Ghost Blogging, Tweeting, Content Production – Ethical? Does It Matter? — Blended Search Results Track

Last panel of the day and it couldn’t have come soon enough. Guys, I’m totally out of liveblogging shape, no joke. But this session is completely worth it even before we start because I’ve finally met Kim Krause-Berg in person. My life is complete.

Our moderator is Beth Harte, MarketingProfs, and our speakers are Liana Evans, Serengeti Communications, and Andy Beal, Trackur (who Virginia interviewed last week). [Here’s the interview with Andy Beal! –Virginia]

Li Evans is up first and she looks fantastic, by the way.

Liana Evans presenting at SES Chicago 2009

What’s the big deal about ghostwriting a blog? It’s done with books all the time, right?

But the difference is that there’s not a personal connection there with the book. There’s no expectation that the reader is getting YOU. Blogs are different. Blogs are about building relationships and if the relationship that your community thinks they’re getting is different than the one you’re actually giving them, it can come back and bite you in the butt.

NYT had an article on ghost tweeting and celebrities. They brought up Guy Kawasaki who has many people who tweet for him on his account. To some degree, this was a hit to his reputation but now that he’s acknowledged that he has ghostwriters, it’s died down.

50 Cent doesn’t tweet at all — it’s his people. Did you ever really believe that Barack Obama tweeted?

On the other hand, there’s Shaq and Ashton who do their own tweeting. They make their own connections. They build their relationships.

What about Oprah? As far as we know it’s really Oprah, but she doesn’t tweet very often.

@WholeFoods and @DellOutlet are two good examples of corporate Twitter accounts that have real people behind them.

Resources vs. Transparency

What’s the impact if you do ghost tweet? Make it transparent, make a decision about the level of engagement that you want and how responsive you want to be.

Andy Beal is up next and he’s going to explain about how Star Wars can teach you about ghostblogging.

Slide by Andy Beal during presentation at SES Chicago 2009

There’s a time and a place for ghostblogging.

The Good Side

  • Takes work
  • Earns respect
  • You learn as you write
  • Clean conscience
  • May or may not get a lightsaber (hee)


  • You may need an occasional fill-in (like Amidala swapped in her handmaiden [fun fact: that’s Keira Knightly as her stand-in])
  • Keep the same style
  • No need to reveal fill-ins
  • Just don’t push your luck


Sometimes someone has to step in if:

  • The person is less than eloquent/too busy
  • You could disclose “C3PO on behalf of…”
  • You post occasionally yourself
  • There is a disclosure page
  • The buck stops here (it’s ultimately your responsibility if the ghostwriter screws up)

Supporting Role (when disclosure doesn’t matter)

  • Just give me links! No one cares which stormtrooper did the shooting
  • Disposable
  • Will only ever be a stormtrooper
  • Stay behind that mask (but use it as a testing ground for talent)
  • You might get shot
Andy Beal presenting at SES Chicago 2009

The Dark Side

  • The emperor is busy
  • Minimal Risk of being found out
  • Spread workload
  • You have a chance to redeem yourself. You can take it over at any point and start writing it yourself

The Reveal

  • You don’t know what “you” said
  • Ex-employee’s revenge
  • Risk your reputation — if there’s a lot of trust and relationship built into the account
  • Plan for when you’re outed

Sometimes it really doesn’t matter. You get discovered and no one really cares. No one thought Obama was tweeting anyway.


Beth builds a scenario about owning a company, building a blog, having all these superstars on the blog who are now well known… and then deciding to outsource the blog. How do you do that?

Andy: I would think that PR people are the best people for that. But I would transition the channels from being personalized to character based. Make it less about Sally the den mother into the character of the Den Mother. Lower the expectation that it’s a real person.

Li: You have to have a transition plan and you might even want to let your audience know that’s what’s going on. It sounds like you want to fool your audience and that’s not a good idea. Li doesn’t see how you can replace the people seamlessly.

Andy says that the bigger problem is that you’ve let one or two people become too powerful in the company, have too much voice. What happens when they leave?

Li brings up the trouble Microsoft had when Scoble left and how much trouble Google would have if Matt Cutts left. She always recommends that you spread it out among the company.

Andy points out that Google is trying to fix the Matt problem, bringing in more people to try to alleviate that star-focused organization.

Question from the audience: Her company has the opposite problem, they post through a mascot at the moment. How do they transition to real people?

Li suggests just starting a new account and start to build up the people while maintaining the mascot. In terms of interacting with the mascot, how do people interact already? If they’re willing to go along with it and be silly, go with it.

Andy: Do you have a valid business reason for moving away from the mascot? [Answer: it was a quick fix]

Beth: Do you get response? [Answer: no]

[There’s some more business about what they should do. Pretty much everyone thinks they should just start blogging and leave the PR company out of it.]

Li emphasizes that it’s all about expectation. She follows CNN for the information. She follows specific people from CNN because they have interaction. Not matching expectation (like Guy or 50 Cent) can lose you followers.

Beth points out that Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin are both very transparent about the fact that they’re marketers but people still bust on them for being non-communicative.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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2 Replies to “Ghost Blogging, Tweeting, Content Production – Ethical? Does It Matter? — Blended Search Results Track”

Thank you Susan for taking such great notes!

Sometimes, the connection doesn’t need to be at the level of a ‘real person’ but at the level of ‘ideas’. Ghost blogs are not unethical if they contain genuine, quality content.


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