Ghost Blogging

The Basics of Blogging
Blogs encourage dialogue amongst various publics, which serve to get people engaged in conversations on a limitless list of topics [1]. In the most basic sense, blogs are “an easy-to-use publishing platform which arranges entries in reverse chronological order.”[2] They allow their authors to develop a public forum in which they can do anything from share recipes with family, to express their thoughts on the melting of the polar ice caps. The topics of blogs are as varied as the people who create them, with there being over 100 million personal blogs appearing on the internet by 2007[3]. In public relations the four types of blogs that are the most common include: personal blogs, topic/industry blogs, publication based blogs and corporate blogs[4]. All of these (and more!) exist within the range of the blogosphere, the “greater virtual space in which millions of blogs exist”[5]

What is Ghost Blogging
According to Blogossary, a ghost blog is a blog written and managed by an anonymous author(s). A ghost blog can also be a blog written by a person or company on behalf of another company or person[6].

Other definitions of ghost blog include:

Anonyblog/ Anonoblog: a blog by an unidentified author, or one who uses a pseudonym [7]

Fake Blog: a blog that appears to be written by a credible source, but is in fact run by a company or by political organizations to market particular products or points of view] (see also Astroturfing).

The current ghost blogging discussion may signify the evolution and entry of blogging into the realm of mainstream communication media. But where that evolution will lead is difficult to predict. Blogging began as a grassroots activity: it essentially placed the power of media production into the hands of anyone with the tools and inclination to use them[8].The lure of blogging is its real time, ‘face-to-face’ discussions between individuals about partisan issues.

General Blogging Ethics

The internet has created an era where the consumer is now the producer. Since any audience member is now a broadcaster, there needs to be a certain amount of trust between the blogger and his/her publics in order to increase credibility[9]. That trust is created through specific practices that include:
  • the presentation of credible links and referral to other sites and points of view
  • transparency of identity and bias
  • making corrections early and often
  • engaging in conversations with readers and other bloggers
  • persistence in following particular issues.[10]

According to opponents of ghost blogging these practices constitute bloggers’ ethics[11]. Blogs that do not follow these practices are therefore unethical, and threaten the integrity of the medium.

Is Ghost Blogging Ethical?
There are two strongly conflicting viewpoints on ghost blogging within the field of public relations: one camp arguing that it is unethical, with another stating they see no issue with the practice.

Although some professional organizationsmake brief mention of their policies on ghosting in their code of ethics, there are not many areas where rules on the topic are set in stone[12].

Arguments in Support of Ghost Blogging
Those that are in favour of ghost blogging are adamant that the practice can be beneficial to both the company as well as the public as long as the writer and the corporation are sharing the same viewpoints and values[13]. Supporters believe that it is important that all posts written by ghost bloggers have been created with the help of the organization and its marketing team in order to ensure that any current news is presented in a manner that is consistent with the organizational outlook[14]. However, ghost bloggers also have to be aware of consumer perceptions of their clients, as the public will have a hard time believing anything that seems too biased[15]

Another argument in favour of ghost blogging mentions the fact that public relations practitioners have always wrote speeches and news reports for others, so there should not be much difference between those practices and corporate ghost blogging[16]. Ghost bloggers have the potential to revitalize a dull corporate image by using their expertise to infuse new life into the organization’s message[17]. Ghost bloggers are also often better suited to construct corporate messages since they are trained in communicating effectively, whereas others who have less experience with writing may not be able to express themselves in such a clear, concise manner[18].

Arguments Against Ghost Blogging
One of the main arguments against ghost blogging is the lack of transparency it provides for its audiences[19]. Blogs are meant to add a human touch to an organization, so they should be constructed by someone who is situated within the corporation[20]. There can be success if it is made known that the corporate blogger is ghosting, however it has been argued that there will be a weaker connection between the organization and audience since the message does not come from directly within the company[21].

Relating to the theme of transparency, a second argument against ghost blogging relates to the idea that social media is centered on creating connections between the writers and their audiences, a practice that does not generally account for any third party mediation[22]. When people find out that the communication has not been genuine, the credibility of the corporation as a whole will be damaged[23].

The Evolution of Ghost Blogging … Ghost – Tweeting
Social media outlets allow people the opportunity to connect with others around the world in ways never before imagined. One of the most exploited connections occurs between celebrities and their fans as the populations hunger for knowledge grows[24]. The advancement of social media has lead to a new branch of ghosting: the world of ghost tweeting. It has been revealed in various articles[25] that numerous public figures, including American President Barack Obama, use a ghost to post on their behalf on the popular social networking site Twitter. The same issues that exist within blogging (transparency and trust), seem to be the biggest issues in this area of social media as well. As the Twitter phenomenon continues to grow it will be easier to examine whether or not Twitterers cease to follow those in the public eye who are not tweeting as themselves.



[1] Smudde, P. M (2005). Blogging, ethics, and public relations: A proactive and dialogic approach. Public Relations Quarterly 50(3), 34 - 38
[2] Goetsch, Sallie (2006, Feb. 9) The ghost blogging controversy. Retrieved November 14, 2009 from http://www.author-izer.com/2006/02/ghost-blogging-controversy/#
[3] Wortham, J. (2007, Dec. 17). After 10 years of blogs, the future’s brighter than ever. Wired Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/entertainment/theweb/news/2007/12/blog_anniversary
[4] Smudde, 2005
[5] Kuhn, Martin (2007). Interactivity and prioritizing the human: A code of blogging ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics 22(1) p. 18 - 36
[6] Ghost Blog (2005) in Bloggossary.com Retrieved from http://www.blogossary.com/define/ghost-blog/
[7] Anonblog (2005) in Bloggossary.com Retrieved from http://www.blogossary.com/define/anonoblog/
[8] Rosen, J. (2008, Sept.18) If bloggers had no ethics blogging would have failed, but it didn’t. So let’s get a clue. Retrieved November 13, 2009 from http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2008/09/18/because_we_have.html#more
[9] Rosen, 2008
[10] Rosen, 2008
[11] Rosen, 2008
[12] Falls, J. (2009, Aug. 21). The ethics, or lack thereof, of ghost blogging. Retrieved November 13, 2009 from http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/2009/08/21/the-ethics-of-ghost-blogging/
[13] Goetsch, 2006
[14] Warren, Steve (2006, Jan. 5) Who do you call? Ghost Bloggers. Retrieved November 14, 2009 from http:
itmanagement.earthweb.com/columns/article.php/3575446
[15] Harte, B (2009, Feb. 23) Social media ghostwriting: The great marketing/pr debate. Retrieved November 13, 2009 from http://www.theharteofmarketing.com/2009/02/social-media-ghostwriting-the-great-marketingpr-debate.html
[16] Mullen, D. (2008, Dec. 3). Save the ghosts for Halloween. Retrieved November 13, 2009 from http://www.david mullen.com/2008/12/03/ghost-blogging/
[17] Warren, 2006
[18] Goetsch, 2006
[19] Goetsch, 2006
[20] Goetsch, 2006
[21] Mullen, 2008
[22] Mullen, 2008
[23] Mullen, 2008
[24] Cohen, N. (2009, March 26) When stars twitter, a ghost may be lurking.
The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/technology/internet/27twitter.html
[25] Cohen, 2009