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I believe that if you resort to using a ghost-tweeter to update your Twitter feed then you’re doing it wrong.

Why? Well mainly because I think social media is about customer (or audience) centricity. It is about placing the customer at the very heart of your business, and caring about what they have to say. And as such it has an impact on – and it reflects – organisational culture. 

The brands that are doing social media right are very much focused on listening, sharing, communicating and responding. Outsourcing these tasks is myopic, and it can also be rather dangerous (especially if you fire the ghost-tweeter and fail to change the passwords to your social media accounts).

Before I reveal my seven reasons I should point out that I’m a fan of freelance copywriters, who can be a great aid to your business. But I think they should be producing content that feeds into your social media profiles, to entertain and inform your audience, as opposed to having outright control over your Twitter account.

It is important to define a scope – and some guidelines - for your social media activity, and to figure out what kind of content is going to work for your fans and followers. Copywriters can play a big part in that. It’s just that I don’t think they should become ghost-tweeters on your behalf.

So why should you avoid hiring a ghost-tweeter? Let me explain why I think it’s a bad move…

1. You probably don’t need to

Social media isn’t rocket science. There’s nothing to it, once you’ve learned the basics. Skill up!

2. Your staff are your best asset, when it comes to social media

They are far closer to your products and services than a freelance ghost-tweeter will be. Make the most of their knowledge and passion.

3. Why pay a ghost-tweeter when you could invest in in-house social media training?

It’s like paying rent: dead money. I think it is far better to invest in training up your staff, for long-term success.

4. It’s a cultural thing. Or at least it should be...

By outsourcing your tweets you are avoiding the issues that social media presents for companies (especially the bigger ones). Take ownership of your social media presence. Figure out how it might affect your organisation culture and processes. Hire copywriters to produce compelling content, rather than to write your tweets.

5. Social media isn’t all about broadcasting messages

Ghost-tweeters shouldn’t be tasked with dealing with customer service issues and other queries. Note too that your PR and marketing team might not be the most suitable respondents. Focus social media on brand and service, rather than sales and marketing. 

6. You need to make your own mistakes

While there are lots of guidelines for social media, there is no fixed rulebook to adhere to. What’s right for one brand may be wrong for another. Mistakes will inevitably be made, and how you deal with them reveals a great deal to your audience. Firing a ghost-tweeter who has overstepped the mark isn’t going to help you to figure out Twitter and Facebook.

7. You might get found out

And that might become a reputational issue. Oh boy.

What do you think? Am I being harsh? Are there some exceptions to the rule? 

Chris Lake

Published 22 September, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (34)

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Steven Nash

I'm cynical about this whole thing. Looks like a stunt.

about 5 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Ouch.
If it's a stunt, who benefits?
If not...
Ouch.

about 5 years ago

Mat Oram

Mat Oram, Head of Customer Care at Peto

Anyone else think this is made up? Feels like nothing more than a PR stunt. Saying that, i do agree with all of your points.

about 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Could be a stunt, and might be played out like one, but I'm with Doug... who wins?

about 5 years ago

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LordManley

Bloggers.

about 5 years ago

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Jane Robathan

I tweet for a small independent. And do their copy. I have regular contact with the office and direct sales/customer enquiries to the apt person. It's working very well. Why not? Twitter is as much about brand-building as it is about anything else, such as service. Who said a GT is less likely to mess up than an employee? Strange post.

about 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Jane - Smaller companies may well be the exception to the rule, especially if you're in close contact with the sales / marketing / service folks. But I think bigger firms should be doing this in-house, and in full control of their social media strategy.

about 5 years ago

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Illiya Vjestica

Great article Chris.

I agree, it is far better to invest in training up your staff for long-term success, although in a lot of companies 'time' and not 'the cost' is the main factor affecting staff members from getting involved in social media.

If you are a big brand, industry authority or celebrity then paying a ghost writer just doesn't make any sense.

There is unfortunately a big education gap in a lot of smaller SMEs understanding of social media and how it can be best used effectively.

If you are a small business with a few staff members, then paying some who really 'understands' social media from a business perspective to manage your accounts on your behalf, can make complete sense.

Especially, if that individual takes the time to 'learn' about the company, its customers and its message properly.

I don't agree that every business is capable of doing their own social media themselves. As to making your own mistakes, I believe businesses can avoid this through training their staff on social media or making sure they hire the right individuals to guide them through using it effectively for their company.

This is might be leading by example by managing their account for a few months.

I think some of the problems with this lie with companies employing so called 'social media gurus' who don't have a clue about effectively managing a companies social media presence. `

In the end, nothing beats having someone individually involved with the company being at heart of their social media presence. It will always come across as more natural and engaging.

about 5 years ago

Mat Oram

Mat Oram, Head of Customer Care at Peto

Agreed Chris - re: doing it yourself. Why would it be a stunt? I didnt know Mark Davidson from Adam 2 hours ago... I do know...

about 5 years ago

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Rob McLeod, Head of Planning at Realise Digital

He doesn't even tweet that much/that much interesting stuff...

about 5 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

Jane makes a good point. An uneducated employee can do just as much damage as an angry ghost-tweeter. It doesn't matter who is handling your Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/etc accounts as long as they are invested in your success and know your brand. Companies outsource their SEO, copywriting, PR and more all the time. What makes social media any different?

about 5 years ago

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Charlotte Clark

Think everyone's jumping on the bandwagon slightly here. How do we know it wasn't someone out to get him who got the log in. It's the perfect way to get him in trouble.

