Ghost bloggers scare up business for small firms

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Philip de Souza, founder and president of data security firm Aurora Enterprises, believes in ghosts.

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan province March 13, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer

After trying for weeks to persuade his small team of in-house engineers to blog under the company’s fold, de Souza went looking outside for ghost bloggers who could deliver compelling prose on security and related industry issues for his L.A.-based firm.

“Our engineers are dispersed. It’s hard to get them to stop short and sit and blog, although they have a lot of intelligent things to say,” said de Souza, whose 18-year-old business primarily caters to middle-market customers. “We need to be babysat.”

Aurora is not alone. Many small businesses recognize the growing importance of blogging - free-range online commentary that invites response - in the playbook of social media tools used to generate interest from would-be customers.

Limited internal resources, however, call for some to enlist the services of unnamed contractors that can help feed the beast.

“We’re seeing a big increase in demand,” said Don Silver, COO of Boardroom Communications, a Florida-based PR firm that represents a variety of small businesses. He attributes rising interest in blogging in part to a decline in opportunities for traditional media coverage amid newsroom budget cuts.

“You’ve got to find new platforms to convey your news and messaging,” said Silver, whose firm develops blogs for clients ranging from insurance companies to local retailers. “In addition to planned postings, we react to breaking news.”

The ghost blogger’s job can include a mix of strategic and editorial tasks: keeping abreast of hot-button issues, developing editorial calendars, penning original posts, as well as enlisting raw copy from a company’s insiders and transforming it into readable text. Adhering to a strict schedule is a must, said Silver, whose firm is sometimes responsible for all or just component parts of the process.

Field of Flowers, a south Florida chain of three floral stores, relies on Boardroom to supplement internal posts released under authorship of its fictional nom de plume, Dr. Phil O. Dendron. The good doctor writes about special events taking place at the stores and alerts customers whenever company executives appear in local news.

“We thought it would be fun to have a character who is presented as being the person who gives out a lot of information,” said company president Donn Flipse, adding that such a character also makes it easy to present a unified voice from posts created internally and by the agency.


There is no shortage of scribes ready to take up the anonymous pen for small businesses. In addition to marketing professionals, the ranks include current and former journalists, book authors and a range of others with experience in traditional and new media.

Cynthia MacGregor, an author of more than 50 books under her own name, many on lifestyle topics, advertises her ghost blogging services on Craig’s List. She recently began ghosting on behalf of a small company in the food industry and expects to soon sign a contract with a provider of adult entertainment.

“If someone else gets the credit, that’s okay, I enjoy the process,” said MacGregor, who is based in Palm Springs, Florida. “I respect their right to take full credit and not have me be the shining star.”

Oakland, California-based freelance writer Jessica Swesey said her ghost blogging assignments have grown from her background as a reporter covering the real estate market. She now specializes in the industry, ghosting on behalf of several real estate brokers on hot topics such as the homebuyers’ tax credit. Blog posts require intimate knowledge of a business and its services, she said.

“You want to take on the tone of the company,” said Swesey, who spends significant time up front interviewing company principles about their top-of-mind concerns. “I’ve taken control and offered up ideas,” she said. “They’ve also come to me and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re thinking.’”

Hiring a ghost blogger doesn’t necessarily mean handing over control. Alternative Reproductive Resources, a Chicago-area firm that has been matching infertile couples with gestational surrogates and egg donors for 18 years, produces its blog, Conception Connections, in close collaboration with its PR agency, Hodge Schindler Integrated Communications.

“It’s very much a team approach,” said Robin von Halle, company founder. “A lot of times we write it and they go over it.”

The blog, whose posts have ranged from “100 questions & answers about infertility” to “Step-by-step: Understanding the surrogacy process”, is responsible for bringing interested clients to ARR’s doors, said von Halle, noting the personal nature of her business is well suited for a medium that targets specialized audiences.

“They’re looking for more information,” said von Halle, whose blog is updated weekly. “It’s very helpful to them.”