Jan 102011

Last week one of my clients decided to follow Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter feed. Kawasaki is a former Apple Fellow and current venture capitalist and technology rock star, with over 300,000 Twitter followers. However, my client almost immediately unsubscribed, because he got a flood of commercial messages that didn’t sound like they were from Guy:

@MarkPilip Mark Pilipczuk
Had to stop following @guykawasaki because he spammed my feed. Love ya, Guy, but put that intern on a leash!


This got me  thinking about a prominent topic in the communications industry — the ethics of so-called “ghost tweeting.” How real do you need to be with your tweeting?

I’m in a number of PR related LinkedIn groups, and this topic was debated in a long comment thread last June. In the PRWise group, Amy Dean asked about the ethics of having others tweet under your name. It generated a lot of comments — here’s the link but you need to join group to view.

In May 2009, Amy had written an article for Businessweek in which she called out Guy and others for using ghost Tweeters. (Here’s the NY Times on the topic as well from 2009, also mentioning Kawasaki)

I believe Twitter is used and perceived differently depending on the market — consumer or business to business. In the consumer world, Twitter is seen as just another one-way, distribution channel to often huge numbers of followers. Fans are desperate for information about Brittany or Ashton or 50 Cent, and don’t really have an expectation of interacting with those stars.

But in a b2b scenario, being genuine is more important. That may sound counter-intuitive at first. But people do business with other people they know and trust, and increasingly social media is a way to “know” someone you’ve never met. Social media can communicate a person’s expertise and trustworthiness.

Another factor is the size of the audience. None of my clients are looking to reach hundreds of thousands of followers. The set of influencers they want to connect with are usually much smaller, and relatively well defined.

So when you do connect, it better be genuine. There is an expectation from followers that this really is the person advertised as owner of the account, and that the tweets received will correspond to the advertised source.

There’s nothing “wrong” with viewing Twitter as a one-way, broadcast channel. It’s just a tool after all, and yes it can accomplish that function. But in the b2b space, it can deliver much more if you invest the time to keep it real.

  9 Responses to “Keeping It Real on Twitter”

  1. I’d like to know what your client considered “commercial.” My tweets, ghost or not, are predominantly links to interesting stuff. I never do paid tweets.

    Did you actually look at my tweets or are you just repeating what he said?


    • Guy — thanks for dropping the comment. I didn’t doubt my client, and the volume of your tweets made it almost impossible to go back in time and thoroughly review your feed.

      Is there a way you can track how many tweets he received from the time he subscribed, and unsubscribed? I’d be happy to share that number. Hope you don’t think I’m being unfair. Like I said in the post, this touches on an issue that has been well reported, and I link to that coverage.

  2. Let me get this straight:

    a) You don’t doubt your client.
    b) You saw no way to check the facts.
    c) In your view, lots of tweets = commercial tweets.
    d) Apparently you haven’t read my tweets to see if they truly are “commercial”
    e) Other people have reported it so it must be true.
    f) Spam = lots of tweets not tweets that were not voluntarily subscribed to–you might ask him if I started tweeting to him or he voluntarily followed me.

    Does this summarize the situation? :-) Wow…


    • Guy — the post is about ghost tweeting, not you personally. Isn’t this old news from your perspective? Your ghost tweeting was covered extensively way back in 2009. I didn’t think I was breaking new ground here.

      I state right up front that he subscribed to your feed — and then unsubscribed.

      The main theme of the post is that b2b tweeting needs to be more genuine and personal than b2c. Any comment on that point?

      • To add to what Julia mentioned below, I perceive a lot of tweets that just have a title and a link back to Alltop–which itself has a short summary and then a link back to the source material as “commercial” as well.

        That opinion may differ from Guy’s or others, but that’s the way I see it.

        The reason I even bothered to mention it was that I actually like Guy Kawasaki. A lot. I buy his books, I watch him on YouTube. I see him speak whenever I can.

        The twitter stream didn’t match my expectations. That’s what I found disappointing and what triggered me to even mention it. I certainly didn’t think I’d strike a nerve here.

  3. Hey, is it OK if I tweet this?


  4. Hey Guy, I look at your tweets and some of them are interesting, though not breaking news or anything. Some of them are drivel. But ALL your tweets, ghost or not, link back to your commercial site. They are intended to drive traffic to your site and I consider that “commercial” tweets. And your style of relentless tweeting is kind of like spamming, lots of your tweets are recylced – by you. I have been tempted to unfollow myself, but I’m a student of this medium and HOW it’s used as much as what’s being said.

  5. Good point, Julia. One dumbs down one’s audience with transparent “commercial” tweets. Rarely, in b2b, is there a steady stream of substantial information worthy of a tweet…and if there is nothing to say, then one either recycles or says nothing. I’m skeptical of Twitter in business applications. Other than the rare “breaking news” tweet, it’s pretty much a mind suck.

  6. Regardless whether the tweets are in fact of a commercial nature, I’m probably going to unfollow anyone who tweets more than 20 times a day or so because I just don’t have the inclination to wade through it all to determine what’s worthwhile and what it isn’t.

    If too many people tweet too often, that limits my ability to increase the number of accounts that I follow.

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