Ghost-Tweeting: How Legit Is It?

Ghostwriting has been a staple of business and academia for ages, and it’s something most people seem to have grown comfortable with. True, it is a bit distasteful to think that a high-profile executive or professor received a byline for something authored by his/her assistant, but then we think: They spent many years ghostwriting for others, and then many years on top of that writing their own thought-leadership pieces, so they’ve put in their time. Or something like that.

Then blogs made their grand debut, and senior professionals hesitantly began dipping their toes into the conversation cesspool. With some notable exceptions, though, these executives were blogging vicariously through their communications staff, which was actually responsible for drafting and, after a quick once-over from the “author,” posting the missive. At first, we the people were dismayed, as this behavior flew in the face of all that blogging represents: transparency, authenticity, openness, etc.

But then many of us were reminded of the time constraints placed on these senior executives, not to mention the red tape created by legal departments and similar types of bureaucracy. So came another divide: On one hand, we admonish the act of ghost-blogging, while on the other, we agree to look the other way and, in some cases, even participate in it ourselves. Right or wrong, the point is moot: It’s a reality.

Now, though, we have Twitter, the micro-platform that packs a big communications punch. Of course, many executives now participate in the tweet-o-sphere, be it out of enjoyment, pressure or the fear of being left out. Even big-time celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore tweet, and—at least most people are inclined to believe—they do it without the help of any assistance. But is the same true for senior executives?

I’m willing to venture an educated guess that, while there may be some C-suite professionals tweeting on their own, there are just as many who rely on ghost-tweeters to maintain their Twitter presence for them. This is the point at which I can no longer suspend disbelief. Honestly, is 140 characters really too much to expect to come straight from the horse’s mouth? Or am I—someone who is pro-ghostwriting and grudgingly accepting of ghost-blogging—being a hypocrite?

By Courtney Barnes

Maya Angelou is now my friend

A few days ago, Maya Angelou accepted my request to “Friend” her on Facebook.  I requested her friendship when I first starting using Facebook (about a year ago) and I must admit, I regret the action. A year later and so much wiser about social media, the email that arrived declaring that Maya is now my friend not only fell flat but was a bit embarrassing.  I don’t even remember asking her to be my friend, and why did it take so darn long for her to respond? Granted, she’s busy, and I realize it wasn’t Maya herself who friended me.  But why do we need to have so many friends in social media? Will it really lead to a more enriched life?

So, let’s not forget who our “real friends” are and the power of face-to-face communication. Surely, if Maya saw me in person she wouldn’t recognize her “friend.”  How many friends do we all now have who we’d walk right by at a conference or in the coffee shop? And not because we’re rude friends, but because so many of our friends online are really strangers in reality.

– Diane Schwartz

Employees’ Privacy versus Employers’ Right to Monitor

Managers have long been wary of their employees’ extracurricular activities in cyberspace, whether it’s a question of their profiles on social networks or the content of their personal blogs. There have even been a slew of well-documented tête-à-têtes between employees and their bosses, usually occurring when the latter unceremoniously fires the former for their digital dalliances. In most cases, both sides were able to mount strong defenses, leaving judgments of right versus wrong to the public.

Now, a new study released by Deloitte points to a trend of managers exerting heightened control over employees’ online behavior in the name of protecting against reputational risks. Sixty percent of surveyed business executives said they believe they have a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organizations in online social networks, but an almost-equal percentage of employees (53%) disagree, saying their social networking pages are not an employer’s concern. The crux of the issue is easy to identify: Who is acting within their rights, employees or employers?

It’s a question I posed on PR News’ LinkedIn group, which received a number of responses in defense of both sides. Some were very pro-employee: “I think it’s unfair … Does an employer have the right to read one’s diary, to listen to one’s personal conversations outside of work, etc.—no. It’s a slippery slope, and can lead to a great deal of discrimination, privacy, etc. issues.”

Others strongly defended employers’ right to monitor social media content: “I’m amazed that anyone would even think an employer has no business/interest in what an employee is saying about them … Get over the worry about big brother. They are not monitoring YOU. They are monitoring mentions of the organization.”

As for my own feeling, I can see legitimate arguments on both sides. I personally make a concerted effort to keep my digital “self” at work separate from that at home (I used LinkedIn for professional interactions and limit Facebook for friends only), and I would be bothered to learn that my boss was monitoring my Facebook updates. That said, I would never even think about maligning my employer on ANY social media platform, personal, professional or otherwise. Either way you slice it, it’s a slippery slope, and it raises the question: Will privacy exist in the future?

