Real. Honest. Authentic.
These are all words content marketing aspires to be.
When you’re the ghost in the blog, it’s easy to feel like you’re faking it.
I’ve been ghost blogging for five-ish years now. At first, it feels . . . odd, like you’re putting on someone else’s skin. You start trying to minimize your own writing tics (my penchant for parentheticals, hyphens, and using random movies or music to make or reinforce a point) and using words or phrasing that don’t come natural.
I never quite felt like a (total) fraud, but capturing someone else’s voice while the cursor silently blinks, taunting you, can be a struggle.
And the first time is NEVER easy because writing paranoia is real and alive in me.
While I continue to think that getting your experts to contribute by writing their own thoughts (read You Don’t Need to Be an Expert at Writing to Write Great Content) is the best thing ever, sometimes it’s just not possible.
They don’t have time.
They really can’t write clearly or concisely.
They really, really, REALLY are afraid to write. (I totally get this one.)
Whatever the reason, someone becomes the voice behind the voice for the president or the VP or the product expert.
Here are five tips that have helped me overcome my own fear, uncertainty, and doubt when taking on ghost blogging assignments.
Tip 1 — It Ain’t About You
That great learning experience from 4th grade? Or the delicious beer you just drank? Or your favorite hobby or movie?
OK, that’s extreme, sometimes you can generalize a personal experience and use it successfully.
But this is crucial — you aren’t writing for your own needs and goals. You have to put yourself into the mindset of your client (or co-worker for in-house teams).
Tip 2 — Get the Brand Guidelines
When ghost blogging for a brand, read their guidelines. Do they foolishly insist on NOT using the Oxford Comma? Do they have a hatred for “that” (for one client, I consistently did a “that” whack-a-mole search and replace before sending copy to them). Are they stuffy (er, sorry, “professional”). Do they like a dollar word when a dime one will do?
They’ll usually have their corporate quirks outlined in their brand guidelines. Get a copy. Read it. Learn it. Pretend to love it (especially if they want a professional tone without Oxford Commas!).
Following their spelling, punctuation, and other house style preferences will save you heartache (and extra editing time) in the long run.
Tip 3 — Have Them Review
Especially for the first three or four, have your copy reviewed by your “author.” Tell them not to be nice, they won’t hurt your feelings, and to point out things they wouldn’t say.
Over time, as you Vulcan mindmeld with your author, you can spot-check for “does it feel like them” and do this less frequently.
Tip 4 — Get to Know Them, Part 1
Talk to the person whose name your words will live behind. If you’re writing on behalf of a co-worker, this is obviously a little easier. Take note of any turns of phrase they use frequently and recent life events.
For clients, this takes a little more effort, but at least do your best to schedule a 30 minute chat and just talk. Pick their brain about what excites them about work, ideas for blog posts, experiences, etc. Kinda pretend you’re at a bar and just talking over beers (bonus points if you can do this in a bar over beers).
Tip 5 — Get to Know Them, Part 2
For everyone I’ve ghostwritten for, I’ve asked them to answer the questions below. It helps get into the mind of your author as well as use examples and make analogies that make sense coming from them, not you.
Feel free to use this for yourself. If you have any suggestions to the list, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Actually, I have three versions of this. The first two are questions adapted from Inside the Actors Studio. I’ve used these in the past for Member of the Week interviews and “Meet the Staff” type content.
The third, longer, set of questions overlaps with these first two, and is the one I like to use most for ghostwriting.
Questions: Variation 1
- What do you do and what do you love about it?
- Describe yourself using 3 words only
- What are you proudest of, personally and/or professionally?
- What movie, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, do you have to watch when it’s on?
- Summer or Winter?
- Favorite Color?
- What do you do for fun?
- Last book read and book on your nightstand now?
- Top 3 albums
Questions: Variation 2
- What do you do and how did you get there?
- What was your best day at work? Worst?
- What are you proudest of?
- What is your number 1 goal today?
- What are your three favorite websites?
- What are the three greatest books ever written– and what’s on your nightstand today?
- What are the three greatest movies of all time – and what the last one you’ve seen?
- What was your first concert – and what are the three best songs on your iPod/fav music service?
Questions: My Favorite List
Ghost in the (Writing) Machine
A Baker’s Dozen Questions.
As a way of being able to personalize and add more of “you” into the blog posts we are writing for you, we’ve compiled a list of questions about things you like/do. This will help us think about and use examples and analogies you would use as you write as well as inspire angles and intros to use as we write blog posts for you.
In no particular order of importance:
- What kind of music do you like? Favorite artists/albums/songs
- Favorite books.
- Favorite movies:
- Watch TV, any favorite shows past and/or present:
- Kids? Grandkids? How old?
- Local restaurants
- Favorite sports teams and sports you follow
- Have you travelled anywhere amazing?
- Are there local things to do that you do a lot – visit museums, hiking paths, brewpubs (OK, those would be things I do locally near me) – just stuff you do/places you go on the weekends
- Any random and interesting facts about you – run a marathon, crossword champion, can do ventriloquism.
- What do you like about your professional life – what do you enjoy the most
- Proudest achievement(s)? Professional and/or personal.
- Describe yourself using 3 words only.
- How did you decide to make inbound marketing [obviously, this changes depending on who you are asking!] your career? What drew you to it and what do you love about it?
- Anything else . . .
I hope this is helpful for anyone else out there struggling to be the words behind the face.
Need someone to be the ghost in your blog (or to create your content marketing strategy and/or content)? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, reply below, or give me a call (or text, text is better, what with all the phone spam) at 301-275-7496.
Very good advice, Bryant. I’ve never ghosted a blog, but I spent years writing our Chairman’s speeches for events like our Annual Meeting and Policyholders Meeting. I also wrote the President’s message for our Annual Report. Whenever you have to be someone else’s voice, you really have to think about how you say what you say.
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Thanks, Dan. Over time, I think it’s made me a better writer, but it is a weird thing (and lucrative if you can get one of those ghostwriting book gigs!).
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