response differs. Otherwise you could always analyze the style – but that may just be too much effort and embarrassing if you get it wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/brandonacox Brandon Cox

    Wow, how true. Authentic or nothing. I've received some cool replies from interesting people on Twitter (including @MichaelHyatt) and sometimes wonder if it's the real deal. If it isn't, and I find out, it's a major turn off, and flies in the face of some basic social media principles. Nice article!

  • Rebeca Seitz

    There's a certain version of "ghost blogging" or "ghost twittering" that I think is perfectly acceptable – GRPR actually offers it to writers. I talk with or email with these writers every day, multiple times per day. They let me know what updates they want sent out so that everything stays in their "voice" and I then update their various social media platforms.
    I began offering this service after teaching at a writers conference and hearing how desperate writers were feeling. They're pressured to market, publicize, and promote their books in addition to providing excellent writing.
    Since I'm both a novelist and publicist, I understand firsthand the need to guard the writing time. Many authors don't have the inclination or ability to visit a gagillion social networking sites, yet they're savvy enough to know they need a presence on these sites in today's market. So, they decide what they want to share, tell their publicist, and let us handle updating the sites…

  • Rebeca Seitz

    …I agree that having a ghost blogger create posts out of thin air is misleading and should be avoided. However, I strongly encourage authors to do whatever they must to guard their writing time – including sending their posts to a publicist and letting her complete the sometimes arduous task of updating multiple sites.

  • http://www.thischangenothing.com Michael Covington

    There is one possible exception:-) When @NotShaqONeal launched from Phoenix (under a different Twitter ID) many thought he was the real deal. When the Suns publicity/marketing folks found out, they capitalized and used the unauthorized ghost Tweet's growing platform to launch @The_Real_Shaq, who now has more than 250m followers! This is an anomaly of course and only someone with some serious celebrity factor could make it work, but I find it fascinating and give the Phoenix Suns kudos for handling it correctly!

  • http://christiansoldiersonline.ning.com Bruce

    With all due respect, Rebeca, you are defending a niche that you have carved out…not that there is anything wrong with that…its innovative. Personally, I would immediately unfollow a ghost twitterer…my gosh, what's the point? There is no way I would believe that the content of each/any ghost tweet was cleared with the represented persona before posting. Truth be told, I wouldn't believe it regarding a blog post either.

    Give me heart or give me nothing.

    All the best,

    Bruce

  • http://galatiansc4v16.wordpress.com Tony Rose

    I agree completely with your point of ghost writing blogs, and that folks just shouldn't blog at all if they can't do it themselves. Amen.

    However, what is interesting to me, is that the same generation of young church planting preachers, the ones who think that sharing sermons should is an acceptable practice, seem to also think that ghost-writing blogs and twitters would be considered dishonest and not authentic.

    I've written on this phenomenon at my blog:

    Sermon Copying: When The World Has More Integrity Than The Church

    http://galatiansc4v16.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/se

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/gabetaviano GodsMac

    I think there are many execs who want the success and progress online without much effort. This story speaks directly to that. The time you cut out of your day to interact with all of us shows ghost writing isn't a necessity. You deserve every reader and fan you have, that is for sure!

    Praising God that you gave a man you respect quite a bit some valuable advice, although he probably preferred not to hear it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SynapticLight Phillip Gibb

    I have to say that those leaders that make the time to blog and engage with the community – more respect to you! It can be a hard job maintaining your social networking influence, so those the can do that and lead effectively in the physical – awesome.

    Well – making the effort and doing it right online will pay dividends all the way round. At least I think so.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dewde dewde

    The thought of ghost-bloggers immediately conjures up visions of the music industry. Specifically, the Milli Vanilli scandal. To take the music metaphor a bit further, what is so endearing about personal blogs to me is that they are inherently singer/song writer. If I discovered that a favorite blog wasn't written by the labeled author it would be like finding out that Ben Folds (or John Mayer or U2) doesn't write his own own songs, oh and by the way, he uses a ghost-singer, too.

    Not only is it not his voice, but it also is not his /voice/. Other than that, it is exactly him. Uh, thanks but no thanks.

    peace|dewde

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Beaconhillnw Jim

      Milli Vanilli!LOL!

  • http://www.nicholemasker.blogspot.com Nichole Masker

    I 100% agree and appreciate you bringing it up. You could even take it a step further by comparing big brand tweets and where they com from.

    Starbucks (http://twitter.com/Starbucks) anonymously tweets but Zappos CEO (http://twitter.com/zappos) takes it to a whole other level. Love me some Tony!

  • http://www.givinguponperfect.com Mary

    Mike, I just wanted to say that I truly appreciate the time you put into blogging. I have learned so much from your blog, not only about publishing (my initial reason for reading) but also about social media. Thank you.

