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Understanding Content Authorship

March 21, 2019 - Content Marketing, Practitioner Marketing - , ,
By: Chris Riley

Understanding Content Authorship

How content gets published matters. It may seem like authorship is a trivial thing, but it isn’t. There are three types of content authorship: authored, non-authored, and ghostwritten, and each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Authorship seems so trivial that we find most of the companies we talk to have already decided what the authorship of their content will be, and assume it’s just a known quantity. That is why sometimes we encounter surprise when we ask for clarification. If we understand what their intentions are in terms of content authorship, it can impact multiple elements.

Authorship can impact content because it dictates the amount of opinion the content will have, the voice, the technical depth, and whether it’s direct marketing. The following is the breakdown of each type of authorship:

Non-Authored:

Non-authored content is content that is not published under any name. Non-authored content is generally not written in first person. It will not express opinion or have personality. It may have indirect or direct marketing elements. Assets such as eBooks, whitepapers, technical landing pages, and public documentation will almost always be non-authored. How-to tutorials will sometimes be non-authored. Blog posts, rarely. (Blogs are intended to be written from a unique point of view.) How-to tutorials, depending on where they are published, could be authored (especially if published on a media site in the form of a product showcase or review).

Authored:

With authored content, the author(s) listed wrote the piece. Authored content is usually in first person and will have “opinions,” but opinions in technical content are simply the nuances between implementation types, not the opinions you read and hear in the mainstream media. Nearly all practitioner blog content is authored, and occasionally, assets are authored to show authority. Tutorials are as well. The benefit of authored content for vendors is that technical audiences want to hear from peers, and their BS filter is amazing — so they want to know who wrote the content, and the writer’s background.

Ghostwritten:

With ghostwritten content, the name on the piece of content is not that of the true author. This is usually only the case for blog content — and rarely, assets — where they want a leader in the company to show up. To my surprise, many over-trivialize ghostwritten content, and some companies still see this as the norm in content marketing strategies. Ghostwritten content can be very dangerous. But it does have an appropriate place — first, in thought leadership posts by company executives. Thought leadership is almost entirely opinion, and nearly impossible to argue against on a fact-to-fact basis. As long as the core opinion put into words matches the opinion of the listed author, it’s fine.

This is not true with technical content, where it’s easy to call an author out for technical details they know nothing about. The one exception to this is service providers, but they also need to show up in the world. There is a way to create ghostwritten content for these individuals, but it has to be done by an equal practitioner, with technical review by the architect. The problem? Those reviews are often the equivalent of the architects writing the posts themselves, and rarely is one practitioner willing to write a technical post for another without their name on it.

How content is authored matters, and it should be clear to everyone at the very beginning whether content is authored, non-authored, or ghostwritten. The authorship of content directly impacts the copy and who is willing to write it, along with its technical depth. And when content is approached incorrectly, it can move a company into unpleasant legal territory.


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Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.

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