Do You Trust Your Brand to Ghosts?


It really has been a busy few weeks of travel for the girls of Outspoken Media. To be honest, I’m still going through my liveblogging notes from PubCon Austin and SES New York in hopes of digesting the information overload. And with so many different sessions, so many different speakers and so many different ways of accomplishing the same goal, it’s always interesting to pick out the common themes and break them out for discussion.

One of the questions I kept hearing during both shows was, “So with all this social media stuff…can’t we just hire someone to do it for us? We have ‘real’ work to do.”

Poor social media. It just can’t get no respect.

What caught me was that they weren’t asking whether or not they could hire an SEO company to help them with their social media services. [cough] They were asking if they could hire ghosts to blog for them. To tweet for them. To basically be them online. The thing is, you can. Sort of. I guess.

[emo shoe kick]

In some respects, blogs and tweets are just content. And there’s nothing wrong with hiring someone to produce content for you or to help you push it out. Without that glorious fact, I wouldn’t have a job. However, realize that if you outsource your blogs, your tweets, and your online persona to generic ghostwriters, that you’re doing yourself quite an injustice. You’re missing out on what these types of content can really provide.

At SES New York, some of us learned that Guy Kawasaki pays two people to help him manage his Twitter account and tweet for him. That works for Guy because people have already fallen for the brand. Guy Kawasaki is like DunkinDonuts (only less personable). People follow him because they just want the association. The other reason Guy can outsource his Twitter account is because he doesn’t use Twitter as an engagement tool. To him, Twitter is nothing more than a way to push content.

You are not Guy Kawasaki. You can’t pull that off. And yes, there are different rules based on your order in life. There have been since kindergarten. No sense crying over that now. Hiring someone to ghostblog or ghosttweet for you may get you the content, but you’re passing up on all the other benefits that your lack of a silver spoon doesn’t automatically provide.

What can’t you get with ghostbloggers and ghosttweeters?

  • Genuine engagement
  • Real interaction
  • A single, trusted voice
  • Community
  • Growth
  • Credit for listening
  • Loyalty
  • The ability to capture the heart of your company

Ultimately, you can’t make people fall head over heels in love with you and your brand.

You need to blog and tweet as you in order to get that real conversation going and to build your own awareness. You can’t do that with ghostbloggers or ghosttweeters. They’re cold. They have no connection to your company. They’re not invested in starting that conversation. You may be able to have some luck if you pay one individual to do it all for you and make them part of your team, but you’d actually have to make them part of your team and most ghostbloggers aren’t in it for that. They’re only interested in the X amount of dollars you’re going to give them for 400 words of content. They couldn’t care less about you. They have no interest in being your voice or your heart. And that doesn’t work in social media.

If all you’re looking for is hole-filling content or cold articles, then ghostbloggers and ghosttweeters may work for you. But if you’re looking for more than that, if you’re looking to have a <em>real</em> blog and not just an article section, then I wouldn’t trust that to ghostbloggers. Ghost’s don’t have voices. Or hearts. They’re cold. Actually, they’re dead.

Your Comments

  • Todd Mintz

    So nobody’s going to tweet for you when you go on vacation? Drats :.)

  • Lisa Barone


    What is this “vacation” thing you speak of? ;)

    But no, I would never anyone to tweet from the @lisabarone account. I went on a week-long cruise last August and my Twitter account went silent. So much so that people wondered if something horrible had happened to me. :)

  • graywolf

    Of course your ghosts can have souls, and can be funny, entertaining and interesting. You just can’t offer them McDonalds wages and expect Peter Luger type of results.

    People have been using nome de plume’s for hundreds and thousands of years, maybe even few people you’ve heard of like Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) or Steven King (aka Richard Bachman) or C.S. Lewis (aka Clive Hamilton).

    Last time I checked the natural history museum whale wasn’t a person yet 10,000 people follow it on twitter

    Pretty sure the Mars Phoenix space craft doesnt have the AI to twitter but 40,000+ people found it interesting

    Ghost writing can and does work you just have to find the right virtual actor to play the part

  • Lisa Barone

    Michael: I feel like we’re talking about completely different things. I don’t consider nom de plumes the same issue. That would be like saying QualityGal was a ghostwriter. She’s not. She was a dedicated writer for her company, she just didn’t use her own name. Totally different issue. She was still a single, united voice. You just didn’t know her name before.

    As for the The Natural Museum and Mars Phoenix examples, again I don’t think you can call that ghostwriting. Those are people employed by the company/brand to speak for their brands. They’re not ghostwriters, they’re spokespeople. The same as Starbucks (or Guy) has on Twitter. People follow solely because they want to be associated with it. That’s very different then a company going out a hiring 10 writers to write 10 blog posts to fill their blog. That’s where you’re missing out. Or at least, it is to me.

