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

  • When it comes down to it, Guy is using Twitter as another marketing channel to get out his message, be that promotional for his companies or to extend his personal brand. Regardless of the fact that Twitter is the hot mode of the moment, it’s just another marketing channel and as such, is likely to be treated as one, i.e. it’s not unreasonable to expect that marketing professionals or other writers are behind any market facing activity. For example, we have ghostwritten countless articles for our clients, a topic we wrote about on our blog, http://inmedialog.com/index.php/archives/components-of-an-integrated-program-bylined-articles/. Why should it be acceptable for one market facing activity to be done by someone other than the person receiving the byline, and it not acceptable for another activity? I think that the vast majority of people not in the marketing industry would be surprised the degree to which the person receiving the credit for a public piece of information – speech, article, book, what have you – is not indeed the person doing the heavy lifting.

  • I’m not sure why anyone is surprised or why this is an issue. It’s all about what works for you. If you prefer not to follow people that use ghost writers, don’t. IMO, it’s all about finding the “good fit”. If you’re trying to make a personal connection, you may not want to follow the Twitter-er that uses ghost writers or uses the service to promote their business only (not saying that this is Guy’s agenda).

    I’m not at all surprised that Guy does this. It would be great if his ghost twitterers identified themselves w/ their own twitter id’s or initials, but at least he didn’t seem reluctant to disclose them.

    There are only so many hours in a day. I don’t fault anyone for attempting to maximize those hours.

  • I wish I could afford to employ a ghost writer or three…

  • I’m with Guy on this one. The reason why I follow anyone is because of the quality of their content. I really don’t care who wrote it, as long as it’s valuable to me.

    The ethics only come into play for me when people deliberately mislead or misrepresent.

    Just as mass communications (TV, print) are ‘mediated’ by the reader, so social media is also mediated by those who use it. The responsibility is theirs to interpret, judge and value as they wish.

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