As he does so often and so well, Mark Schaeffer has sparked yet another fascinating debate on his blog today. Reviving a topic addressed last March by Jon Buscall and Mitch Joel, he argues against their position that CEOs should not use ghost writers for their blogs. While Schaeffer agrees with them in theory, in practice, he says, “ghost blogging” is routine. It’s a waste of energy, he concludes, to argue against it. Instead, the focus should be on improving ghost blogging, not deprecating it.
It may be true that it’s pointless to fight this trend, but the debate, to my mind, should be over whether it really works. It’s probably too early to say, but I’m inclined to bet that in the huge majority of cases, ghost writing and social media are fundamentally incompatible.
A lot depends, of course, on the extent and nature of the ghost writing. If it consists mostly of brainstorming, outlining, or light editing services, that’s helping the writer find his or her voice, not faking it. But let’s assume we’re talking about something closer to the extreme of a CEO who says “Here’s my idea. Write something.”
As Schaeffer notes, that’s not so different from the way many CEOs produce their speeches, annual-report letters, and autobiographies. So why, he asks, “do so many people seem to want to put blogs in a different class of writing?”
Curiously, though, his following sentence seems to do just that: “In the world of corporate communications it could be argued that blogs are even less important and critical than a major speech or a document being submitted to the SEC.”
Well, yes, precisely. Blogs are less critical, because they constitute a different class of discourse. Most people do not expect blogs to be carefully articulated legal documents or corporate position statements. Rather, they expect some personal reflection, an unvarnished and informal expression of an idea. A blog should be driven by passion and conviction, not precise phrasing or good grammar.
If a CEO doesn’t care enough to write his or her own blog, why pretend to? Maybe, just maybe, a blog isn’t a good idea for most CEOs. There’s a reason that the Fake Steve Jobs has a blog and the real one doesn’t.
So for me, it’s not a question of whether CEOs have the right to use ghost writers. Nor do I think writers should feel tainted by ghosting. In the end, what matters is whether ghost blogging is effective. Without the commitment to blogging that writing it yourself represents, the answer will almost always be no.