Monday, October 12, 2009

Social Media vs. Ethics - Death Match 2009

In a lot of ways, this social media thing is like the Old West, and we’re all basically out in the wilderness, cutting our own paths where there are no roads, or trying to follow the barely worn trail of an explorer who’s come before us. Hello, Lewis and Clark.

Entrepreneurs, small businesses, and even the big corporations are eager to utilize the power of social media. It astounded me that all of my time fooling around online can now be considered experience on my resume. Web 2.0 has quite the cache.

While they can point to examples of marketing online that have boomed businesses and brought about coveted results, there’s really no fool proof formula. It’s not a tangible, why this worked for this person and the same thing fell short elsewhere... and that’s part of the allure of web 2.0 skills – it’s too wide open, too creative, too much of it says you have to be innovative to get noticed... so regular business folks are hiring other people to handle their facebook and twitter and blog accounts.

Ghost blogging’s been around forever. I’m not sure how many people were aware that there’s a large market out there for marketing and pr people (or writers who just need a little extra income) to step into this ghost social media market. Really it’s ideal for someone with a fiction writing background. Capture the voice of the company or person and speak as them online.

But how ethical is it?

Like everything, it depends on the exact scenario. For me, blogging or tweeting as a representative of a company is fine. I could do that, using my own voice or even someone else’s... what I can not do is pretend that I’m another living person.

I think readers or followers on twitter and facebook use these venues specifically because it opens up a window to talk to the actual person. If I knew that the editors and agents I follow weren’t the real people tweeting and blogging, that they passed it off to ghost web 2.0 people, I probably wouldn’t follow them. The point for me is the insider perspective into the industry and the ability to actually converse with people whose opinions and knowledge I respect. And hey, maybe their ghost tweeters would be just as knowledgeable, buuuut it smacks as unethical to me in that the readership is largely based on who you are and what you know.

The same would hold true for me with authors, or actors, and any specific person’s online persona. And I get the draw, there’s only so much time in a day and staying on top of your online platforms can be a pretty time-consuming job, more so if you have a lot of followers. But my answer to that would be not to use platforms that give the impression the reader is talking to you when they’re really getting your pr team. And the other thing I think it’s important to note – from what I’ve seen, pr teams suck at online marketing. Yes, they really really do. Tweeting and facebook and linkedin and even blogging – they don’t work for the hard sell. You can’t run a twitter account by constantly running 140 characters of infomercial. Nobody wants to spend their time there.

And that’s the thing. These venues work for personal interaction, or at least the illusion of personal interaction. When you take the person out of it, your readers can usually tell.

I think I might be too honest for a career in marketing. But I don’t see why marketing can’t be honest. Like I said, might not be the perfect spot for me.

So how about you guys? Would you consider blogging as another person or tweeting or any of the other social media stuff? Would you feel the same way if one of your favorite professional bloggers, authors or whatever, turned out to be ghost written?

See, it’s an interesting question for me because there’s such an odd fine line – I don’t have any problem with work for hire writing, that’s most of the writing I’ve done professionally. I don’t have any problem with ghost writers who do autobiographies or any other type of work really, but for some reason the social media thing crosses the line for me... maybe because the reader doesn’t expect interaction from the author of a book or article... How about you? Where’s your line – and how are you liking the wild wild west?


jjdebenedictis said...

Very interesting discussion, Merry!

I know celebrities have their novels ghost-written, and that doesn't bother me. However, yes, if they have someone impersonating them online, that strikes me as scuzzy behaviour.

My thoughts on what the difference is pretty much agree with yours. It comes down to what makes the final product valuable.

A good book has to be readable, and a celebrity is not necessarily a good enough writer to pull that off. As long their story is being told, it doesn't bother me that someone else did the telling. The content, as well as the skill required to put it on the page, are both part of what makes the final product valuable.

In social networking, the valuable thing is the (exciting) chance to talk to a celebrity. And no one likes to think they got excited over a con-job.

A ghostwriter improves the product. An impersonator removes all the value the product might have had. I guess that's what it comes down to.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi JJ,

Well, that's the thing, twitter and facebook accounts are for personal interacting, so using a ghost person is, I don't know, just kind of wrong...

I can see business people wanting to tap into the market without taking the time to do it themselves, but I have to wonder how well that even works. Who goes on twitter to follow their accountant, unless their accountant is really cool or maybe they're an numbers person...

And there's the other end of this whole thing, when the whole platform becomes only a marketing tool. I've seen authors do this, where all the sudden their blogs and tweets become about selling their books instead of talking about something... I guess because there's only so much time outside of the work of writing, but I think it can be counter-productive. I'll keep buying an author because I like their fiction, but I won't read their online stuff if it's only about selling their books.

So I think there's a balance. Online presence can't be one long infomercial if you intend to keep a loyal audience. Though I guess it might work well for those authors whose readership lands there because they were searching the author out in the first place... then again, if they're already looking for you, did you need the hard sell?

I think I'll defer to Chris Eldin on this one? She's got some great ideas about book publicity online.

Natasha Fondren said...

I know a few authors who use assistants to MySpace and Facebook for them. They usually only say sort of standard announcements and standard greetings and responses, but still. Every time they post on my page or wall, I'm frowning and going, "Okay, is that YOU or your assistant?"

Of course, if someone hired me to do that, my objections about it would be gone in a heartbeat, LOL!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Natasha,

Of course, if someone hired me to do that, my objections about it would be gone in a heartbeat, LOL!

