Gallicano, Tiffany D., Brett, Kevin, & Hopp, Toby (2013). Is ghost blogging like speechwriting? A survey of practitioners about the ethics of ghost blogging. Public Relations Journal, 7(3), 1-41.
Although online practices such as astroturfing have been established as unethical, considerable debate exists in the public relations community about whether organizational ghost blogging is ethical. This study explored public relations professionals’ views of ghost blogging acceptability to discover whether the public relations industry has crystallized behind a set of disclosure and transparency standards and whether there are distinctions in positions on this issue based on work setting or demographic characteristics.
This study also explores reasons to support undisclosed organizational ghost blogging and reasons to reject it, so professionals can make an informed decision until more research can be conducted to determine whether audience deception is occurring and to determine whether radical transparency provides a strategic advantage with regard to ghost blogging disclosure.
An online survey was conducted with a random sample of PRSA members (excluding members identifying as educators or students) from Sept. 20 to Oct. 1, 2011 with a total of 291 respondents.
1) Based on the support of the large majority of participants, there seems to be a general industry consensus in favor of undisclosed organizational ghost blogging, provided that the content comes from the executive and the executive provides content approval, although a substantial minority disagrees with this practice.
2) Slightly more than half of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that ghostwritten comments on the stated author’s blog are acceptable (provided that the content comes from the stated author and the stated author gives final approval), compared with approximately one-third who disagreed or strongly disagreed with this practice.
3) Slightly more than half of the respondents who had blogs (53.7%, n=65) indicated that their blogs were not written by the stated authors. Most of these blogs received content approval from their stated authors. Due to the low number of respondents with blogs, these findings are reported with caution.
4) Professionals’ opinions about this issue did not vary across simple demographic categories; however, people who engage in ghost blogging or who work for an organization that does are much more likely to find the practice to be acceptable, and people who think the practice is common are more likely to find it acceptable.
Implications for Practice
Despite the general consensus in favor of undisclosed ghost blogging (provided that the content comes from the stated author and the stated author provides content approval), the question of whether the practice is ethical hinges upon whether readers find the practice to be acceptable and whether they expect an executive organizational blog to be ghostwritten. If they do expect this practice, no deception is occurring. Until more research can be conducted, professionals can weigh the arguments for and against undisclosed ghost blogging that can be found in this study.
One argument in favor of undisclosed ghost blogging was that it could seem similar to the practice of ghostwriting speeches; however, this comparison breaks down if content approval does not happen with each blog post. With speeches, an executive has reviewed the content by virtue of at least delivering it. The same control is not in place for ghost blogging, so it is up to professionals to ensure that content approval always takes place.
The full article is available for free at http://www.prsa.org/intelligence/prjournal/documents/2013_gallicano.pdf