The Nation’s CEO Has a Ghost-Tweeter

Here’s something that disturbs me, but really should come as no surprise. In remarks to a question in a town hall meeting with Chinese youth, President Obama admitted that he never has used Twitter. He has ghost-tweeters on staff who tweet under his name.

I’ve said before that I believe ghost-tweeting for the CEO is wrong. It’s deceptive because Twitter is a social medium, more personal than a speech or even an executive memo. When you see someone’s name assigned to a tweet, you expect that person is actually doing the tweeting. Twitter is like an online conversation. You wouldn’t let someone sit in for the CEO on a webcast or conference call.

Speechwriting is different. It’s an accepted norm. We all know and understand that President Obama or corporate CEOs don’t usually sit down and write their own speeches. We expect speechwriters spend time with the person who will deliver the speech and then go carefully craft the message. Word choice and cadence are important, so it makes sense to have a speechwriter pay attention to those things.

But when I follow President Obama on Twitter, I should be able to reasonably expect that he is firing off those one-, two- or 15-word messages. I’m bothered by the fact that he’s not on his BlackBerry sending those tweets himself. It seems like a disturbing new standard has been set.

Does anybody else find this news disappointing?


19 Responses

  1. Robert:

    Yes, it’s wrong. And I’m not saying that because I’m not a huge fan his presidency (though I think I would like the man himself).

    “Ghost anything” in the social media realm is wrong. Ghost blogging, ghost tweeting, ghost Facebook status updating . . . . it all flies in the face of what social media is: real people exchanging real ideas and opinions and thoughts.

    If we start allowing executives and others to use ghosts, we’re two steps down the road to turning the authenticity which makes social media special into just another version of “corporate communications”—rehashed press releases with phony quotes, fake CEO columns written by other people, opinion pieces written by committee and sanitized by lawyers, etc. etc.

    It’s a slippery slope, and a dangerous one.

    Steve C.

  2. Interesting, Robert. After all the hype around how he believed in two-way communications and needing a special Blackberry to keep in touch. Sigh.

  3. Steve, I knew you would find this as problematic as I do. You hit on something I didn’t, though — the threat to authenticity.

    We hear all the time from executives who say, “How can I motivate and engage our employees? They won’t do what we ask them to.”

    Of course, the problem is lack of trust throughout the organization. Is it any wonder employees don’t trust management when they are treated to pre-washed, pre-treated communications that lack any authenticity whatsoever?

    This development just adds to the problem. It gives permission to corporate CEOs to have staff members stand in for them in the most personal, interactive media at their disposal. You are right — it’s a dangerous, slippery slope.

  4. Authenticity. The Holy Grail of communications. Since when have politicians ever been authentic? In the corporate environment, authenticity is often equated with weakness–if we truly show our inner selves, we expose ourselves to our peers and subordinates. Shock. Horror. They might actually find out that we are really human after all.

    So am I surprised that Obama has a ghost tweeter? No. Is it a bad precedent? I don’t think there was one. I am disappointed? Yes, because it is a public endorsement of duplicity.

  5. “I’m bothered by the fact that he’s not on his BlackBerry sending those tweets himself.”

    I’d be very VERY bothered if he WAS on his BlackBerry sending these tweets himself. I do not want the president Twittering at all. The rest of us can indulge our ADD and get away with it, but the dozens of crucial decisions a president considers every day MUST demand abstinence from the Twittersphere.

    If the president or the communications staff absolutely thinks it’s important to have a presence on Twitter, then they should have a staff Twit to do it. The person should issue second-hand Tweets like, “POTUS sez Crescenzo irrelevant to national conversation.”

    Wouldn’t that be a reasonable compromise?

  6. David, I should clarify. I don’t really think tweeting is something that should be at the top of the president’s list of things to do. I’m with you on that. There are more important matters for him to deal with.

    But if there is someone tweeting under the name Barack Obama, or POTUS, or Mr. President, or any other name that suggests it is the president who is doing the tweeting, then it should be the president who is doing the tweeting.

    Second-hand tweeting would ease my mind on this matter considerably.

    By the way, if you’re going to start a fight with Crescenzo on my blog, you’d better be ready to pay the bill for damages. I just bought this furniture!

  7. Are the objections I’m reading based on the fact that the Twitter handle is “BarackObama”? With this handle, is it your expectation that you would hear directly from the man, Barack Obama?

    Like you, I work as a communications professional, and I agree authenticity is imperative. Transparency is a part of authenticity, though. So, I disagree with you, Robert and the comments so far.

    I think Obama gets to be the exception. His Tweets aren’t about his life as Barack Obama, the man. To my mind, now that he’s no longer campaigning but is governing, he’s transcended Barack Obama, the brand. He isn’t a CEO, and his work in the world should not be compared to running a business. He’s the President of the US and, as many people like to assert, the leader of the free world. The scope of his work is unlike any other person’s job. I for one am GLAD he’s not actually the one Tweeting. The President has more important business to attend to.

