When someone, such as a public relations practitioner, updates the Twitter account of someone else under the guise of that person, like the CEO of a company, they are ghost-tweeting.
This is a common practice, as 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 identify him- or herself?
Should the author disclose his identity?
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. Identifying a ghost-tweeter may increase the credibility of the company and the 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 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 the company disclose?
As an example, let’s consider the Twitter account of a fictitious company called SuperCompany.
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, because it leads the audience to believe that 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 true author should reveal his identity and affiliation.
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 in the gray area between ethical and unethical. Though I believe ghost-tweeting is misleading and therefore unethical, this is a complex issue that has many angles.
What do you think, readers? If you managed the Twitter account for a corporation, would you insist on fully disclosing your identity, or would you be OK ghost-tweeting under the name of a CEO?
Melodie Seble is a student at the University of Oregon, studying journalism, public relations and Spanish. She blogs at PR State of Mind, where this article originally ran.