Controversy erupted recently over the issue of “ghost tweeting.” Former “Apple Evangelist” and current venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki has built a sizeable following on Twitter, the micro-blogging site that will soon be getting its own satellite TV channel (kidding–it already gets enough exposure on CNN).
About 35 “tweets’ (messages) are broadcast to Kawasaki’s 90,000+ followers every day. Many are his own observations about technology and whatnot; others promote his current website project.
He recently admitted that much of what goes out under the name @GuyKawasaki is written by ghost tweeters–people who scan the internet for interesting and useful things that Guy’s readers may enjoy.
And people are up in arms over what they consider to be a betrayal of trust.
These people cannot possibly be marketing copywriters or PR flacks. We, more than almost anyone, know how often we create copy that goes out under someone else’s name.
Why? Because writing is hard. Good writing is really, really hard. Not everyone can do it well. Some can barely do it at all. The speeches that come out of the mouth of Barak Obama are written by someone else, prompting some to give more credit to his teleprompter than his own powers of oratory.
Knowing how common ghostwriting is, I’m more surprised when I discover that a celebrity or other notable is actually writing their own material. Senator John McCain (of all people) apparently does all his own tweeting. (My man Ron Paul doesn’t tweet–yet–but he does still hold the one-day record for Internet fundraising, so at least he knows how to monetize an online presence.)
Yes, it would be lovely to think that when you DM Sir Richard Branson(@sirdickbranson) that he actually reads your tweet (DM = “direct message,” for the non-Twitterati) and taps out a reply on his Virgin Mobile phone. I don’t know if he does or not. But I suspect Sir Richard has better, more revenue-producing things to do than reply to random people such as myself on Twitter. (So far though, most of his tweets are signed “~SirDick,” so maybe he really writes his own tweets.)
So is ghost-Twittering good or evil?
Since I’m apparently going to hell if it’s evil, I’m going to vote for “good.”
It’s good because the alternative could be either no communication at all or dreadful, muddy, ill-thought-out, banal, pointless, self-aggrandizing dreck. Because, simply put, that’s all some folks are capable of.
It’s no commetary on them as human beings, don’t get me wrong. Writing is a special skill. For most people it takes study and years of practice to get good at it. PR and marketing writing are even more demanding flavors of writing. And writing coherent and value-packed 140-character tweets can actually be something of a challenge (I am finding, to my surprise.)
But there’s a bigger question here. Is ghostwriting of any kind acceptable?
Again, I come down on the side of “yes” rather than “no.” And not just because otherwise, I’m out of a job.
Human beings are individuals and we each have our own set of talents and abilities. I personally can’t do math at all. At. All. So would it be a mark of ill character if I hired an accountant to do math for me?
Are autoresponders evil because they’re not really personally sent by the person who signed the message? What about CRM? Customer Relationship Management software remembers things about your customers so your salespeople don’t have to. Good CRM software can really make it seem like your employees give a crap about your customers and helps your company give them better service. Is that wrong?
And what about Mail Merge? Mail Merge allows you to send out personalized copies of sales letters, hundreds or thousands at a time. Each one personalized so it appears that the recipient is getting a personal communication. Good or evil? You make the call.
Perhaps I really am going to Writer’s Hell for saying this, but no, I don’t think Ghost Twittering is immoral.
I can’t cut my own hair (trust me on this). So I have someone else do it.
I can’t make my own shoes…so I let folks in China do it for me.
I often let other people cook food for me to eat.
So if a client were to hire me as a ghost twitter, I’d take the gig (assuming I liked them and the money was good, of course.) I feel fine ghost-twittering. Just as I feel fine when I’m ghostwriting a press release, or a brochure, or a letter to the editor, or web content.
Let’s get some perspective, folks.