Monday, February 1, 2010

The Social Ghost

In this month's issue of Entrepreneur, Michael Janofsky writes an interesting piece on business ghost bloggers and tweeters. "The Ghost Speaks" is a worthwhile look at the practice of ghosting at the social media level. Check out the piece--it's well-written and informative. However, as someone in the trenches of the ghosting practice, I want to weigh in on a few points covered in the piece. (As a matter of disclosure, I also write regularly for Entrepeneur under my own by-line.)

1) I have never--and probably will never--considered,, or other such freelance marketplaces viable sources of work. Most are based on a model of pitting writers against each other, each trying to score the gig through the lowest bid. I don't work that way--and neither do the best ghosts I know. In ghosting, as in most areas of life, you get what you pay for. And the people who can truly help you use these media to make a difference are too busy and too in-demand to be looking for the crumbs typically offered on these sites. If you want a good ghost, look for referrals from colleagues, professional associations like the American Society of Journalists and Authors (I'm a member.) or Author's Guild. I also found the rates quoted to be on the low side. Those who are in demand can command higher rates because they are good at what they do.

2) You need someone who understands what you do. If you're interested in being positioned as a thought leader, you need a writer who understands your sector, whether it's medicine, business, parenting, or any other topic. Without adequate background, your ghost will not help challenge your thoughts to ensure they are truly fresh and informative, as well as congruent with your messaging and brand. In addition, a ghost who doesn't know enough about your business or sector to spot typos or inaccuracies could cause an embarrassing gaffe heard 'round the social networking world.

3) You also need someone who understands social media and marketing. Janofsky rightly points out that it's critical your ghost be familiar with the latest Federal Trade Commission guidelines governing pay-for-play blogging, tweeting, and other forms of promotion and endorsement. With penalties of up to $11K per violation, running afoul of these regs could cost you big-time. Plus, your ghost needs to be more than just a wordsmith--he or she should have a solid understanding of the medium you intend to use and how it fits into the bigger picture of your business. Siloed marketing and communication efforts are rarely effective.

Janofsky did a fine job on this piece, and it's great to see ghosts getting more recognition in mainstream media.


  1. Gwen, if one more mainstream media journalist talks up eLance,, etc. as viable sources of freelance leads, you'll hear my scream all the way to NJ. It's obvious none of these journalists has a clue as to what a viable freelance writing business model looks like.
    Nice post.

  2. Thanks, Amy. I've seen that a few times. I think it's tempting for writers who want to jump into a pool of potential work without having to do the heavy lifting of marketing and selling. However, many also don't understand the true costs of running their businesses. When they take on these low-paying projects, they're losing money at every turn. They need to overbook themselves, and that has a negative impact on both the quality of the work and service to the client. It's simply not possible to sustain oneself and build a profitable, quality-driven business on $10 blog posts.