    As for your question, I don't think any of the blogs and tweets I currently read are ghost-written. I would be so disappointed to discover that fact!

    • Lorraine

      Mary, Ditto.
      I have learned a great deal on publishing and social media online. Thank you, Michael Hyatt.

  • http://www.brianvasil.com Brian Vasil

    Great post! I am always on the lookout for ghost-blogging and twittering. These mediums are meant to be personal and genuine. I can't imagine using someone else. It doesn't matter how well somebody knows me, their writing would reveal tell-tale signs that they aren't the real deal. It would break my heart to think that some of the communication/leadership giants that I read are really hiding behind the curtain of disconnection and pseudo-commitment.

  • Rebeca Seitz

    Just to be clear – the service I provide is more appropriately called "ghost-posting". It's akin to an assistant taking dictation from an executive, then being entrusted to put it on the company stationery, fold, place in an envelope, put postage on the outside, and take it to the post office. I do NOT write posts for my clients. They write their own posts or dictate them to me on the phone. Yep, each and every time. They'd rather give me a post and have me spend the time posting it everywhere so they can get back to their writing. When (good Lord willing!) the platform is created to make one post and have it auto-update all the other social networking sites, then this service will no longer be needed.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/davidnorman davidnorman

    i can't even fathom why someone would choose to have a blog ghost-written. i can understand having a twitter "play-by-play" guy, but even then be open about it. but why host a blog at all if someone else writes it? would you hire a ghost-writer for your diary?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Ping.fm already does this. You update one place, and it posts the update to all the major social networking sites. I don't use it, because I am looking for a reader, too, and I really only participate it Twitter. But since your clients aren't really doing that, this might be perfect.

  • http://lynnrush.wordpress.com/ LynnRush

    Holy Moly, Ghost blogging? That's so uncool. I go to blogs to learn about the person. Sure, if they are a writer, I know they are going to promote a bit of their writing or books for sale, but that's ok, that's part of it. But I also expect to learn about the author as a person. That's what makes it so fun.

    Like, your running pictures, Michael. I'm a runner as well. Heck my Dad's run a zillion marathons…so when you talk about your health conscious company and how you inspire your employees and friends to run, it's all good. It hits home with me. If that had been ghost written and I found out you didn't really take the time to discuss that with us, I'd be sad.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Kevin_Martineau Kevin_Martineau

    Mark Driscoll "ghost twitters." I don' think that is a big secret though.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Kevin_Martineau Kevin_Martineau

    Great thoughts! I love your third point: "Immediate. A book is a monologue. Take as long as you want to write it. Serve it up when it is ready. This is not true with blogging and Twittering. Both are a dialogue. You get to introduce the topic and may even moderate it, but you are expected to participate in the ongoing conversation. As a result, you must respond to blog comments and Twitter replies and direct messages." It drives me NUTS when some bloggers turn off their comments. What is that all about? I want the a discussion NOT a monologue. :)

  • http://www.kevinalanwells.com Kevin Alan Wells

    The day's batch of tweets posted within seconds of each other, or tweets that only advertise the book or blog post…whether a ghost or not, are my cues to unfollow.

    I have an author right now that has asked me at least five times to take his survey. His 'thanks for following me' DM was "Hi! Make sure to check out my new book in stores this month!"

    Social skills. When did we stop learning social skills? (or caring?)

    • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

      I get really irritated when people and companies try to bandwagon the hot tools (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) by thinking they can leverage the medium without actually contributing to or engaging in a conversation or relationship. Continually marketing yourself, your product, etc. on a social medium is a sure example of someone looking for a one way conversation.

      I also worry about social tools. Seems as soon as they reach mainstream appeal they begin to deteriorate because of the influx of bandwagoners and those who try to exploit. It's like people. We live in downtown and then move to the suburbs, then as the suburbs get junky, we move to the fringe.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/SynapticLight Phillip Gibb

        'engaging' is a great key word – and that means contributing in some way just like you said. But I can't fault anyone who leverages the tolls and mechanisms to achieve a certain goal. But yes there is nothing worse than the obvious spam marketers like some twitter follows that I get from either bots or people just wanting you get you to their website.

        Yet for the newbies – and that includes me – who have either just found out about all this or are just jumping on the bandwagon, that is those that want to learn. There is still a maturing process. Some go through it quicker than others, while some look like they never will. Some of them get a bit too keen in marketing themselves in order to connect and engage with not ulterior motive.

  • http://timothyfish.blogspot.com Timothy Fish

    Can you tell the real ones from the fake? What tips you off?

    It isn't always easy to be sure. I had a woman contact me the other day who said that she knew one of my ghostwriters. I thought she was talking about my books, but maybe she was talking about online. There’s not telling what someone might be putting out there in my name. Maybe I’m not really writing this.

