Are there circumstances where ghost-blogging and tweeting are acceptable?

Are ghost-blogging and tweeting ever acceptable? Tellem Worldwide's Susan Tellem and Scott Steinberg of DigitalTrends.com take sides.

Yes

Susan Tellem Cofounder and partner, Tellem Worldwide
Ghost tweets for several healthcare and other clients

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, ghost tweeting is real. But just like a ghost, it's invisible to virtually everyone.

It is a PR pro's job to get to know the company and executives we work with inside and out. After working closely with the CEO and marketing people, we likely know more about the company and its philosophy than most staffers. And ghost writing on these clients' behalf is a PR staple. We've ghostwritten it all, from scientific articles to crisis statements, probably even the mission statement. So why not tweets and blogs?

PR will never be the same now that Facebook and blogging have become powerful methods of communicating. And Twitter is another important arrow in our PR quiver.

Last year, I attended 140: The Twitter Conference in Los Angeles. I was impressed by the number of celebrities and musicians who claimed to do their own tweets. Other companies hire in-house social media experts who work full time, tweeting, blogging, and posting on Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace on the company's behalf.

We have clients who enjoy tweeting themselves, mostly from the entertainment and consumer product arenas. They get it and have fun with it.

Other clients wouldn't know a tweet from a basketball, yet they understand Twitter is a key part of the social media fabric. Typically, time constraints and bureaucracy prevent them from tweeting. So we do it for them.

A lot of people were surprised to learn that President Obama does not do his own tweeting, given his focus on transparency. Of course, most logical people figured he couldn't keep his rigorous schedule and still tweet.

After all, tweeting does have its ethics. If a Twitter follower asks who does the tweeting, it is incumbent that the twitterer tell the truth, so plan on being outed and have a response. On the flip side, most followers are happy to get news, links, prizes, coupons, and receive help from the company when a problem arises, no matter who is tweeting.

In the end, don't PR experts claim to know the company and its philosophy? As such, it does not make a difference what form our ghostwriting takes.

No

Scott Steinberg CMO and editor at technology lifestyle site DigitalTrends.com
Ex-journalist; author, Video-game Marketing and PR

The same advice that applies to dating also pertains to courting potential suitors on the Web: Always be yourself.

Online communications are a two-way street, making trust and empathy with readers/viewers paramount. Effective communications relies upon familiarity with one's audience and the ability to build rapport. How significant and influential is your message if it can be so easily outsourced to a ghost-tweeter or blogger? Employing such a device risks missing that strong, knowledgeable, and singular perspective that serves as the cornerstone around which online followings universally galvanize.

Keeping abreast of, and working to influence, community dialogue as it develops is at the heart of capable PR, so being truly present on these platforms is essential. The power to source instant audience feedback is a PR pro's most effective tool, allowing you to tweak and optimize programs dynamically based on reaction. Trying to build brand awareness with a stand-in sells you and your work short.

Maintaining regular dialogue with end users by employing substitutes is, at best, a temporary Band-Aid. Such practices might suffice to provide grist for the proverbial mill, but it's the unique insights only you can offer - and the reactions they elicit - that go furthest toward spreading the word and building a devoted fan base.

Books and Op-Eds are inherently a formal, one-way information exchange that readers passively consume - there's no expectation of frank discourse or rebuttal. Blogs and tweets, how-ever, are meant to be more candid and personal, tearing down walls that once separated author and reader to spur meaningful dialogue. To cower behind another artificial barrier isn't just craven; it's a genuine act of betrayal.

Overlook the importance of engaging as your true self online and you not only disregard the value of transparency, subjecting yourself and/or clients to unnecessary risks, you also sell a smart, increasingly tech-savvy audience short. Fail to make a personal connection with fans, and you'll have a bond that's fleeting at best.

PRWeek's View
There's nothing wrong with bringing someone aboard to tweet or blog for you or your brand as long as the relationship is clearly disclosed. Betraying the trust of your followers is the quickest way to a PR snafu.

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