Sin & Redemption in Ghost Blogging

There are different ways to approach the art of drawing. One way is to learn various formulas: the body is seven and a half head heights; there is the width of an eye between the eyes; and a perfect triangle can be formed by intersecting the nipples with the belly button. Another approach to drawing is based on drawing what you see, and responding not in an analytical way, but from the gut. The latter was my own approach when I taught drawing.

After time, I became fairly sensitized to my students and their mark-making.  If someone was anxious to “get it right”, you could see it – there was a palpable anxiety and often even frustration. It was not an uncommon sight to see someone with their face all scrunched up, scrutinizing a perfectly lovely unclad person sitting in the middle of the room.

After hundreds of hours of drawing, after hundreds of wadded-up drawings tossed in the garbage and untold quantity of charcoal sticks worn down to nubs held between the fingertips, new artists will often have a wonderful “ah ha” moment.Instead of being worried about the correctness of their drawing, they will have responded to what they see. They will feel that curve of the model’s arm, the way it wraps around the elbow and takes a languorous journey up to the shoulder. It will feel so right and whether the proportions are perfect or not just won’t matter. To paraphrase Robert Musil, it doesn’t matter whether it is good or bad, as long as it has life!

Later, when I started a digital production agency (we artists often have to be clever in how we make a living!), I paid a visit to my local Small Business Administration office hoping to get some help in being entrepreneurial.  I received the age-old wisdom about creating a business plan, and in doing so, faced the first great question, “Why are you in business?”

I thought to myself,

“That’s a stupid question. Why, TO MAKE MONEY, of course.”

I was very lucky in those early days, in that I had made the acquaintance of a great organizational development coach.  He guided us through the process of developing values, vision, and mission statements, and then on to larger strategic plans.  I devoured business books and magazines from Harvard, Kellogg, and Wharton. Our little firm had countless meetings, working out a Capability Maturity Model, and we even dipped our toes into Six Sigma. And somewhere in the process, I had an epiphany:

If we pay our payroll, and pay our bills, NO ONE CARES IF WE MAKE MONEY!

One of those business books I read was The Balanced Scorecard by Robert Kaplan and David Norton.  In Balanced Scorecard, leaders are asked to measure their businesses on several aspects of the business, understanding that the financial part is a lagging indicator.  For instance, a business might be doing well financially but because of horrible customer service, be building up a tide of customer resentment.  They might be ringing the cash registers but not reinvesting into their equipment. All meaning, when a viable competitor comes along that has great customer service and new equipment, the incumbent is going to be announcing lay-offs.

Another favorite book was Good to Great. Although published in 2001, this is still tops on my list of recommendations.  The author, Jim Collins, examined hundreds of companies and pulled from that a short list of characteristics of companies that out-performed the market on a consistent basis. A key idea in Collin’s books was that of the Hedgehog Concept…that there are three overlapping circles: What makes you money? At what could you be the best in the world? and What are you most passionate about? So in other words, Collins isn’t saying we shouldn’t care about money, but that it is just one part of the mix.

Umair Haque has written an entire book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, devoted to the notion that businesses need to create new raison d’être. So much value created in business is created at the expense of communities and of society at large, and we all (or our children and grandchildren) will be paying the price.  Instead of treating life as a zero-sum game, we need to create businesses that really create value.

Is it a good idea to blog for them?

Last night, on a Twitter chat group called #blogChat, @motleyF1 (Antonio Palacios) , asked, “A client wants a blog, but they can’t do the blogging themselves. Is it a good idea to blog for them?” Quite a few people jumped on the question, responding to the effect that companies should do their own blogging. Heidi Cohen tweeted (I’m going to translate into non-twitter language), “Before ghost-blogging, companies should ask across the organization to get volunteers and support them.”

I agree that someone working within the confines of the company’s workspace on a daily basis can be the BEST people to blog, but often that just isn’t feasible.  And I’m not sure that a contractor is THAT different than someone on the payroll.  I’ve written before about the near-religious fervor that is taking place in contemporary social media – and the idea that it is somehow unethical, un-genuine, or otherwise not kosher for contractors to engage in social media on behalf of companies, seems to be an example of that.

But the question above, on #blogChat took on another twist:

Rebel Brown tweeted, “If you’re chasing money as a priority – your motivation and actions will be different than if serving customers.” (My emphasis) Now, I’m not sure WHY Rebel Brown tweeted that in response to the previous tweets, but I suspect she likes to stir things up,- in the tradition of true devil’s advocate.  She’s a REALLY smart person, who’s written the book Defy Gravity. Another social media heavy hitter and author, Chris Garret, added, “Best way to make money is helping other people achieve their goals.” (Echoing those great business books I mentioned above).

