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Corporate Ghost Tweeting: Is it Ethical?

16 May

Ghost tweeting is when the Twitter account of one person, such as the CEO of a company, is updated by another person, such as a public relations practitioner, under the guise of that first person. This is a common practice, since CEOs tend to be too busy to write their own speeches, blog posts and tweets. However, it raises a few questions: Is it ethical to ghost tweet for a CEO or company Twitter account without identifying yourself? To what extent should the author of the tweets be identified?

Should the author’s identity be disclosed?

I believe it is best for companies to be as transparent as possible. This includes identifying exactly who updates the corporate Twitter account or who tweets for the CEO. The audience deserves to know where the content comes from and what that person’s agenda is. Identification of a ghost tweeter may increase credibility of the company and trust between the corporation and its audience.

Furthermore, it is impossible to write something completely objectively. The author will always put some of his or her own bias into the writing. Even though the ghost tweeter may be completely familiar with the CEO’s point of view, the author has the power to choose how to phrase a statement and what information to include in a tweet.

How much information should be disclosed?

As an example, let’s consider the Twitter account of a company called SuperCompany. This example is hypothetical. SuperCompany does not exist  –  I made it up.

SuperCompany CEO Sally Smith is busy and does not have time to update her Twitter account. She enlists the help of the company’s PR department to manage the Twitter feed. From the PR professional’s standpoint, what would be the best description to write on the Twitter account homepage? We can agree that disclosure of identity is important on Twitter, but how far do we need to go?

Here are three options for the Twitter account description of SuperCompany:

  • Official Twitter account of SuperCompany CEO Sally Smith
  • Official Twitter account of SuperCompany CEO Sally Smith, written by employees
  • Official Twitter account of SuperCompany CEO Sally Smith, written by SuperCompany Public Relations Executive Tom Johnson

Which option would be best? The first option lacks full disclosure of identity, since it leads the audience to believe Smith manages her own tweets. The second acknowledges that Smith does not handle her Twitter stream, but does the description contain enough information to be considered sufficiently transparent?

The third option has the most information – it tells the audience not only that the account is not authored by Smith but also that Tom Johnson is the true author. Is this the best option, since it has the most information?

I believe that the third option is the only truly acceptable one. Twitter should be used to promote conversation between a company and its audience, and that audience deserves to know exactly whom they are conversing with. If the CEO does not write his or her own tweets, the identity and affiliation of the true author should be revealed.

An ethical gray area

Corporate ghost tweeting, the practice of leading the audience to falsely believe that a CEO authors his or her own tweets, falls under the gray area between ethical and unethical. While I believe ghost tweeting is misleading and therefore unethical, this is a complex issue that has many angles.

For more information about these ethical dilemmas, check out this post by Todd Defren from SHIFT Communications about tweeting under someone else’s name. Tom Woolf at Woolf Media provides more insight into the issue of ghost tweeting in this blog post.

What do you think, readers? If you managed the Twitter account for a corporation, would you insist on full disclosure of your identity, or would you be content to ghost tweet under the name of a CEO?

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4 Comments

Posted by on May 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

4 responses to “Corporate Ghost Tweeting: Is it Ethical?

  1. kaymarie17

    May 22, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Great post, Melodie! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the ethics of ghost tweeting. I completely agree that all ghost tweeting NEEDS to be disclosed by the practitioner or the alleged Twitter user.

    When pitching the use of Twitter to an organization in the future (and I am sure that I will), I will remember your points and this post and insist on full disclosure.

     
    • Melodie S.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks, Kayla! I believe that full disclosure is the most responsible option. Ghost tweeting can’t be defined as a purely deceptive practice, but it is definitely not the most respectful way to treat customers.
      Thanks again for your comment!

       
  2. Janae

    June 7, 2012 at 7:46 am

    I fully agree that the third option in the Twitter account description is the best choice. This seems like a really small but simple way for a company to instill in its readers that it is transparent. When an audience believes a company is being transparent a relationship of trust can be built much quicker.

     

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