We shall see.

about 5 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

I've followed Mark Davidson from the early days of joining Twitter and I'd be inclined to think it's not a stunt. There's been no such 'stunts' since 2007 and as Doug points out, nobody wins.

I don't think employing a ghost-writer is an effective strategy for Twitter, since the site is about being personal and connected etc. But I think if you are going to do it, the least you can do is be open, honest and transparent about it. There may be some exceptions such as Twitter accounts employing ghost-tweeters (such as Guy Kawasaki) that are purely set up for broadcast.

With the benefit of hindsight, there may also be some rules of best practice when employing ghost-tweeters that could have prevented this. i.e. change passwords, and make sure you foster a good relationship with your ghosts so they're loyal to you.

about 5 years ago

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Illiya Vjestica

Great article Chris.

I agree, it is far better to invest in training up your staff for long-term success, although in a lot of companies 'time' and not 'the cost' is the main factor affecting staff members from getting involved in social media.

If you are a big brand, industry authority or celebrity then paying a ghost writer just doesn't make any sense.

There is unfortunately a big education gap in a lot of smaller SMEs understanding of social media and how it can be best used effectively.

If you are a small business with a few staff members, then paying some who really 'understands' social media from a business perspective to manage your accounts on your behalf, can make complete sense.

Especially, if that individual takes the time to 'learn' about the company, its customers and its message properly.

I don't agree that every business is capable of doing their own social media themselves. As to making your own mistakes, I believe businesses can avoid this through training their staff on social media or making sure they hire the right individuals to guide them through using it effectively for their company.

This is might be leading by example by managing their account for a few months.

I think some of the problems are that companies are employing so called 'social media gurus' who don't have a clue about effectively managing a companies social media presence. `

In the end, nothing beats having someone individually involved with the company being at heart of their social media presence. It will always come across as more natural and engaging.

about 5 years ago

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@I_am_Kimba

The use of applications like co-tweet make is very easy for many employees from the same company to have access to the same account, but it allows tweets to be attrubuted to the original author etc (as well as many other features). This way you can direct a tweet to the right person for the best response.

As for a qhost-tweeter, hmmm, I'm still thinking about it...

What will happen when we wakes up???

about 5 years ago

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Danielle Latta

I can see both sides of the coin here. Often small-to-mid size business owners are too busy managing all the other aspects of their business to be active in social media, or they lack the knowledge to effectively market their brand through Twitter and Facebook, so they outsource. Of course there are best practices that should be put to use, i.e., changing passwords with staff changes, etc., but as long as these are in place I don't see the harm in hiring a trusted company to handle your Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Conversely, when allowing an 3rd party to speak for your company, you do lose the personal touch that makes social media so popular.

A good strategy for companies facing this decision is to consider using a social media monitoring tool with an integrated dashboard that allows the owner to manage the workflow and respond directly to consumers. These dashboards allow for the business owner to decide what access each user has, so whether it's an employee or a ghost writer, the ultimate control over content and consumer reseponse lies in the hands of the business owner.

An example of his streamlined process can be seen on our website here: http://www.mutualmind.com/product/

about 5 years ago

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Talha

If this is real then I want to see how Mark Davidson responds.

about 5 years ago

Mat Oram

Mat Oram, Head of Customer Care at Peto

@Markdavidson - Oh. I am so not dealing with this **** today. My only responsibility on this account is to respond to *all* @replies and @mentions. I quit.

I guess that rules out the PR stunt angle.

about 5 years ago

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Jeremy Hilton

In a perfect world, or business environment, then all brands would completely own their social media channels. However business, like the world, is not perfect.

Here are a couple of reasons why many organizations outsource their social channel management:

1. Headcount - Quite often, departments within organizations are not allowed to increase headcount, however they have budget allocated which can be used to hire an agency to manage their social channels.

2. Organizational challenges - Some companies are just so completely broken organizationally that they simply cannot manage, let alone create, a social media program. They do however have the money to hire an agency.

about 5 years ago

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Jeremy Hilton

In a perfect world, or business environment, then all brands would completely own their social media channels. However business, like the world, is not perfect.

Here are a couple of reasons why many organizations outsource their social channel management:

1. Headcount - Quite often, departments within organizations are not allowed to increase headcount, however they have budget allocated which can be used to hire an agency to manage their social channels.

2. Organizational challenges - Some companies are just so completely broken organizationally that they simply cannot manage, let alone create, a social media program. They do however have the money to hire an agency.

about 5 years ago

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Angelina Foster

Coming from an agency, I can understand why some companies hire external people to manage their social networking account. Even though it's simple to learn, some people just don't understand why it's important or the best practices of how to use it.