    In this situation, I really don’t see this as a slippery slope issue or an issue of duplicity. Again, I think it’s short-sighted to compare the President to a CEO or a brand manager (or a man/celebrity). I believe, as long as he (or anyone who uses a ghostwriter) is open about “who” is actually Tweeting, listeners are given the chance to recognize there is a filter in place and respond to the message accordingly.

  8. I agree with you, Robert. And looking at his “tweets,” none of them seem plausibly written by him; they don’t even seem to attempt to ape his style.

    See here:

    So the thing easily painlessly be converted to. “POTUS sez,” “POTUS thanks,” “POTUS wants you to know” …. and avoid ethical ambiguity and the brickbats of social media blue hairs like Mr. Crescenzo.

  9. I was following you until you said ghost writing for a speech is ok but not twittering. I mean, just think about that for a minute. The president can have a ghost writer for a speech he’s going to give that millions of people will hear. He speaks those words…as if he wrote them (which I’ve heard he mostly does). If people want to use a social medium like twitter to follow the president around, I personally would prefer that he not waste his valuable time doing that himself. Just my 2 cents. Interesting topic.

  10. >>>>To my mind, now that he’s no longer campaigning but is governing<<<<

    Alexa, someone might want to tell HIM that . . . he didn't seem to get the memo. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    I'm no social media blue hair, David. I realize there is a lot of gray all over the place. But this one seems pretty black and white. Yes, your compromise would be fine.

    If Obama thinks its important that his office tweets, then it should be done by someone in his office. I believe that's what Hilary does, and the State Department twitter account is very interesting and loaded with good stuff. But Hilary isn't pretending that it's her doing it.

    That makes a big difference.

    What if you signed up to get, before they both died, Hunter Thompson's or Studs Terkel's tweets, only to find out that some PR flack was writing them? Would that be okay with you?

    Steve C.

  11. Sorry, Steve, I meant bluenose, not blue hair.

  12. David:

    Thank you for clearing that up. I’m sensitive about hair stuff.

    Steve C.

  13. I am actually relieved to learn this.

    Wouldn’t want anyone with the title of “President of the United States” distracted with tweeting. Tweeting takes time and focus. Even 140 characters at a time is a lot of time and attention he would not devote to the country’s critical issues. A lot of Americans voted for this person to be the Commander In Chief, not the VP of Social Media.

    When it comes to social media, the Office of the President will take shots regardless of what is done. Someone will be terribly offended if:

    -The President did his own tweeting. Some will argue the president should be busy enough with more critical, life-or-death decisions. For a lot of folks, it’s bad enough that he is “wasting” too much time listening to people in town-hall meetings.

    -The President has ghost-twitters. Oh, the humanity of it all! Doing ghost-anything on social media is deceptive. If the man is (as he should be) too busy to engage in social media, he should just keep out of it.

    -The President is abstaining from being represented in any way, shape or form of social media. Where does he think he live, in the 13 Colonies? Doesn’t he realize this is the 21st century and that people expect to hear from the Office of the President via Facebook and Twitter because traditional media (including the former sacred cow known as the Press Release) are dead? Doesn’t the president realize that he has to set the trend for all government agencies so that we have more transparency in government? The President should be impeached for not engaging enough with Americans!

  14. “If the man is (as he should be) too busy to engage in social media, he should just keep out of it.”

    Thank you, Sandra, for your comment. I think your quote above is where I come out on this issue. Remove President Obama’s name from the Twitter account. Use “Office of the President of the U.S.” or something similar. But don’t use the president’s name on a medium that is as personal as Twitter.

  15. PS-
    Exactly where is the deception if the President voluntarily disclosed (without pressure from inquiring bloggers) that he does not do his own tweeting?

  16. I believe the practice of ghost-tweeting is deceptive generally because a reasonable person would assume that a tweet that appears under a person’s name is coming from that person.

    Yes, President Obama admitted publicly that he has never tweeted. But you assume that everyone everywhere heard that message, which I’m sure is not the case.

    To avoid any appearance of deception at all, why not just remove the president’s Twitter handle if he’s not doing the tweeting?

  17. Ah, so there’s the other shoe! You just don’t want the Office of the President to be represented in any way, shape or form of social media realm. It’s a very personal realm to you, but not to the myriads of corporations and government agencies who seek to stay in touch with their stakeholders and audiences. If we could wave a magic wand and remove everyone with a political or commercial agenda from Twitter, even you would disappear from that deserted island.

  18. No, this is a misrepresentation of what I said. I did not say I don’t want the Office of the President of the U.S. to not be represented in any way on social media. Quite the contrary. As a communicator, I believe the president — and any leader of any organization — should be active on social media. But I believe there should be transparency about who is doing the communicating.

    Social media are personal, but of course they are are effective tools for organizations to create personal relationships with various audiences. What I am calling for is honesty about who the messages are coming from — whether that is a singular person or a representative of that person or an organization.

  19. […] The Nation’s CEO Has a Ghost-Tweeter « Communication at Work – […]

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