Ghost in the blog

Recently, I was talking to this friend of mine (don’t you love stories that start this way?) who told me there’s an edict in her very-large-company that every executive should have an internal blog. The blog would serve as a way of explaining each executive’s departmental priorities, provide visibility to important issues that would benefit from other points of view, and encourage more collaboration between teams. To me these seem like reasonable objectives for an internal blog and the potential informality of a blog could serve as a welcome antidote to normal sterility of corporate communications.

The problem is most of the executives at her company didn’t have the time or inclination to write the blog themselves. Instead, they asked their marketing or communication lead to ghost-write it for them. My friend was horrified and used this as evidence her employer wasn’t very social, wasn’t very innovative, and was too structured.

I agree ghost-writing is a bad idea, as it breaks the basic element of trust between blogger and reader. Blogs should represent the ideas and words of the identified author. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not an issue if the executive doesn’t actually type and post the entries – especially if the executive admits it. Apparently, this is what Bill Marriott does.

Not long after this conversation, my friend sent me an uncannily timely post from Dave Kellogg entitled ”Should My CEO Have a Ghost-Written Blog?” Dave agrees with our assessment and has several strong arguments, including my personal favorite:

If the marketing / PR team writes the blog, it will – with all due respect –  probably end up easily identified as marketing-produced pabulum, rephrasing and reinforcing company press releases. Odds are you can’t bluff this, so you shouldn’t try.

I’m a marketing professional and I couldn’t agree more.

All of this got me wondering what percentage of blogs are silently authored by someone other than the person on the bi-line but I wasn’t able to find any credible statistics. Anyone have any ideas?

No ghost blogging, no ghost tweeting: (@jbecher)

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11 Responses to Ghost in the blog

  1. Anonymous July 28, 2008 at 4:08 pm #

    Who writes your blog, Jonathan 🙂

  2. Jonathan July 28, 2008 at 4:55 pm #

    In case there is any doubt, I write my own articles.

  3. Mary Earley July 30, 2008 at 8:20 pm #

    Hi Jonathan, you probably won’t be able to find those statistics — ghostwritten CEO blogs are going to be exposed, rather than freely admitted, I suspect.

    Companies that embrace the latest Web/media trends without a plan eventually abandon their efforts. There were a lot of companies that built “brochure in the sky” Web sites in 1995 and then didn’t do anything to them for years. However, it must have fulfilled their need to say they were among the first. Recent versions of this phenomenon include CEO blogs, company sites on Second Life and corporate use of Twitter. However, the lack of authenticity is evident from the get-go, and a lot of these efforts will likely be moribund in 18 months.

  4. Robert E July 31, 2008 at 5:35 pm #

    At a previous company, we called the after-hours company events: “enforced fun”. Although it was your own time, you were expected to participate in events rarely took into account the after-hours interests of many of the employees. So you had to grin and bear it for several hours to be a “team player”.
    Commanding executives to blog has much the same problems. The person has to want to blog, as much as have something to write. Although it is a noble goal to get executives to better communicate with staff, if it is perceived as the equivalent of “enforced fun” it won’t achieve that goal.

  5. Holly August 2, 2008 at 1:20 am #

    My favorite story about executive “blogging gone bad” (if you’ll allow me to be liberal with the term “blog” for moment) is the now infamous case of the Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, posting comments about his company on Yahoo stock forums under a pseudonym. I guess you could say he was his own ghost writer?

    From my perspective, whether the blog is ghost-written or not is a secondary issue to who on earth is reading all of these blogs and, hopefully, taking appropriate action as a result. Of the hundred or so newsletters I receive in my inbox each month (internal and otherwise) I probably take the time to read four of them on a regular basis. Often, the newsletters I read don’t contain actionable information and so, while somewhat informative, are not an effective vehicle for influencing my behavior.

    Why would 100 blogs from 100 executives be any different? If anything, I suspect a blog per executive would result in even more information overload and inaction in the staff they are trying to influence.

    Like the other commenters, I agree that unless there is a specific purpose and agenda for the blog and the executive is really commited to managing it , forget it.

    I would prefer that my executives spent face time with me and the team to communicate priorities and initiatives and to give us the opportunity to resolve issues in real-time. In my experience, most executives don’t have as much time as they need for effective communications with their organization, so adding a weekly blog post to their To Do list would reduce their effectivity. As your blog header states, “Manage by Walking Around”.

    Maybe when the facebook generation is running things, I’ll have a different view, but I’m willing to wait.

  6. Jonathan August 1, 2008 at 8:20 pm #

    Robert, this reminds me of the old joke: the beatings will continue until the morale improves

  7. Jeff W. February 5, 2009 at 5:58 pm #

    Maybe blogs nowadays are like web sites in the mid-90s…that is, every company believes they need one, but most aren’t sure how they should use it, and don’t think through the commitment (design, resources, usability, functionality, etc.) and what it will take…recall the day when a (reasonably) smooth checkout function was considered differentiating?…is simply a genuine blog (i.e. no ghost writer) good enough for now? Let’s hope not…


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