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Who Says What?

February 20, 2012

Due to my previous lack of social media knowledge, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the term “ghost tweeting.” It came as a surprise to me that some celebrities and CEOs with Twitter accounts aren’t actually the ones posting the content. In fact, other people, such as their PR practitioners, are the ones updating statuses.

Because I am writing this post as an assignment, I will focus not on ghost writing as a whole but on the more specific category of ghost tweeting.

As I began my research into ghost tweeting, I discovered some of  the people who are involved with ghost tweeting. A New York Times article back in 2009, titled “When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking,” reveals celebrities such as 50 Cent, Britney Spears, and Kanye West all have ghost writers. Politicians and businessmen — for example, Guy Kawasaki, Barak Obama and Ron Paul — use ghost tweeters as well.

In my research of the topic I have found strong opinions for both sides of ghost tweeting, a topic that has been discussed in the PR community for the past couple years. Many, such as a blogger for E07.Net, argue that ghost tweeting offers readers value and enhances communication by providing news and views of that person or celebrity. Others, including myself, feel that full disclosure is needed when ghost tweeting.

Honesty Comes First

I am a strong believer in honesty in ethics. I believe that when someone tweets under a different person’s name (even under that person’s consent) it is a dishonest action. When followers read that tweet, they are under the impression it came from the person whose name is on that Twitter account.

In one of his posts, Dave Fleet hosts an interview with Guy Kawasaki, the creator of Alltop and author of 10 books such as “Enchantment” and “Reality Check.” In the interview, Kawasaki admitted that he had not thought about the ethical issues ghost tweeting raises. Indeed after the interview, he went back and changed his Twitter profile to reveal the people who ghost tweet for him. Fleet closes his post by stating that he feels having others tweet for you isn’t a great approach. He also includes a poll he posted about the issue. The results show that of the 167 people to participate, 33 percent of them feel that ghost writing is wrong; 40 percent feel that when you disclose that it isn’t you writing the post, it is ok; and 23 percent have no problem with it.

A blog post from PR-Squared perfectly describes my view of ghost tweeting. In the post, Todd Defren explains a situation in which his agency, SHIFT Communications, takes over a CEO’s Twitter account for a client company during one of the CEO’s trade shows. When agency employees post a tweet, they will use the hashtag #team to indicate the tweet was not from the CEO. Employees will also post a tweet after every 10 posts, reminding followers that the CEO is not the only one tweeting on his account during the show. In this example, the agency does everything in its power to provide honest information to the CEO’s followers. Anyone reading can see others are tweeting on the CEO’s account. The agency is not misleading, but is open and honest about who is using the account.

PRSA Code of Ethics

There are a few places in the PRSA Code of Ethics that support this opinion on ghost tweetting. The first is the section on honesty that states, “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.” As stated earlier, ghostwriting, unless done in a way that informs the public about “the ghost,” is an action that goes against honesty.

Another area reads simply, “Avoid deceptive practices.” When hiding the fact that a ghostwriter is present, writers participate in deceptive practices.

Final Thoughts

It was refreshing for me to find that there are big names out there who do not participate in ghost tweeting. The New York Times article “When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking,” reveals that athletes such as Shaquille O’Neal and Lance Armstrong do all their own tweeting. The article includes an interesting quote from Shaq where he states how he feels sorry for people who need ghost writers for Twitter, which only includes a short number of characters.

It’s simple: If you don’t want to tweet, don’t tweet. Sign up for an account under a bigger category indicating the fact that others will use it. If you are a CEO, make the title of the business the account name. For a celebrity or specific person, include the names of the people tweeting under you. Don’t be deceptive in hiding the fact that you are not the only one using the account. Publics will appreciate honesty as much as content.

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3 Comments
  1. It is tough to find a middle ground on this topic. Even if the celebrity/CEO is being up front about about their use of ghost tweeting, it is nearly impossible for all of their followers to know. Some people will surely feel misled when they find out.

    No one is asking celebrities to be constantly tweeting so they should feel no pressure to ghost tweet. I agree with you: these people should only tweet as much as they feel comfortable doing.

    • There are instances where the public seeks out twitters for more information, for example the CEO working with SHIFT Communications. Here, the CEO was unable to give constant feed back on twitter. In this situation, the agency did its best to avoid misleading people. I feel that as long as the people doing the tweeting are being proactively honest with their use of ghost writing it can be a helpful tool.

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