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Can Ghostwriting Be Authentic?

Can you outsource your content creation and still be authentic?

I saw a post on LinkedIn recently that was talking about outsourcing content creation and whether if you do, you can still be authentic. The most controversial example of this that comes to mind would be around ghostwriting, where the person who writes it and the person who posts it/presents it/gets the credit aren’t the same.

Personally, I think you can – but this could be because I’m a) a writer who has created content for others to post as their own or b) use a very collaborative process that stays true to the intended author’s voice.

There’s two ways to outsource your content to a ghostwriter. Handover complete control with a couple of basic parameters and let the writer take care of the rest. This style of ghostwriting? Not so authentic.

Or, you can work collaboratively with a writer/content creator to transfer your ideas, thoughts, opinions, facts, knowledge, intuition or experiences into something others can read and gain value from. Still not convinced it can be authentic?

Okay, fair enough. Think of it like this. Pretty much everyone can write but it comes more easily to some than others. For some people, they have ideas and stories they want to share but they struggle to write them down whether they lack time, clarity, skills. It’s often a lot easier, and a lot quicker to verbally tell someone what you think, what you want to say.

A good ghostwriter takes the ideas and thoughts, finds out the content objective, and then arranges the ideas, fleshes out the thoughts and adds some words in between to turn it into brilliant content. Always referring back to the original ‘author’ for clarity or further information. It’s like a really advanced spell check function that makes your thoughts readable!

But how does the ghostwriter keep it authentic? Use their voice. Use their words. Literally. The process I like to use includes an initial interview and recording the audio, or arranging for a voice clip ‘brain dump’ from the person. From the audio you can capture exactly the words they’re saying, quotes, but also the way they arrange their sentences, the types of words they use, the rhythm of their thoughts. In this way, you can ensure that what you write, sounds like they wrote it. Being a ghostwriter is also having the discipline to add in your own thoughts or opinions. Stick to the facts. Check assumptions.

Of course, it could perhaps be that the fact the end-poster or presenter hasn’t written something they are passing off as if they did. Maybe that’s why authenticity is questioned?

If the person who writes the piece and the person who gets the credit is different, is that authentic? If people are lead to believe that you’ve written something yourself, or if you’re not publically acknowledging that you have not written/are not writing your own posts/blogs/letters/tweets… are you authentic?

It’s a tough question. I have vague recollections of music fans being ridiculously outraged upon finding out some music star wasn’t writing their own songs. I figure it’s a bit like that. It’s the feeling of betrayal for fans/followers that the star lied… by omission? That the star created an image of themselves, or more likely, the fan created an image of the star where they believed the star was writing their own songs because they didn’t say that they hadn’t.

An assumption is made based on the facts at hand, or in the absence of them. We assume that every day individuals posting on social media are, well, that person writing them. We know it’s far more unlikely that rock stars and pop stars are posting on social media, so we are more careful with that assumption. But to find out that the CEO of the next big company that you’re following doesn’t actually write his own posts you’ve been commenting on? Let’s for arguments’ sake say they DO comment/reply/message – that those are authentically them. Do you still feel betrayed? Do you feel that that CEO is less authentic?

 Does it matter if it’s video vs text posts that have been outsourced? I think people are more likely to accept videos as authentic, where the person is on camera (but not creating it) as it is still THEM, their image, their words, they’re still involved.

So what’s the difference then in the final product of video vs text if they’re still involved in outsourcing written posts?

The interesting thing is that even internally in a company, ghostwriting happens. Marketing writes email campaigns for the salespeople, letters from the CEO that was signed by the CEO but not written by the CEO, content writers creating blog posts for the company’s thought leaders. Is that more authentic since it’s in-house?

If you’re worried about outsourcing content creation because it won’t be authentic, think about what authentic means to you. If it’s that it’s your voice (or your company’s voice) then that’s easily addressed by a good writer and a collaborative process, so long as you’re willing to be involved here and there. Trust me, it’s still at least three times faster than you trying to write it yourself.

But if you’re worried that you’re creating an illusion that your followers or fans might react negatively if it were broken – outsourcing in the usual ghostwriting way might not be for you. Consider how you could outsource coaching or guidance to help you increase the speed and clarity with which you write.

Of course, as with any opinion piece, I could be completely off target with what the original discussion I saw was, and what others think. But these are my opinions on the topic. I’d love to hear yours! Just send me a message or email.