Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue

I’ve written several posts on ethics and ghost blogging recently, so it’s hardly surprising that when I spotted a post suggesting one of the biggest names in social media has other people write under his name, I paid attention.

Bottom line: Guy Kawasaki, creator of Alltop and Truemors, has three other people writing through his Twitter account on his behalf.

Aran Hamilton chose to use the first post on his new blog to discuss how this changes his view of Guy (disclosure: Aran is a client, but we are not involved with his personal blog). Like Aran, although I’ve never met Guy I have a lot of respect for him and what he’s accomplished, which was initially shaken somewhat by this news.

Here’s the situation, in Guy’s own words (from the iampaddy blog):

“…there are two people who tweet on my behalf. One, @amoxcalli, is a grandmother in LA who has an exquisite eye for the interesting and controversial. She adds about five tweets per day. The other is @billmeade. He is the best beta tester of books that I have ever met. I wish he would do more, but he does about one tweet every two days or so.”

To put this in context, Kawasaki posts about 35 messages to Twitter per day according to Tweetstats. Of these, again according to Kawasaki:

  • One is an automated Alltop announcement
  • 10-15 are automated tweets from Truemors
  • Five or six are undisclosed messages from other people
  • The rest (doing the math, 13-19 tweets or thereabouts) are from Kawasaki

I have no fundamental problem with the automated tweets. I don’t like them personally – they’re the reason I don’t follow @guykawasaki on Twitter – but from an ethical standpoint I have no concerns and from what I understand they work well for Guy.

However, I do have a problem with undisclosed authors.

The problem with ghost-writing in Twitter

The person who is posting many of the messages to this popular account (over 90,000 followers) may not be the person you thought. In fact, that’s the case in up to a third of cases on some days (taking the clearly automated messages out of the equation).

In cases where the ghost writers work on behalf of someone with a large personal brand, this kind of practice is even more grating. The brand is built on the trust of people who believe they are reading the thoughts of the person who is named.

The other authors were, last night, not disclosed anywhere on either Guy’s account or on those of the others involved. 

To me this represented a lapse in judgement. Guy has plenty of interesting things to say himself, so why have other people write for you?

Guy Kawasaki responds

I emailed Guy to get his comments on this issue. His answers, in typical Guy Kawasaki style, were up-front and to the point (it was also late last night – thanks, Guy, for the quick reply).

DF: In your interview with Paddy Donnelly, you mentioned that two other people contribute to your Twitter account. This was a couple of months ago. Is it still the case?

GK: There are still two people (and very infrequently a third) who tweet for me. Gina Ruiz and Annie Colbert. Bill Meade does from time to time.

DF: Why did you decide to have other people write under your name?

GK: Because I want a constant stream of the most interesting links in all of Twitter.

DF: Do you feel it is misleading to have other people write under your name on Twitter?

GK: Nope–especially because I don’t hide the fact.

DF: Have you considered disclosing the other authors in your profile?

GK: That’s a good idea. I just changed it. Never thought of that.

DF: How do you feel about the ethical issues raised by ghost writing using social media tools in general?

GK: Surely, there are more important things to think about.

Closing thoughts

I appreciate the honesty in Guy’s answers, although his dismissal of ethical issues worries me. Still, Guy is well known for his pragmatic style so a philosophical debate over ethics is unlikely to be priority #1. For me, however, ethical issues are important ones to discuss.

I’m especially happy that Guy chose to amend his Twitter profile to disclose the other authors. Indeed, I turned-on my computer this morning and he has already changed his bio.

That’s a smart move and, for me, defuses most of the controversy around the issue. While I still think that having other people tweet for you isn’t a great approach, this removes some of my concerns. Still, how do we know if it’s Guy writing in any particular case?

From the poll I ran on a recent post, about two thirds of people think that, with disclosure, this kind of practice is ok. 

What do you think?