I've found that as long as we understand our client and their products, have guidelines to follow and show them great results - having a managed twitter account works well.

about 5 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Angelina, you make a good point, though it might not apply to this specific case. For clients who are learning about social media, it might make sense to hire an agency to set up your social media assets and then bring management of the account in-house as the client learns more about best practice.

However, I don't think the lack of skills was the problem in this case since Mark Davidson is an internet marketing professional.

about 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Ha ha, loving the drunk ghost writer ranting. I agree that social media is a cultural thing. Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the case studies and data that demonstrates the potential value is bizarre behaviour. Just because you don't get it doesn't mean your company or its customers don't.

I think using other people to manage your social media presence can be risky business. You have to align social media with your culture and customer service - that demands somebody in-house with the vision to achieve it. If it's all outsourced, you risk not having the right influence amongst other teams to ensure the business is set-up to interact with customers effectively via social media.

@Angelina - If people don't understand why it's important or best practices, how can they monitor and evaluate what you are doing for them? You have to take ownership in-house and drive the social media presence, even if you are working with other people to execute the plans. I just don't understand why companies who don't care or believe in the value of social media want a presence? It is counter-intuitive. It's like me saying I'm an atheist and then getting a friend to go spread the word of God for me (which I don't do, honestly but let me tell you about jesus...).

That said, I have seen the value of external resource helping companies to improve their knowledge and understanding of social media whilst handling the tactical execution. I've seen it work best when the goals are driven by the Client and the specialists optimise the program because they have the skills to do it well.

Thanks
james

about 5 years ago

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Luis Pires

We're in the process of switching from a ghost-tweeter to an in-house tweeter for many reasons:

1) The ghost-tweeters move on, change jobs, change agencies and we need to educate a new person every so often.

2) Very often, the ghost-tweeter isn't in sync with all the different areas of the company, ie.: customer service, to align the solutions on line with what can be accomplished in real world.

3) An in-house person can learn a ton about the consumer and the brands while doing Social Media. We hope to get some bench strength from it.

4) "Nobody loves you like your mother". As much as a ghost-tweeter knows about your brand, he / she will never have the same passion and devotion as an employee

5) Finally, it's about the consumer. Being consistent and honest in every touch point is key for success in Social Media

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

I manage the Twitter account for one of our VPs. I tweet content such as blogs, white papers, videos that she has authored. I also tweet and retweet relevant 3rd party content. I do this from Hootsuite. At the same time she sends her own tweets when she has time.

I alert her of significant mentions. I don't ghost write replies beyond a "thanks for the RT". I did write a reply once and it didn't feel right.

So there is distinction between managing a twitter stream and ghost writing it. Management can include adding new followers etc.

In our case I've instructed the VP that there is a limit to how successful it can be if she doesn't participate regularly.

Ideally the person does it all him/herself but ideal is not always possible.

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

I'd like to make an important distinction. There is a big difference between a company account e.g. @megacorp verus , an individual such as CEO of Megacorp Joe Blogs @megacropJoeBlogs .

When the person's name is the stream then people will expect that he is tweeting. For the company it can be anyone that is knowledgeable and connected with the company including an outside person.

about 5 years ago

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Dan

This story was a hoax/joke...

This interview with Mark Davidson has the details.

Maybe you should check your facts ;)

From Mark Davidson's twitter feed:

pqpolitics
@markdavidson did any blogger actually phone you or email you before posting about your "ghostwriter's" "hijacking"?

markdavidson
Only the legitimate press. Not a single blogger. I opted to only talk to The Atlantic.

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/09/mark-davidsons-twitter-hijacking-was-hoax/42913/

about 5 years ago

Talha Fazlani

Talha Fazlani, Online Marketing at Language Connect

Seems like Mark davidson isn't even a real person.

http://www.ismarkdavidsonreal.com/

I guess its safe to say that this is a stunt and it worked very well. Almost every reputable new media website covered this story.

about 5 years ago

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Maria

I manage the social media for several clients because they realise the need for a presence but don't have the time to do it for themselves - they are experts in their field and want to spend their time on what they do best. I have a close relationship with them and it works very well. I agree though that larger organisations should use an internal employee to represent the company brand.

about 5 years ago

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Angelina Foster

I agree with you Aliya, was just mainly referring to a couple of the comments. We have one client who understands Twitter but somehow forgets about best practices - they tweet a lot which can flood their follower's timeline and when we're not looking they also start following loads of spammers back.

about 5 years ago

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Duncan Colman - Director of Spike SEO

Great post, I totally agree and get angry with companies that look for ridiculously priced agencies to do very basic work. For example, if you provide specialised tips in your industry and line them up nicely in hootsuite/cotweet/tweetdeck your audience will almost immediately be able to tell if the moderator(s) are the ones with the specialist knowledge. This then makes the social media channel almost appear like an advertising opportunity that the firm are trying to exploit - not social!

about 5 years ago

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Jenny Simpson

I completely agree with Guy Harvey

Company = use as many writers as you like
Person = don't use a ghostwriter

If you think of it as being the difference between the OED and Katie Price's latest bonkbuster, then it's an easy distinction.

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

The theme of the article is relevant regardless of whether the Mark Davidson affair was a hoax. I got a lot out of it and helped clarify things for me.

about 5 years ago

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