Ghost Blogging in Public Relations—Ethical?

The initial idea of corporate blogging is actually quite innovative. Major companies and corporations that, up until now, have been considered cold, iron giants are now able to come back down to Earth and meet with its citizens. Blogging essentially offers readers a stress-free environment in which to converse with influential leaders that would have otherwise been impossible. In his blog post on corporate blogging entitled “Are You Talking to Me? Taking the BS Out of Business Blogging,” Brian Solis says, “True corporate blogging represents a tremendous opportunity for B2B and B2C  looking for a voice; searching for a way to communicate with customers; desiring an untraditional platform for conversations; unmasking predispositions and helping to mold perceptions.”

Given what Solis said, I’ll go back to my original point; corporate blogging was not built on pure evil and unethical values, but transparency. In fact, I am sure that there are exceptions. Although, that said, the majority of big name companies in the United States partake in unethical corporate communication: ghost blogging.

Ghost blogging is a phenomenon that occurs when the person supposedly writing the blog (e.g the president, vice-president, company relations manager, etc.) begins to feel the stress of juggling the daily-upkeep of a blog (their last priority) and maintaining business as usual (their first priority). In Dave Fleet’s post, “Why Ghost Blogging is Wrong,” he offers some reasons as to why someone would consider hiring a ghost blogger: “1.) She “hates” writing, so outsources that which she hates; 2.) As her business grows, she needs to free-up time for other tasks; 3.) Writing blog posts isn’t a part of the relationship-building process – that comes from replying to the comments.”

human hands typing on the laptop

Almost all companies are beginning to encounter the problem of ghost blogging—whether to utilize it and whether they consider it to be ethical. The mistake that many of the “bloggers” make, is that they assume they will not be caught if they partake in ghost blogging. Wrong. With technology, and our relentless usage of social media, it is only a matter of time before something unethical surfaces and goes viral. Not only will this look bad for the blogger, but it will look bad for the company as well. Ghost blogging can leave a company flickering in an unethical light, and be detrimental for future business.

In my opinion, its best to avoid sneaking around to your audiences—and people take blogging really seriously. Readers become emotionally invested in these blogs and they truly believe that the president of a major company in behind the computer screen, typing and joking and connecting with them. Breaking that trust can lead to damaged relationships with consumers, which in turn, can ruin relationships from potential consumers of the company.

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Have you logged out? Are you sure?

Disengaging can be difficult in any career field. When they go home, doctors need to escape the medical traumas they’ve seen. Actors, after filming, must remember they are no longer playing a character. Writers need to learn to put the pen down. We, public relations professionals who utilize social media on a daily basis, must remember that we are wirelessly plugged into social networks all day, every day. And when it comes to separating yourself from your work, you need to double—no, triple—check that you are logged out.

hand on computer mouse

During the majority of your workday, you are representing your employer in every digital aspect. You are on their computer, texting on the (company) cell phone, and tweeting from the Twitter account. You are in a constant flux of managing various platforms—whether that is through social media, or person-to-person communication. It is your responsibility as the employee to maintain the utmost professional and politically neutral presence for the company; you control the company’s public image. Which brings me back to my topic. Have you logged out?

Have you logged out of your employers Twitter or Facebook page before you start ranting about some opinionated, inappropriate nonsense? You could potentially ruin your career, and along with it, ruin your company’s image. On her blog, Pros in Training, Kelli Matthews (@kmatthews) wrote an excellent post on this exact topic. In her post, Bad Judgment Creates Twitter Crises, Kelli provided in-depth examples of what NOT to do as a employee in charge of a corporate social networking account.

Kelli spoke of two cases in particular that had come from major brand-name companies: Kitchen Aid and Stub Hub. Both involved a “mistaken” tweet whilst remaining logged into the company account. The Kitchen Aid mishap contained ill-mannered political opinion, and the Stub Hub tweet contained simple, inappropriate language. Both misbegotten tweets were downright disrespectful and lacked maturity. Kelli proceeded to say, “If you’re a company that’s hired someone who would tweet EITHER of these tweets (even on a personal account), you’ve made a bad hiring decision.”

I completely agree. If you can’t handle yourself if a publicized social media setting, whether on your personal or corporate account, then you definitely should avoid the field of public relations.

This just goes to show that lack of personal judgment will not get you far, especially in the workplace. Be careful when working in a social media and digital networking environment. It is simple to avoid these types of mistakes, but they do happen. A good place to start is by assessing your own communications, and what you portray to your own personal publics. It’s nearly impossible to remain private on the Internet once you’ve posted something; if you believe that what you have to say will offend a number of people, don’t post it. You never know who will see it: maybe your supervisor!