(Image credit: hawaii)

157 Responses toGuy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue

  • Its interesting this is the second post I have seen today that is discussing ethics in Social Media and what is or is not acceptable behavior. What I see here is that someone you held to a higher standard has failed to meet your expectations – that’s life, that’s not ethics, thats just human nature. Your expectation was that Guy Kawasaki was going to sit down and find all this cool stuff and tweet it out for your enjoyment just because he’s a great bloke. He is a business man, he makes no qualms about it, he is a pragmatic marketer, he doesnt see blogging, tweeting or social media as a form of purist pastime, he sees it as a way to make a buck. Why be disappointed? Why expect full disclosure? Surely its better to expect that someone with his profile is probably using help, Alltop for example is mostly run by Neenz not by Guy. He doesnt specifically disclose this but if you spend anytime in conversation with him he doesn’t hide it either. I think a discuss of ethics in Social Media is an excellent thing, but a rather unsurprising revelation that Guy uses at least 3 ghost writers really doesn’t add up to that. What about the spammers or the cases like Belkin paying for reviews?

  • Social media is supposed to be about relationship building. Let’s assume that I think I am having a “relationship”- business or personal- with someone on Twitter. We arrange to have coffee. And then instead of Guy Kawasaki, or whomever, someone totally different shows up. There’s an element of betrayal present here, whether or not you see it as a minor infraction in the unstated rules, or somehow ethical or unethical.
    I think one of the off-putting aspects of second life was all the costume and drama- people could not use their own names, and therefore became less accountable for their actions. What would happen in the unlikely event that a ghost twitterer went rogue? What if they got ticked because they weren’t paid and decided to tick off everyone in social media? And then the person tried to explain away the insults by alleging it was a ghost twitterer? How would that play? Would it be okay because the person paying the ghost just got what they deserved? Would we question whether they were being authentic and truthful then? How would anyone know it was really a ghost and not twittering while intoxicated?
    When you play with roles and stories, it becomes harder to separate truth from fiction. When you lend your name and reputation to someone else, you put yourself at risk for the good and the bad. Is it worth it? Is your reputation worth the risk, when it is the most important currency you own on the web? I think that is the basic question worth discussing.

  • Good that Guy says it’s not him. And that’s the point. It’s NOT him.

  • Great blog post. Thanks for sharing. I don’t his tweets particularly interesting but that was something enlightening to know. I am not sure if all others of his stature doesn’t do that.

  • I find this concerning because Guy Kawasaki has used his own name for the account and not disclosed that he has ghost writers. If he had disclosed this clearly from the beginning I would not have any concerns. I’m not about to trash him and say I’ll never listen to a thing he says again because some of his stuff is great and he has achieved so much, but it has damaged his credibility in my eyes, especially being so dismissive of ethics. Sidestepping an issue and belittling it does not make it go away, no matter who you are Guy Kawasaki.

  • Alexis
    ago11 years

    “Disclosure once the cops catch you with the loot in your hand is not disclosure.” Huh? Guy wasn’t hiding anything and has openly discussed his “Twitter Style” for months. I realize Twitter is very much a back patters club, but all you did is rehash a story that came out months ago and made a little noise to grab yourself some attention. To make any comment that claims Guy is breaking some sort of Twitter community rule or norm is ridiculous. Twitter is a rapidly evolving community, so Twitterers are constantly testing how to tweet and different Twitter styles. If you don’t like someone’s style, unfollow. It’s simple.

  • I realized months ago Kawasaki was building a publishing infrastructure, not relationships (http://www.ddmcd.com/building.html) so I’m not as bent out about Kawasaki’s subterfuge as others are. It’s still subterfuge, though. The fact that he doesn’t think it’s a big deal speaks volumes.

  • Thanks for putting this up Dave.

    It’s wierd how I discovered Guy’s on twitter, this morning (via ExecTweets) and set a mental note to follow him, and now I come across this note.

    I do assume that celebrities would use Ghost writers and I’m ok with that. But when I choose to follow a thought-leader, then I assume I am getting the best of his/her thoughts.

    While on the one hand my fundamental need for high-quality/cutting edge thought does get met via the content, but the acription in my mind of that content to Guy, and my connection, beliefs, followership to Guy as a result is untrue, and that’s where I would be justified in feeling cheated.

    If Guy does think highly of the content of the other 3 Tweeters, then put out a note or RT their tweets, so we’ll all know and follow them for their own merit. Which is what I now intend to do.

    I would hate to learn that Tom Peters or Stepehen Covey or Ken Blanchard are being ghost written! In which case, I’d rather engage with said Ghost!