  • netmeg

    Unfortunately, there are plenty of organizations where there’s not one single person who can write.

  • graywolf

    I look/talk with lots of companies and to be blunt about it, none of them could write worth a damn, and to me a lifeless soulless company blog that is written by an employee is a waste.

    What I suggest is find one or two people who work as subcontractors who can blog for the company, about whatever that companies vertical is. Run a garden nursery get an author who is really into plants. Run an auto detailing shop get somebody who loves to write about cars.

    if you’re going to produce a blog, you need to bring something exceptional to the table, something that makes you distinctive in the space. If you have to find someone outside of the company to do that once a week for you, then so be it.

    I agree that having someone write for your CEO under his name is bad mojo, but someone doesn’t have to be an employee to be a good blogger.

    Wait how did I get on the side defending good writing isn’t that your schitck ;-)

  • MikeTek

    I don’t see any big problem in hiring a ghostwriter (or a ghosttweeter), but it depends entirely on how you use them.

    Most of Guy’s tweets are just mentions of interesting articles, blog posts or news. There isn’t much “personality” in that. That’s part of the reason I don’t follow him – no personality.

    But I’m willing to accept that at the end of the day results are all that matters. If Guy’s twitter methods are bringing him traffic and earning him money I don’t see the downside. It just might not fit with my tastes. That’s fair – I don’t have to read it if I don’t want to.

    The best writers have egos – there is no getting around that. So IMHO if you want the best writers helping your brand you’re far better off giving them what they want – recognition for their efforts and talent.

  • Lisa Barone

    Michael: I think we agree and our just expressing ourselves differently. I’m telling with you that if you can’t write or don’t have the time, *hire* people who can. Whether that’s on a contract basis or not, you want to bring one or two people in who can represent you. But once that person is hired to write on a regular basis to promote your company, that’s a different story.

    What you do want to do is hire people who have no connection with your company or your brand to write content and then try to mask them as blog entries, which is what I’ve been seeing *a lot* of lately for some reason. A company is told to start a blog so they throw up something in WordPress and then ask their SEO company to find people to write for the blog. You ended up getting a bunch of mismatched ghostwriters who can’t deliver anything but mediocre content that does nothing but take up space. I don’t know where businesses or Internet marketing companies got the idea that that method worked, but it doesn’t.

  • Lisa Barone

    MikeTek: My girl filter says you just said that I have a big ego. And I’m fat. thx. ;)

  • graywolf

    >What you do want to do is hire people who have no connection with your company or your brand to write content and then try to mask them as blog entries, which is what I’ve been seeing *a lot* of lately for some reason.

    it’s all those “9 ways a blog is like sliced peaches in heavy syrup” posts that were circulating on sphinn recently, the people who didn’t know better bought into the i need to have blog, without knowing how or why, and ghost writing with filler posts gets you from A to B the fastest and the cheapest.

  • DavidW

    A hybrid strategy will work well for many companies / people. Not every tweet or post needs to exude your brand or persona.

    Outsource 50% and do 50% yourself. It’s easy enough to hire someone to dig up and tweet or post informational items and as long as that information is solid it will have real value which people will appreciate even if you didn’t take the time to write it or tweet it. Can you use Kawasaki’s strategies 50% of the time and be better off for it? Sure you can.

  • Lisa Barone

    Michael: It’s the I Need A Blog, Now What phenomenon. What’s worse is the SEO companies charging for these “services”. Giving clients 15 bullshit blog entries written by half-literate people have no knowledge on the topic.

    Please stop agreeing with me.

  • sherisaid

    Lisa, I know what you’re saying. Blogs are personality-fests. there’s nothing wrong with a company hiring writers to represent them in the social medium, but they should establish an identity and make it consistent. Hiring random writers to make anonymous contributions can’t possibly create the kind of personal relationship that defines a blog.

  • Jon DiPietro

    I agree with your main premise but disagree re: Guy Kawasaki. First, you say that Guy doesn’t engage which is completely inaccurate. I’ve received several DM’s from him on various minutia and if you check his stream you can routinely see him conversing with Tweeps. Second, you say that he only uses Twitter to “push content,” but content is his brand. I follow him for that content and don’t care that he gets it from ghost Tweeters.

    Having said that, I agree 100% with you that not everyone can get away with it. In fact, probably very few could – especially as open as he is about it.

  • Cocles

    If you’re going to write a post of this, don’t use of a foundation of assumptions and wide generalizations.

    Some ghost writers are very good at their jobs… and some of us are Guy Kawasaki.

