Posts Tagged ‘Guy Kawasaki’

Six Lessons From The Ghost Twittering Saga

Eureka momentLast week, I wrote a post about an a-list blogger (Guy Kawasaki) who used ghost writers on his Twitter account. The reaction to that post has been thought-provoking, to say the least.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the whole episode, as a client put it, was watching the ripples go out from my post. Whether it was posts by the likes of Stowe BoydNeville Hobson, Sarah Perez, Li Evans and others, stories in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times or the sheer volume of discussion on my post, this topic certainly caught the attention of a lot of people.

I’ve had plenty of conversations about this post over the last week, and I’ve done a fair bit of thinking on my own. I’ve learned some interesting lessons:

Ethics works in grey areas

The more I write about ethical issues in social media, the more I’ve come to realize that ethical dilemmas are rarely black and white. There’s rarely a clear right or wrong, and most of the debate takes place in the grey area inbetween.

To make matters more complicated, the extent of different peoples’ grey areas varies. Some people see ghost writing, for example, very clearly at one end of the scale and others see it at the other end, but most see it as somewhere in the middle. As I’ve thought about it more and more (and as I’ve been exposed to over 200 peoples’ views over the last few posts), I’ve come to see it as more of a grey area.

I still have my views; I still think it’s wrong and, at best, often ineffective; but I see the other side too, along with a spectrum of opinions inbetween.

Different people use tools in different ways

I’ve always thought of Twitter as a place to connect; as a place to learn; as a place to share. From a corporate side, I’ve thought of it as a place to build relationships; to answer questions; to trouble-shoot; to manage issues. I’ve rarely thought of it as a place to overtly promote.

This week I opened my eyes a little and recognized people using Twitter in ways that I haven’t considered acceptable, and doing it successfully. I was aware of it before, but I avoided those people and in doing so forgot that it was happening to an extent.

New perspectives are valuable. I’ve re-gained one this week.Respond quickly to controversy

While I don’t think that referring to people who raise concerns as “self-appointed consciences of Twitter” is a great way to defuse things, I thought Guy Kawasaki responded well to the ethical concerns I raised.

I know Kawasaki tells people to forget the A-list, but I wasn’t expecting him to change his approach to disclosure just because of one email from me, Z-lister that I am. 

On the contrary, not only did I get a prompt and polite response from guy, but he immediately tweaked things based on my concerns. His twitter bio now names the other authors, and posts from them now include their initials at the end.

(To be clear, Kawasaki never denied the practice and conducted an interview earlier this year where he discussed it; however this was the first time it was disclosed up-front in his bio)

A separate discussion has started over whether his use of Twitter constitutes spam, but that’s not what I asked him about. Those issues are for another day. He addressed my concerns.

Naive to think it wouldn’t get personal

I naively hoped to avoid provoking personal attacks on Kawasaki from commenters. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I’m sure he’s used to it and has a thick skin, but I was sorry to see the attacks happen and I did my best to stop those I saw.

Fortunately, we also got into a vibrant debate on ghost writing on Twitter, which was my initial hope.

On ethical issues, act proactively not reactively

As the conversation evolved, I noticed that numerous people weren’t convinced by Kawasaki’s response because he had to be asked before he changed the way he went about things. In their view, it was a grudging shift rather than a genuine one, and as a social media figurehead he should have known better.

Whether that’s the case or not, there’s a good lesson to learn for the future – if there are vulnerabilities in what you are doing, take the opportunity to fix them now. Don’t wait for people to shine a light on them.

Reflection on why I take a stand on ethics

 This week’s saga also caused me to reflect on why I keep coming back to the theme of ethics. Initially, I did it because some activities ran contrary to what I considered the ‘right’ way to go about things.

Over time, I’ve become more of a pragmatist. The fundamental ethical concern with things like ghost writing is still there, but I’ve realized that there’s also a pragmatic layer to why I feel so strongly about these matters.

I’m a consultant. I advise companies on, among other things, how to find their feet using these tools. I don’t want to see my clients on the receiving end of something like this week’s controversy. The risk/benefit ratio just doesn’t justify unethical tactics.

How about you?

I learn from your reactions to all my posts. It’s why I post so much, and why I post on topics ranging from those about which I know a fair deal, to those about which I know very little. When a post resonates like the ghost twittering post did, I learn even more. 

What did you learn from all this?

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)