  • I want to add/reiterate one thing here, which is getting lost.

    I deliberately used the phrase “defuses issue” in the title of this post, as I think Guy’s response to my email went a long way towards resolving things.

    This post was not meant to result in personal attacks on Guy Kawasaki, although I may have been naive to think that it wouldn’t end that way. It saddens me to see some of the personal things people are saying. Yes, *in my opinion* he made a mistake, but he corrected that when I suggested disclosure. We all make mistakes. I’m not going to judge someone’s character based on one lapse in judgement or one short email Q&A.

    I also don’t take his one-line response to my question about broader ethics as dismissal of the topic in general, but rather a sign that he feels it’s not a topic he feels it’s necessary to discuss. I disagree, but again that’s personal and I place no judgement on that.

    Make sense?

  • In this case, I see “Guy Kawasaki” as a brand vs. human/personality. It’s really no different than a company tweeting via more than one employee via one account. The auto-tweets are a big reason why I see the @guykawasaki account as a brand v. person, too. With the disclosure of the other authors, I don’t have a problem with it. Not even sure if I require the names/handles of the other tweeters (just making it public is fine by me), but it’s certainly the way to go once the question was posed.

  • Kamran Qamar
    ago11 years

    Does anyone feel that we are getting into the age of Tweetpaming? (Tweet Spam). Last night alone I have 30+ tweets from Guy. I was following him, because I care what he personally has to say, I don’t care about the links on wiered topics which they are pushing. Thoughts?

  • Hes a busy man, there is no way that he can do the reported 35 comments a day and still carry on his normal life. Look at any person who becomes famous or is a figure head, they become puppets. Most rapper and bands now dont write their own music, they have all transitioned over the to dark side of becoming “entertainers” rather then originals

    Even the President, the man who runs the country and even possibly the world has a 20 something writing his speeches. This is nothing uncommon.

Trackbacks & Pings

  • dannybrown (Danny Brown) :

    Twitter Comment


    Great post from @davefleet that makes you question @guykawasaki ‘s ethics [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • collmiller (collmiller) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT @tomguarriello: @guykawasaki has others writing tweets under his name [link to post] the honesty though

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • curiouslt (curiouslt) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT @dannybrown: Great post from @davefleet that makes you question @guykawasaki ‘s ethics [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • adriandayton (Adrian T Dayton) :

    Twitter Comment


    Is twittgerism wrong? @guykawasaki doesn’t think so. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • Inga_Ros (Inga Rós) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT @dannybrown: Great post from @davefleet that makes you question @guykawasaki ‘s ethics [link to post] (Great post and raises good ?)

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • JimConstantine (Jim Constantine) :

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    @adriandayton asks is twittgerism bad? or How @guykawasaki transformed himself into a brand. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • mediaphyter (Jennifer Leggio) :

    Twitter Comment


    Very good post by @davefleet on @guykawasaki’s use of ghost writers on Twitter and related ethics [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • Carve_Australia (Sarah Thomas) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT @mediaphyter Very good post by @davefleet on @guykawasakis use of ghost writers on Twitter and related ethics [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • friarminor (friarminor) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT: @tiffanyanderson: Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue — very disappointing. Thx @mediaphyter [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • markivey (mark ivey) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT @mediaphyter: Very good post by @davefleet on @guykawasaki’s use of ghost writers on Twitter and related ethics [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • wmrandth (Randy Thornton) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT @OnlineStrategy: RT @mediaphyter: Very good post by @davefleet on @guykawasaki’s use of ghost writers on Twitter [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • stoweboyd (Stowe Boyd) :

    Twitter Comment


    Guy Kawasaki doesn’t know what Twitter is about. He’s an abuser. [link to post] #fraud

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • scottquick (Scott Quick) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT @stoweboyd: Guy Kawasaki doesn’t know what Twitter is about. He’s an abuser. [link to post] #fraud

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • Sam1 (Sam Winsier) :

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    Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue | davefleet.com [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • mollybob (Shelley Gibb) :

    Twitter Comment


    thx @stoweboyd @guykawasaki has Twitter ghostwriters [link to post] perhaps it should have been disclosed earlier.