By Courtney Barnes

Banking on Twitter

I’m not gonna lie: I’m not a fan of Twitter. That’s not to say I believe it to be irrelevant or unnecessary to present-day PR initiatives … I just don’t like it. For many users, it’s just one more platform for indulging in “talking at” anyone who will listen. Whether it’s useless posts (hyperlinks without any context don’t do anyone any good) or shameless self-promotions, it’s just too much clutter in an already chaotic social media environment.

That said, PR News hosted a webinar on May 12 about the best ways to leverage Twitter for effective, meaningful communications with stakeholders. Even I—a self-proclaimed Twitter skeptic—was impressed with the creative ways these professionals used the platform to engage customers, manage media and brand themselves and their organizations.

Then I saw this—news that Wells Fargo and Bank of America have begun tweeting with customers—and I wasn’t sure what to think. As the article notes, banks have been more hesitant to embrace social media, so this is bold move to preserve whatever reputation capital they still have with customers. And those customers seem to be raking these bank tweeters over the goals, with one posting this message: “Stop making your living off my late fees! You fine me more than you loan me!”

Your move, banks.

By Courtney Barnes

Here’s Your Pink Slip, but Keep in Touch

The global recession has prompted layoffs far and wide, and an ever-growing number of the employees being shown the door aren’t the bottom-of-the-barrel in terms of skills and contributions; rather, very often they are competent, capable workers who are so good that their ailing companies can’t afford them.

Perhaps this sad reality has contributed to the trend of companies creating Web sites specifically for “alumni”—those former employees with whom managers want to stay in touch and maintain relationships despite handing them the pink slip. As reported recently in BusinessWeek, Dow Chemical and JPMorgan Chase are just two of many companies that maintain such sites, which (in my opinion) can be likened to a Facebook for “Survivor” cast-offs—those whose time on the proverbial island was cut short because of physical weakness, minimal contributions to the community’s food supply, or a poor performance on the obstacle course. It’s not a club I would want to be a member of, because it would mean I was out of the running for the big payday.

Taking a less cynical view, though, I can also see the advantages of such a social network, for both managers and former employees.  For the former group, it’s a way of conveying their continued interest in the progress and accomplishments of the former staffers, and of not burning the bridges they may want to cross when the economy turns around. It’s also a way of cultivating brand ambassadors. For the latter population, especially in today’s tough climate, it’s a way of networking and keeping doors open for future opportunities.

But what about the risks, which are particularly potent for the hosts of alumni networks? People who leave companies often don’t have the nicest things to say about them, which could turn the social network into an open forum for venting and trash-talking.

As a manager, would you ever consider hosting a social network for laid-off employees? Or, as an employee, would you ever consider joining one to maintain professional relationships?

By Courtney Barnes

A Publisher Walks into a Spa….

On the list of siblings that PR is often pitted against or partnered with (Marketing, Advertising, Investor Relations, Human Resources), Customer Service plays the role of the distant half-sister. They don’t know each other very well, and are forced together every now and then at “family” gatherings and realize, hey, we look nothing alike/see you at next year’s party.

Well, PR and Customer Service should know each other better and get together more often.  I regularly write in this blog about customer service problems I encounter or hear about from colleagues that make my PR hat fall off my head.  Customer service is inextricably linked to the big 3 of business: Reputation. Brand. Sales.  How can so many companies not get this? Case in point last week:  I went to a spa for a half-hour Swedish massage and the masseuse mistakingly gave me a full hour’s treatment (don’t blame me!).

When, upon checking out to pay, I told the owner that I think I was in there for an hour,  she scolded the masseuse at high volume in front of all the staff and customers, told her if she does that again she’ll be fired, and told me I need to pay the full one hour and to please not tip the masseuse. All of a sudden, my stress-free hour turned into a Customer Service nightmare. I paid in full (even though I paid double of what I originally ordered) and I gave the employee a tip. A day later, the owner left me a voice message apologizing, and offering me a free half-hour massage. Really? I will never step foot in that Spa again — even for a bottle of shampoo.  Or for a free back rub over warm coals.  I spread the word to my friends and while my circle of influence is relatively small, I’m pretty sure this spa’s Reputation, Brand and Sales quotient took a small turn for the worse.

What would you have done in this situation? Would you have take the free massage? There’s still time for me to go back….

- Diane Schwartz

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