The elephant in the living room for communications professionals is the current fascination with social media authenticity. As a communications professional who has carved out a business by translating thoughts, beliefs and points of view into cogent statements for press releases and annual reports alike – I initially railed at the thought of requiring social media to be so authentic that it would preclude professionally written entries.
“To me it comes down to the quality of the writing. If you have an entity with a great deal to say but little ability to communicate it because of technology or a basic inability to write well, why not use a professional writer to give voice to your thoughts – just like you would use a technical consultant to help design the look of the page – it’s still your page. As long as the meaning remains intact does it matter what it looks like? And I speak for thousands of unemployed freelance writers out here who say YES – the quality of the writing DOES matter and a professional company should seek to maintain a professional image. I agree that this shouldn’t apply with casual social media like Twitter – and I wonder what your stance on computer-generated responses on that front is.”
Since that conversation much has been revealed about ghost writers working accounts for others on social media sites like Twitter. In a recent Cincinnati Enquirer article “Politics Rushes to Twitter,” – I learned that Rep. John Boehner has two twitter accounts that are managed and written by others – operatives within his office. Most of the Tweets I saw pertained to GOP positions on this or that. On the other hand, Sen. Claire McCaskill uses Twitter to keep her followers up to date on White House meetings and doing laundry. Which is more effective? Well, if you want to broadcast to your constituency what your stance and/or response to the proposed budget is, isn’t the Boehner method of using Twitter to quickly deliver a URL or talking point into the hands of his followers better – even though he isn’t actually writing it? And isn’t that more interesting to them then that, say, you’re on your third cup of coffee? Yes and no – and that’s where authenticity comes in. One could argue – that’s also where the “social” gets stripped from the “media.”
PR and IR professionals routinely write quotes for company presidents for press releases. And no one believes that the President writes his own speeches. The speechwriters, similarly, are not omnipotent – they work from a set of talking points or beliefs or points of view that are held by the speech maker.
Perhaps the difference lies between celebrity and reality. Or perhaps the difference lies in the definition of “social media” itself.
A small business owner who seeks an internet presence may hire a communications professional to design a site and write a blog. For example, a boutique retailer might want to host a blog about fashion as part of the website, but not necessarily have the time or ability to write it. Is that being disingenuous? Is the blog reader being misled into believing that the writer is the owner of the business? I don’t think so – that’s reality. I don’t expect my painter to be a web 2.0 expert.
Johnson’s response was:
“I believe that some level of transparency is needed. If you’re going to hire someone to write as you’ve said, then at least disclose that. Some statement that mentions that the blogger has people to contribute, but that he or she maintains full editorial power – the opinions expressed remain his or her own. Again, the key for me is transparency.”
So should the professional communicator counsel clients to use professional writers to keep the content fresh and relevant but disclose when guest bloggers or others contribute? Edit your profile on Twitter to reflect that updates are “From the Office of Sen. XYZ,” and don’t infer that the politician is actually writing the Tweets if they aren’t. It really determines the authenticity of your conversation – if you are spouting policy versus sending TwitPics of cherry blossoms – which is more representative of who you are?