Ghostwriting isn’t unethical (most of the time)

Some CEOs need a little extra writing help. Here’s how to offer it without raising any ethical questions.


One of the genuine surprises I’ve had in my career was learning how many great business leaders were bad communicators and public speakers, or media disasters waiting to happen.

When they were willing to be trained, however, I prepared them to avoid embarrassment with 100 percent success. OK, maybe 99 percent. They are human and sometimes they need help.

For me, ghost writing or blogging typically falls into this category

Abstract questions like whether ghostwriting is ethical is an intrinsically flawed premise. Inflexible ideas can easily be taken to their extreme, logical conclusion and become just absurd. An absolute approach frequently ends up hurting more people than it helps.

The merits of using a ghostwriter for your blog depend on the circumstances and your judgment. It is easy to imagine scenarios where ghost blogging is deeply misguided or unethical, but that is not the case in most situations.

What would the president do?

Are you a bad person if you use a ghostwriter?

I normally don’t look to politicians for ethical advice, but this is a good exception.

When a U.S. president needs to address the public, someone else typically writes his remarks. Anyone smarter than your average bear knows there are dedicated speechwriters in the West Wing.

However, if you are a CEO and a weak writer, you may not want to announce you have a ghostwriter. But whether you lack the writing skills or the time, there are ways to ethically incorporate a wordsmith into your team, just like the president.

If someone directly asks you whether you write your posts—or any content with your name on it—you should be honest about the process. In the age of social media, the truth is compulsory. It is important to choose a process you feel comfortable sharing publicly because someone will ask you about it.

Keep it real

When I had to write something on behalf of a client, I used one of several scenarios, depending on which the client was the most comfortable with. Here are a few examples:

1. I interviewed the client to get his thoughts, and then wrote the piece. I had him review the piece and give me feedback.

2. I had the client write a first draft, then I would edit or rewrite as needed. I had him review it and give me feedback.

3. I had the client bullet point or outline his thoughts, and then I wrote the piece. The client reviewed it and gave me feedback.

It was always the clients’ ideas, and often their words. They always read the pieces, gave me feedback, and approved the final copy.

It wasn’t rocket science, but it worked.

Steve Farnsworth is the chief digital strategist at Jolt Digital Marketing. He blogs at The @Steveology Blog, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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