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Ghostwriter, copywriter, or freelance marketer?

I recently received a query to see if I, as a ghostwriter, could help with some freelance work. Here’s how the query read (I’ve made minor edits to conceal the requester’s identity):

I’m on the hunt for a LinkedIn Storyteller/Ghostwriter.

Looking for 2 primary reasons:

  1. Building brand awareness and a bigger audience for my new company.
  2. Looking for a strategic partner to resell this service to my clients.

Unfortunately I’m not looking for a “train the trainer” type service, but something more fully outsourced.

  • 20-30 posts per month and then outsource engagement/management of LinkedIn to you + personal DMs
  • Warming up the algorithm every day you post
  • Posting
  • Replying to people
  • Engaging on the platform
  • Commenting
  • Finding the right 👀 for me: creating a list of people to follow and engage with
  • Sending personalized emails/intro messages (no sales pitching) to ideal customer profiles on LinkedIn

Let me know if this is something you’ve done in the past. If so, I’d love to chat. If not, I’d love a referral from you if you have one.

Is this a ghostwriter? No.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time this year with ghostwriters. Ghostwriters’ primary job is, of course, writing. Here’s my definition of a ghostwriter:

A ghostwriter is a freelance professional who is paid to collaborate with a client to write books or articles to be credited to that client.

The important parts of that definition are:

  • Freelance professional. Most ghostwriters are not employees.
  • Paid. Primarily compensated with money, not authoring credit.
  • Books or articles. People who write shorter pieces are generally called copywriters. Those who write speeches are speechwriters.
  • To be credited to the client. Generally, the client’s name appears as the author of the ghostwritten piece.

By this definition, the request I got doesn’t fit the description of “ghostwriter.”

Ghostwriters and copywriters don’t generally interact with readers

The other part of this description that seemed to take it into a new category was the interactive part: responding to comments, engaging on the platform, finding people who are interested and responding to them personally.

This is not the work that ghostwriters and copywriters do. We assume that after we’ve written something, it the client’s job to either respond, or to pay someone to respond on their behalf.

This feels to me like the work of a social media or marketing agency. And indeed, in my work as a ghostwriter, I am often interacting with such agencies. Sometimes I write or edit something, and work with an agency to help them promote it on behalf of the client. I have also been hired by agencies as a freelance writer, to ghostwrite articles or op-eds for an author. But in all of those cases, it is the agency or the client’s responsibility to interact with people who respond to what I write.

Is any of this dishonest?

I’m genuinely interested in your reaction to the following questions.

  • Is it dishonest for an author to publish work that was written by a freelance ghostwriter under contract? When answering this question, consider that the author and ghostwriter typically collaborate intensively to create work that accurately represent’s the author’s perspective. Obviously, since I do this and so do many other ghostwriters, I feel strongly that it’s ethically sound. Among those who don’t understand how collaboration works, ghostwriting still has a whiff of something questionable about it, but I think that sentiment is naive and misguided.
  • Is it dishonest for someone to pretend to be another person in social media, such as LinkedIn, publishing content, interacting, and sending direct messages? This seems troubling to me, but I also recognize that social media agencies do it all the time. We’re certainly comfortable with agencies or employees representing brands or companies on social networking sites. But is it okay for them to pretend to be people for the purpose of “farming” interaction?

In my mind, both “Help me write” and “Write what I would like to write if I had the time and skill” seem fine. “Pretend to be me when interacting with other people” doesn’t. How does it seem to you?

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  1. As a freelance writer, I wouldn’t agree to pose as a client on LinkedIn. Social media management/engagement was a commonly offered service when I worked in PR agencies. Some arrangements involved the agency writing the posts and the client doing the actual posting (and subsequent responding). Other clients fully outsourced their social media presences to their PR teams.
    The latter does feel ethically murky to me — if I were a LinkedIn user trying to network with a prominent person in my field (or a dedicated fan who is thrilled at the prospect of interacting with a favorite author or other public figure on social media), and I found out that the person who responded to my comment or answered my message was a PR handler, I would feel deceived and deeply disappointed.

  2. Publishing work of someone else that you paid them for is not dishonest IMO. Pretending to be someone else can be slimy, yes, or it could be what Stephen King and many others have done by using a pen name. Leading someone to believe they are having personal communication with someone else, in person, online, or on the phone is fraud IMO.

  3. It’s no more unethical than a company taking credit for the work of its paid employees. The CEO can’t do all that work alone. Of course, the person to whom the work is credited should be reviewing and approving the content before it is released to the public. Ghostwriter and “ghostwritee” must be “on the same page.”

    As far as managing the social media aspect (if that’s considered an issue), perhaps there is a full disclosure statement (or one could be created) so that readers understand that the content, although carrying one name, is written by one or more writers than the named person. Many children’s and young adult book series have been written for generations by more than the author whose name appears on the cover – Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, Conan the Barbarian, and a host of others.