Big Grin! That was one of the reservations I had with posting this - marketing and pr intersects pretty heavily with freelance writing, and my own resume is writing heavy. So I may be diminishing my own employment power by stating this... I don't mind so much that authors (or anyone, really) has assistants do some of their updating for them. I do mind if the assistant pretends to be the person in response to readers... if that makes sense.

It's kind of an awkward thing, because I've found I can explain social media to people, even help them determine the best use of platforms for their businesses, but I can't pretend to be them, which is what a lot of people really want a social media person to do.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm real! I actually AM a daft middle-aged woman, not just someone who pretends to be ditzy and scatterbrained because it's attractive.

Although I can imagine the money would be great, I would not be happy to ghost-write a celebrity's blog unless it just so happened that I was so much like that celebrity it was surreal, and she was also, coincidentally, a writer who enjoyed penning self-deprecatory sketches. And she would have to have even less time than I have, and the wherewithal to reward me handsomely for my efforts. Like that's going to happen, right? So it looks like I will never be called upon to sell my soul.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary!!!

I knew you were real!

I know authors and personalities do hire people to do this stuff, and I don't want to be too judgmental because, hell, the writer is probably making a pretty good living at it. I just don't think it's up my alley, I guess. And I'd feel bad for all the readers who came to a blog or tweeted back thinking they were talking to the 'real' person.

jerseygirl89 said...

My honest answer is that I would do it if paid (well) for it, because I could do it from home and I like making money. However, I think that if you want to be on Facebook or Twitter, you should write those yourself. It takes a minute to update your status or write a tweet. Blogs and autobiographies are different to me, because they actually require writing skill and not all celebrities are even literate. :)

Erica Orloff said...

Fascinating discussion.

As a ghostwriter . . . it amuses me when people think this self-help guru or that celeb actually WROTE their own material. I always feel a bit like that final scene in the Wizard of Oz where Toto pulls the curtain back. I've been ghosting for years. Including a few household names.

Interestingly, my agent has also been approached about me ghosting for a couple of people . . . whose novels are out, and so I KNOW they didn't write them (I turned down the opportunity for one fiction guy because his agent was an ass).

So would a blog or Twitter bother me from that perspective? Not really. But then I guess I am a little more cynical in that my expectations are low in that regard.


Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Jersey,

Yay for honesty!!!

Blogs and autobiographies are different to me, because they actually require writing skill and not all celebrities are even literate. :)

See, this is a good point! And you're right, not everyone can even write a coherent sentence and for someone in the public eye, I'd guess they'd want someone else to make them look good.

Have you looked into writing for textbooks? I know a lot of the big textbook publishers need writers for their material, but they need people with a background in education. Just a thought. I think most of those writers are credited in the textbooks, too.

Hi Erica,

Like I said, ghostwriting doesn't bother me at all - that's an honest profession. It's the tweeting and venues where they are obviously trying to make it appear as if they are the ones commenting...

You know, though, I couldn't ghost fiction. That for me is a personal choice, I just can't do it. I don't know, if you want to write fiction, you have to do the work as far as I'm concerned... if you're having it ghost written, well, what's the point besides some sort of an ego boost?

Erica Orloff said...

I turn down ghosted fiction . . . but the self-help genre . . . I do quite a bit of that. Ghosted fiction does seem weird to me. But there you go--the trend is toward a BRAND more than the writing in some ways. I mean, looks at James Patterson. Not to knock his books (I've only read two . . . so I simply can't say) . . . but it's about brand building now.


Colleen_Katana said...

Whoa...when I clicked on your blog at midnight tonight, I was so not expecting such a heavy, discussion based post! I don't know why I didn't expect it, though since you always seem to hit the heavy topics! =0)

I honestly never even thought to question whether a celebrity who was twittering was actually that celebrity. But they have assistants write their emails and crap all the time, so it wouldn't surprise me if they had assistants twitter for them, too. In any case, I agree that it's kind of annoying especially since these types of social networks are meant to be personal...

I'm not being very coherent. I think my brain popped and is done for the night. I may have to come back to this one after I get some sleep!

WordVixen said...

I think Britney Spears handled it very well on Twitter (dunno if she's on any other social networks- I made a derogatory tweet about her, got auto-followed, made another snarky remark about celeb impostors, found out it was a real account and followed back out of guilt). It's mostly her "team" that tweets for her, but they make it obvious such as "Britney is so excited about..." or "Britney just got nominated for...". Then, once or twice a day She actually tweets herself. Usually something like "I'm going to see my boys in an hour, I can't wait!"

It's not very interesting, but it keeps the tweets flowing without trying to fool anyone. It's just a shame that her team isn't made up of good writers. Seriously- they're like that fake library assistant who thinks the only way to get kids involved is to speak in a high voice with a strained smile on her face.

A few others I have wondered about. Like Stephen Fry. I really want him to be real- but how to be sure?

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Erica,

There it is... that "B" word again! You know, that's most of what you hear anymore in any writing field, you have to have a Brand. It's a little trickier if you have a wide array of areas you'd like to write in... I keep hearing people say that I have to stick with one, but so far I'm using my legal name for non-fiction articles (which have nothing to do with my fiction anyway), and then my maiden name for all things fiction... we shall see how well that works out.

Hi Colleen!

You know, it doesn't bother me so much that movie stars do this sort of thing... though I guess ethically it kind of sucks because their followers watch them thinking they really are talking to the star... I don't know why authors do it, though... and some of them do.

Hi Wordvixen,

Honestly, I don't know how you tell whether or not anyone is real. I guess we have to take most of it with a grain of salt.