    I think what really stands out is the personal touch. A skilled ghostwriter is going to be more careful about what he says, so nothing he says reflects badly on his employer, while the real deal will let his emotions show. On our church website, there are some things I write that go up with my signature and there are some things that go up without a signature. I’ve noticed that when I know it is going up without a signature I am more careful to write it in such a way that I know the church would approve it in business meeting, though that is not required. When I write something with my name on it, I still want it to be biblically sound, but I feel better about writing my own opinion.

  • http://www.blomerus.org Marysol

    This is EXACTLY why social networking and blogging is not for everyone.

    The whole point of this is connection with the author, blogger, twitterer, what have you. You get to know their tone, style, and personality. If that's off you can sense it. How? No idea. The same way the human body has a way of picking someone is lying just by looking at them.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    I hate that, too. I heard someone at the O'Reilly "Tools of Change" conference say, "Just because I agree to shake your hand (friend you), it doesn't give you the right to stick your tongue in my mouth (pitch you). That's a little graphic, but it makes the point. It's too much intimacy too fast.

    • http://www.kevinalanwells.com Kevin Alan Wells

      Just came across this caption from an old Punch cartoon. One such author showing personal interest in a reader:

      "But let's not talk about me anymore. Let's talk about you. Tell me, what did you think of my new book?"

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com Rachel_Hauck

    I'm shocked to learn about ghost blogging and twittering. Now that you mention it though, it's like a "duh" moment. I'd just never considered it before.

    Blogging and twittering are personal expressions. It's my moment to share my life and thoughts with the "world." I was telling a group of authors recently how I loved to twitter because it's like running down the hall and sharing my day with my co-workers. "Hey, guess what?"

    Since I live and work at home with only a dog and cat to listen–and really, they could care less–it's great to send out a tweet or post a short blog.

    I'm not sure I've ever read a ghost written blog or tweet, though I've been suspicious about a few. Like, really, did she say that?

    Thanks for reminding us it's about connecting, the heart and being authentic, Mike.

    Rachel

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Beaconhillnw Jim

    I heard Guy Kawasaki has folks twittering for him, but I've had several DM conversations with him. He's personable.
    I used to ghost-blog and write for the ministry I work for now, but since then I've changed that up and even recently got rid of our 2nd Twitter handle because it was me doing it all anyway.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dewde dewde

    LOL wow.

  • http://www.trishlawrence.com/blog Trish

    I ghostblog for many clients. I understand your concern, Michael, and appreciate the chance to think about it from a different perspective.

    I don't understand your distinction between ghostwriting a book and ghostwriting a blog, however. To me it's the same thing. But then again, my clients have had massive success from me blogging for them. They use me as a way to cut down on the research and initial writing and then they take the post and make it their own. But for other clients, I post to the blog as them. They love it, as do their clients. It takes all kinds, I guess.

    Great blog. I love that it gets me thinking! Keep up the fabulous work.

    Trish

    http://www.realbrilliant.com/blog
    @trishlawrence

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Today the New York Times had an article on this very topic, When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking. In addition, ReadWriteWeb had a good article on the same topic. In fact, it is how I found the Times article. Both are worth the read.

  • Pingback: Ethics in the blogosphere « confessions of a social media newbie

  • http://autoblogincome.info Jobst

    my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it with

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  • http://www.fallenandflawed.com/ Demian Farnworth

    Hi Micheal,

    This is probably a bit overstated: "will do irreparable damage to your personal brand."

    Think Guy Kawasaki and his fake Twitters. The word DID spread, but I'd argue in a good way. He got great press from it.

    And like someone else said, Guy will respond to your DMs or replies…the question is…is it the real one? ;-)
    My recent post Dr. Banks Responds to My Review of “Praying Together”

  • KarenMW

    I'm shouting AMEN! Corporate America…especially its traditional male execs, have not historically opened up in this way to each other. Now we are asking them to let the world in. I envision a steep but vital learning curve .

  • anonymous

    Good for you for finally putting it out there in black & white. While I understand that most executives don’t have the time or ability to blog consistently and effectively, I do believe there are some serious ethical issues being breached even though the practice of ghost writing is widespread.

    I was asked to ghost write a blog for our CIO & voiced my concerns with the task. After all, I was a VP (not a CIO) & words of wisdom should come from the horse’s mouth. To that end, I “negotiated” that he should come up with a few sentences & ideas & I would elaborate (for him). He did for a bit, but quickly lost interest & I think that, in itself, speaks volumes to the leadership he offered. 

    And, btw, I no longer work for that firm. (Good riddance!)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I HATE ghost twittering and blogging. In fact, I ranted about it here.