  • Ben Curnett

    I agree with the premise, but disagree with some of the particulars. A good ghostwriter should be able to capture the heart of your company, almost by definition. That doesn’t mean that they can capture the familiarity of the office. But they should be capturing what makes the company vital and writing about it in a compelling way.

    It comes down to good vs. bad writing, and participation. Some blogs need a single voice, but not all, of course. And I’ve definitely edited some writing where the work ends up being more mine than the author’s. Is that ghostwriting? I don’t think so, necessarily. I like the idea of writing what’s best for the business- if I’m that guy, that’s good for the company, for the readers (I hope), and for me.

    The quality of that dynamic probably comes down to what different folks feel is a real blog.

  • SEOAly

    If you can’t actually engage with people personally – which would almost always be the preference – at least try to identify someone in house that has good customer service or sales skill, along with a little bit of passion for the company or its products. It certainly helps if they’ve been with the company a while. They’re likely to have a better understanding of the business side of things, as well as some enthusiasm for becoming involved in the online community they’re trying to connect with.

  • SEOAly

    By the way, if the someone with the customer service or sales skill doesn’t come with writing skills, consider getting a college English or journalism major and have them work together. It’s not the best option, clearly…but for some small business owners whose budgets seem to shrink every day, it can be a “better than nothing” solution.

  • Miranda Rights

    The secret to getting a good ghost is to find someone who closely approximates you and wants to be you. (Like that movie in the 80’s with Jamie Lee Curtis) Single White Female. Yes. You need a single white blogger / single white tweeter.

  • Lisa Barone

    Jon DiPietro: I’m not sure whether or not content is Guy’s brand, but it’s an interesting argument. I don’t really care how he uses Twitter, to be honest, as long as he’s respectful about the people who choose to follow him (I’m not one of them). But that’s my issue. I like to respect people.

    Miranda: That is perhaps one of the creepiest things I’ve heard, but probably very, very accurate. :)

  • KJ Rodgers

    This is a great article and it proves the two twitter types, those who engage socially and those who just say look at me. The “look at me’s” with out credibility just looks like the “getcashforfollowing” guys.

  • Adam

    The crux of what you wrote Lisa and what Michael is saying in the comments is the same. Great content is king. Ideally, you want someone in-house to write that great content but the important thing to focus on is making sure the content is great. If you have to bring in outsiders to write that content, so be it.

    Hiring a random ghostwriter to blog/tweet for you likely won’t work. But if you take the time to find someone who is passionate about your niche and can be a chameleon and integrate themselves into your brand, what’s the harm in it?

    Tons of companies outsource their advertising campaigns to ad agencies, do they lose their soul too? I’d argue they don’t and most of the successful ad campaigns that people remember and talk about are created by outside ad firms who understand that company’s brand and how to portray it publicly.

  • Purposive

    I don’t think there’s harm in it per se but someone still has to monitor what’s being said. Yes, it’s easier to edit than to write from scratch but it still takes time.

    One crucial factor with hiring ghostbloggers is that they must be able to understand a company’s industry well enough to generate original ideas and content. Ad agencies may do a good job (and surprisingly so since there’s often a lot of staff turnover…) but that’s I would think that it’s more likely the case for brand name and larger companies. Smaller businesses may outsource this type of work to overseas companies and I’ve seen them produce disastrous results.

  • NatHistoryWhale

    Ummm… one flaw in your earlier argument Lisa. I don’t work for the museum.

  • nivu

    I think you’re being a bit of a hypocrite here. Outspoken Media has a Twitter account which is following more than 4000 people. You can’t have genuine conversations with all of them.

    The problem with branding and marketeers is that they only seem to be talking. They don’t seem to be listening. But that’s a whole other story I guess.

  • Rae Hoffman

    @nivu I’m actually going to correct you on calling Lisa a hypocrite here, because you’re dead wrong. I am who runs the Outspoken Media Twitter account and my usage of it has been an internal source of difference of opinion since the day it was erected. I personally have 4500+ followers and follow less than 100. And I get a lot of flack for it.

    When we erected the @outspokenmedia account, I decided to take a different approach and see “what I was missing”. So I sought out people with like interests and followed them. The goal was to see the difference. To experiment. And now that I have, I’ve been pruning the account a bit because I’ve learned what I needed to learn now and want to get it to a comfortable level that works for us. Since we have three people twittering on the account (though using the strategy of one currently), we also can follow a bit more than individuals.

    So, while I appreciate you taking the time to comment, you’re wrong on Lisa being a hypocrite. The fact is that we’re a company of three and sometimes we don’t always have the same exact line of thinking or (as in this case) we experiment. However, thanks for getting me a glare from Lisa I can feel from a few hundred miles away from her as she knew someone was eventually going to say something about our Twittering, that *I* have been primarily in control of. ;-)