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • sborsch (Steve Borsch) :

    Twitter Comment


    Guy Kawasaki doesn’t know what Twitter is about. He’s an abuser. [link to post] #fraud (via @stoweboyd)

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • dekrazee1 (Rai) :

    Twitter Comment


    Reading [link to post] and thinking “Everyone uses Twitter in their own way, but I’m slightly glad I don’t follow him….”

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • mollybob (Shelley Gibb) :

    Twitter Comment


    thx @stoweboyd: guy kawasaki uses ghost writers [link to post] issue of disclosure here.

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • WebMetricsGuru » Attending Search Engine Strategies :

    […] people are complaining about Guy Kawasaki because he has others using his Twitter account – see Dave Fleet’s post on Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue – and I am curious (yellow) to know if he’s going to talk about it at the keynote.  […]

    11 years ago
  • sethgoldstein (Seth Goldstein) :

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    Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue | davefleet.com: Bottom line: Guy Kawasaki, creator of Allto.. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • Marcel_Perform (Marcel) :

    Twitter Comment


    @royblumenthal Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • hnauheimer (Holger Nauheimer) :

    Twitter Comment


    Interesting controversy at @stoweboyd’s about one of the top tweeters, @guykawasaki who uses ghost tweeters [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • JoyAndLife (Gurprriet Siingh-Joy) :

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    @romasha Ghost writing by some, even on ExecTweets – check this [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • robertahill (Roberta Hill) :

    Twitter Comment


    Very interesting and thought provoking RT @hnauheimer: @stoweboyd’s post about @guykawasaki who uses ghost tweeters [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • colinsurprenant (Colin Surprenant) :

    Twitter Comment


    Guy Kawasaki is a brand – or are you following a person, a brand or a mascot? [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • CourtneyEngle (CourtneyEngle) :

    Twitter Comment


    Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • johnyeng (John Yeng) :

    Twitter Comment


    RT @Don_Crowther Are you using ghost #writers on Twitter? Guy #Kawasaki and other top twitters do! [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • BrendanCooper (Brendan Cooper) :

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    Shared: Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue | davefleet.com: Guy Kawasaki, creator of All.. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • dannybrown (Danny Brown) :

    Twitter Comment


    @OMSummit Ah, but is it really him that’s using it? [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • djwaldow (DJ Waldow) :

    Twitter Comment


    Even more respect 4 @guykawaski now (& @davefleet). Nice write up “Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue” [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • Brandyourself (Brand-Yourself) :

    Twitter Comment


    @guykawasaki Ghost writing is frowned upon but you where completely open/honest about it and stayed true to your brand [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • links for 2009-03-24 | Seth Goldstein Online :

    […] Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue | davefleet.com Bottom line: Guy Kawasaki, creator of Alltop and Truemors, has three other people writing through his Twitter account on his behalf. (tags: twitter journalism ethics socialmedia guykawasaki ghostwriting) […]

    11 years ago
  • intuitioneer (Laurie Foley) :

    Twitter Comment


    @guykawasaki has lost my trust. respect the man but not the strategy. just unfollowed… http://bit.ly/gfg8I [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • Guy Kawasaki and his “ghost writers” effect on his personal brand | Brand-Yourself.com Blog :

    […] to DaveFleets blog, “Bottom line: Guy Kawasaki, creator of Alltop and Truemors, has three other people writing […]

    11 years ago
  • joshua_d (josh duncan) :

    Twitter Comment


    reading, “Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue” – [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • robquig (Robert Quigley) :

    Twitter Comment


    When you have ghost writers on your Twitter acct, you might be doing too much – [link to post] (via @joshua_d)

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    11 years ago
  • links for 2009-03-25 « Brendan Cooper, your friendly neighbourhood social media strategist :

    […] Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue | davefleet.com Guy Kawasaki, creator of Alltop and Truemors, has three other people writing through his Twitter account on his behalf. I have to say, despite myself, I do actually find this slightly disappointing. (tags: ghostblogging davefleet guykawasaki) […]

    11 years ago
  • Celebrities Who ‘Get’ Twitter, Celebrities Who Don’t | Twittercism :

    […] people herself. Except it doesn’t really count, as she contributes to her Twitter stream even less than Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki). That’s right, it’s mostly her PR […]

    11 years ago