Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Can PR ghostwrite client blogs?

Executive Summary:

As marketing departments turn corporate collateral into blog posts, they find the task more time-consuming and difficult than imagined. Should you hire ghost writers? Yes and no. It depends on your audience's expectations. This article tells you how to decide and suggests effective small tweaks to the options you've probably already considered.

Key Points:
  1. Social media experts generally caution against ghostwriting blogs. They say the medium and audience expectations make blogs unlike speeches and contributed articles.
  2. Analyze your audience and ask key questions about your company's goals and resources before deciding which blogs to ghostwrite or whether to write a particular post at all.
Sound Bite:

"The smartest and most trusted people say, 'Don't ghostwrite company blogs.' But if you absolutely must do it, disclose the contributor's real names or only ghostwrite content the company created previously and is simply re-purposing for easy digestibility."

Read the whole article:

Should your PR team ghostwrite your company's blog posts?

The short answer is "no." The long answer is "sometimes."

Let's do the long answer first. If you absolutely insist on having your PR team write some of your company blog posts, proceed with caution. Give ample thought to:
  • your company's goal
  • the degree of expertise/attitude/thought leadership required from the author
  • originality of content
Questions you can ask yourself while making decisions:

(1) Is the content company-created and is the PR team merely re-purposing it for social media digestibility?

If so, fine. Go for it. But avoid packaging overly canned material in a business-neutral voice. If you must include posts like this, consider interspersing it with more personal and authentic pieces by individuals. Otherwise, your audience is likely to tune out, justifiably so.

(2) What are the audience's expectations?

Consider the degree of skepticism and ethical rigidity of a particular audience. What does the audience value most highly? How will they use the information? Are they likely to be forgiving of sterile business content as long as it includes a tip or resource they can use? Are they expecting a CEO blog with business acumen or an app developer blog with technical depth? If you walk a safe middle line, you may turn off the very people you hope to influence.

(3) Is the time and money worth it if the blog isn't influential?

It's safe to say that a CEO blog carries more weight when it shows incisive thinking and passion, even if not necessarily "good writing." In the world of blogs, "good writing" can be icing, since most posts are produced rapidly in response to an ongoing conversation by a person who isn't a full-time professional writer.

Do application developers carry more weight when they are irreverent and independent? Probably. In some scenarios, it's possible that this level of integrity and authenticity is almost more important to the audience than the content. A rough-around-the-edges post that's spirited and technically well grounded might be better than a smooth vanilla offering.

Writing is time-consuming. That's why people quit blogs after a while or try to hire ghostwriters. But what matters most is substantive content that will influence people. If you don't have that, should you be blogging at all?

(4) Can you manage expectations by disclosing who sometimes contributes?

This is the best practice if the author's credentials aren't the main draw. Avoid leaving a post unsigned or just using the company's name. Commonly, companies-in-the-know say something like "Contributors to this blog include Sam Smith, Jessie Jones and Betty Buttons."

But even so, better to sign each post with "Sam S. for Acme" or "S.S." or "B. Buttons" or "Jessie Jones." If you feel like you don't want the audience to see the "man behind the curtain," then you've got a problem, especially since "transparency is the new black," as they say. At any rate, hiding fake wizards behind curtains is bad -- period.

It's OK to say that your PR team creates some of the blog posts. It's better to do it and say it than to do it and not say it. Otherwise, you risk losing trust down the road. Audiences may think you are hiding something other than a writer's name ("What *else* is this company keeping from me?").

Bottom-line as I see it, the smartest and most trusted people say, "Don't ghostwrite company blogs." But if you absolutely must do it, disclose the contributor's real names or only ghostwrite content the company created previously and is simply re-purposing for easy digestibility.

It's not like a speech. Some people argue that a blog post is like a speech. Presidents of companies and nations hire speech writers, right? Yes, but we all know they do that.

Our *expectation* is that a really talented speech writer did the leg work, the president absorbed the content in full, made substantive changes as he saw fit, then practiced for hours, with coaching.

In contrast, a blog post is perceived as a more informal and less well measured opinion, often formulated quickly, as part of an ongoing social conversation.

In 2004, social media purists said, "No ghostwriting."

In 2010, I see a lot of softening in expert opinion.

People now admit there are gray areas where careful consideration can make a ghostwritten blog OK. For more on that, see an excellent discussion led by Toby Blomberg and John Cass. Thirty-nine contributors weigh in. My favorite comments were those by Lynn Anne Miller, who looked at social media from the corporate perspective.

Edelman's Steve Rubel foresaw the debate in 2004 and said, "What we need to do, however, is separate what works from what doesn't and what level of transparency and input is required. Time will tell."

I agree that we are still determining best practices and that they are likely to change as the blog-reading public itself continues to mature and evolve.