As I predicted in my previous post on ghost writing, the debate continues, perhaps a little more heatedly now.
Last week, the Martindale-Hubble Community held a webinar, “Ethical Pitfalls of Social Media,” on which I was a panelist. Oddly enough, I did not talk about ghost writing; I talked about “open” v “closed” networks. Suffice to say, I was quite surprised to engage in such spirited debate on the matter.
The topic of ghost writing, well, “ghost blogging,” fell to Adrian Dayton. You remember him, I’m sure. I edited his book, Social Media for Lawyers: Twitter Edition and we exchange tweets. Often.
Since the webinar, it has occurred to me that there is a great deal of confusion stemming from terminology. Adrian talks about “ghost blogging,” when he really means “ghost writing.” Yes, there is a difference.
Blogging, as you know, is a series of steps. There is the writing, or drafting, of a post, then entering the content into whatever you use as your blogging platform, entering links to content, website, people, etc. Then there is the actually publishing, or posting, and the policing and responding to comments, or “engaging.” If you think about it, blogging is really quite a bit of work. We haven’t even gotten to the publicizing of new posts yet.
So blogging is many things, and “ghost blogging” means that someone else is doing all of that. Writing the posts, entering them, publishing or “posting” them, policing and responding to comments…someone other than you the lawyer, law firm, corporation, etc. That would certainly raise a myriad of ethical questions, to say the least. Someone, essentially, is impersonating you.
Ghost writing, however, is one aspect: writing. Writing of blog posts. OK. Research and writing blog posts. Just that aspect, though, not the rest. And this is where I have difficultly because I do not believe anyone hiring people to write so completely removes themselves from the whole blogging process. I have difficulty believing that people who are so hesitant to hand over an email address will gladly give a username, password and complete administrative rights to their blog to a person they don’t know. I have difficulty believing lawyers, of all people, set absolutely no boundaries for employees, full time or contract.
Yes, that’s right, employees. If you’ve been hired to perform a task, you are an employee. The difference, for tax purposes, is in your status, but you are still an employee, subject to the same code of conduct as all of the other employees.
As I’ve said, I’ve been a ghost writer most of my career. At no point has someone hired me, given me full access and completely removed themselves from the process. They want to read the content, they want to check the links, some even provide specific links to be included. They give me topics, and I run new ideas by them before I start researching or writing anything. They make edits, they post to the blog, they manage the comments. Not me.
If I do poorly, if I stray, they say so just like they tell any of their other employees. If I do well, if they like a particular post or series, they say so just like they tell any of their other employees.
And no, I’m not writing marketing copy. I’m not “selling” a law firm’s legal skills. I’m presenting information. I’m helping educate the public, other lawyers and even myself, on a particular topic or area of law. I am not giving legal advice. I am not promoting the skills or knowledge of the lawyer of law firm. They can write their own posts in that vein, if they so choose. They have a much better command of court cases in their field than I do, a much deeper understanding of how cases in their field work. They can give nitty gritty advice.
I realize that, on the face things, it seems hard to tell the difference. I would say you must not read the same blog that much. You can tell differences in writing, even subject matter. The more general the post, like a review or summary of a new law, a ghost writer like myself could have written it. A post about a specific ruling, or a specific case that has implications for an area of law, a lawyer more than likely wrote it. That requires having a thorough understanding of past case law, past cases and how the new ruling applies. You can’t present that in any kind of authentic manner unless you have tried such cases. It is too easy to make a mistake otherwise, and ruin your reputation as a ghost writer as well as the reputation of the firm. That is not good for any party.
Education is key. It is important that the ghost writer understand his or her job description and boundaries, and that there be a process in place. Ghost writing is the act of writing, not posting/publishing and monitoring and responding to comments.
I also realize that not everyone sees it that way. This being America, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I only ask that you not paint all ghost writers with the same brush, just as you’d ask people not to paint all lawyers with the same brush.
And check out this blog post from Simple Justice on ghost blogging. Be sure to read the comments, too. Quite interesting, and I am certain this debate will continue in any number of other places.