Nicholas Cardot responded to Rebel Brown, “I don’t think that’s true. You can truly care for people and truly care about providing for your family.I have a regular job. My boss loves my work but the only reason I go in is for the money. What’s wrong with that here?”

And Nicholas is correct. Most of us go to our jobs to make money to feed our families and gas tanks. We might be doing something else if we had a trust fund, right? We could go into a whole other blog post here, about how it would really be the ideal to pursue jobs that we would do even if we had that winning lottery ticket.  We start digital production companies not because we want to “help our clients engage their customers more fully” or {insert other mission statement here} – but probably because for some reason, we’re in the business and want to make money.

But humans are remarkable, and capable of real change. Each single one of us and each and every company, organization, and government MUST find better reasons to exist. And yes, to even blog.  Financial remuneration may have been the reason we picked up the shovel yesterday, but it mustn’t be the reason we pick it up today. It can be a very fine measure of how well we’re doing, or not… but if it is the motivation behind our work today, our work will be ABOUT that – and be lacking in greater value.

As author Daniel Pink wrote in Drive,

“We know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice – doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”

I don’t think it would be a bad idea if each time we go to write a blog post, whether it’s for our own personal blog, our company, or for a client…that we stop and consider the larger cause. And if we’re bringing home good healthy pay checks, that’s good too. But let’s let that reason come after the first.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

8 comments on “Sin & Redemption in Ghost Blogging

Heidi Cohen

Ric–Thank you for referencing me in this post. Blogs are very useful marketing and communications tools. When used well, they can help expand a firm’s reach. To this end, it’s a good idea to have employees as part of the editorial team since they understand the business and its products. If necessary, outside support should be used for copy editing to make the posts read well and supply the related technical help. Most employees are reticent to blog because their writing is poor. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

Allison Gray Teetsel

I saw part of the twitter conversation last night, and I have to say, I agree with you and Nicholas. In order to do the other things that we really want to do, we need to make money. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to work for what is important to us…what we’re passionate about, AND to make money at the same time. Now, if a business is SOLELY concerned with making money, and could care less about maintaining their customer base, of COURSE there is going to be a toll taken there. On the other hand, it is possible to be a successful business concerned with making money AND providing a service for others…it’s just a matter of taking care of yourself AND your customer base…the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

As far as ghost blogging goes, I think it probably is best for someone within a company to do the blogging, if only because they are so close to the inner workings of the company. Where it is not possible for someone on the company payroll to do the blogging (whether it be on a paid of voluntary basis), I think it is perfectly acceptable for someone outside of the company to do the blogging, as long as the lines of communication are open with the company, and the company’s priorities remain clear. For example, if I were to blog for another company, I would blog as though I were an employee working for that company (in essence, wouldn’t I be?). I would set aside my own biases and write from the company’s perspective…however that was determined through discussion with the company before I’d begin writing. If I’m writing with the interest of the company in mind, I don’t really see how it is any less authentic than having an(other) employee do the writing.

John L.

I once heard a saying that I think may apply:
“If you love your work, you will never work a day in your life.”

Rebel Brown

Hey Ric

Sorry I didnt get to comment earlier today – Ive been running. To answer your question about why I tweeted that – it was in answer to a whole other conversation going on – but I did stir things up I suppose:) Sigh, with a name like Rebel stirring up seems to follow me:)

Someone stated that the sole purpose of business was to make money – and that’s ALL that any of us should think about. I personally believe that this kind of attitude – and a sole focus on profit as the mark of success – is what got us into this economic mess in the first place. So THATS why I commented as I did.

That said – I totally understand that a business needs to make profit. I’d be silly if I disagreed with that. BUT – there are ways to make profit that are socially responsible and integrity-driven. There are also ways to make money that are irresponsible, selfish and completely out of integrity.

My point was simple – if we all ditch the Gravity thinking that says “profit at any cost” and step up to responsible profit – our world and we ourselves will be better off.

If we don’t make that shift – then I fear for the future of our children and their children.

THANKS FOR A GREAT post my friend! YOU ROCK!!


Michele Price

Ric, you are awesome. When I started talking about a business making a difference as well as a profit I got odd stares for years.

Like history we see this wide swing of profit-integrity. I have always said why does it have to be an either or. How about BOTH.

It makes me wonder when people equate profit and evil. Like media only showing the stories that are sensational. We want to be careful of not falling in that same trap in business.

Thanks for giving a place for the conversation.

One Jillian

Ric this post is excellent!

GREAT points, and I particularly like the quote from Daniel Pink along with your comment,

“Financial remuneration may have been the reason we picked up the shovel yesterday, but it mustn’t be the reason we pick it up today”

You are a __GREAT__ writer, Ric, to keep my attention for that entire post. I usually can only hang for about 500 words!


    OK, Jillian; I’m hiring you as my promoter! You’re too, too, kind. Thanks for the comment.