A blog dedicated to the world of broadcast and public relations
Monday, September 30, 2013
The Ethics of Ghost Blogging: Perspectives in Public Relations
Blogs are one of the most important tools used these days in public relations. Based on the study of Gallicano, Brett and Hopp “Is Ghost Blogging Like Speechwriting? A Survey of Practitioners about the Ethics of Ghost Blogging,” published in the Public Relations Journal, we want to discuss the potentially controversial issue from a public relations perspective.
The term ‘ghost blogging’ as outlined by Gallicano, Brett and Hopp “refers to the practice of writing blog posts on behalf of someone else who is stated as the author, and it can occur with or without disclosure of writing assistance.” Ghost blogging occurs in various forms, but the most relevant to us as PR professionals is the corporate blog. These blogs serve to represent an organization and typically reflect speak to its products, services, and overall mission. Some companies do have bloggers that are permitted to express their own position and not necessarily the company’s in their blogs, while other organizations employ bloggers to write as ‘ghosts’ in the company’s name. A common scenario for these blogs is to post in the name of its executives.
Nowadays, the internet is a broad platform for many different kinds of conversations and blogs play a major role in these discussions. It is, of course, important for companies to be aware of the conversations that pertain to them and to follow them closely. It’s even better, though, if they actively engage in the communication process. According to Gallicano, Brett and Hopp recent polls stated that most PR strategists found inaccurate information about their organizations online. In addition, keeping actively in touch with customers via interactive blogs, it helps to cultivate a positive, trusting relationship. To do so, conversations need to be two way and relevant to the audience’s interests and needs.
But why do organizations then ghost blog if they are trying to establish trusting, two-way conversations? Well, for one, it’s practical. Maintaining an organization’s blogs can be a real challenge. Blogging requires a lot of time. You can’t just blog about anything and in any way. A company needs to keep track of the ongoing conversations about them; connections to previous posts and then comments need to be moderated. In addition, the best blogs are those that are written and presented well. Successful blogs with a high, steady readership typically draw upon on various sources to add credibility and support to their arguments. Can we realistically expect a CEO to do all of this, including blog writing himself/herself, and perform all other obligations? The time and skills argument is the most commonly used one in favor of ghost blogging. Practitioners claim that as long as the executives provide the main ideas and the final approval, ghost blogging is just as ethical and authentic as speech writing. They argue that CEOs should use ghost writers just as other specialists are deployed to run the day-to-day operations of their organization.
Public relations professionals, generally speaking, like the idea of transparent communications that make our identities and motivations known. PR practitioners may say qualified information can only be given by qualified sources, and this kind of information is needed to make informed decisions. In the public relations industry – including within PRSA – the most often cited ethic policies favor disclosure. Nevertheless, ghost blogging seems to be more widely accepted if the executive named as blogger is involved in the blog creation process and gives his or her final approval. Arguably, it’s not unlike quotations used in press releases. CEOs and executives often sign off on quotes their PR people script for them, but they didn’t actually utter, but do so because the quotes express their true sentiments on the topic at hand and they give them their personal approval.
Interestingly, the rules for social media seem to differ greatly from the rules for corporate blogging. Corporate blogs tend to be more tightly controlled. While one might argue that ghost blogging for a CEO is deceiving consumers and shareholders, in truth, the opinions shared could quite possibly be much in keeping with an organization’s key messages than what is shared across social media platforms where the rapid nature of give-and-take, often by more junior, less seasoned professionals, could very quickly take a corporate social platform discussion far away from the messages approved by top management.
At the end of the day, whether ghost-blogging is used or not, it simply needs to be done so with consistency and authority. It’s hard to fault an organization that’s been thoughtful about such questions and takes the time to educate all people in communication “touchpoint” roles, from traditional PR to sales to social media, how they are to represent the organization and its top executives in external communications.