Tweeting Under False Circumstances: Social Media Ethical Dilemmas

I am going to start off with a bang, in this 1st of 7 planned posts about Real-World Ethical Dilemmas in Social Media.

What would you do if a client contact — who had a pretty solid Twitter following — asked you to tweet from his account, as if you were him?

Crazy? Wrong? Unethical? Let’s discuss.

The client contact is well-known in his field.  He enjoys a loyal following of industry peers on Twitter.  He posts regularly, sometimes several times a day.  He “gets” Twitter; he finds value in the dialogue and his followers appreciate that a well-placed exec from a Big Company is engaged with them online.

Now, a big industry tradeshow is coming up.  He’ll be very active there, as a speaker and organizer.

The executive wants his tweetstream to reflect his activity at the show, and to highlight other happenings at the conference, as well.  He’s very concerned that he won’t be able to support this many to-do’s.

We work closely with this executive and he has come to trust us implicitly… which leads to the ethical challenge.  I’ll paraphrase the request as it came from him:

“I want SHIFT to ‘take over’ my Twitter account, and tweet as me, during the course of the show.  I’ll also tweet, but very sporadically and with far less ability to interact and respond to my followers.  I don’t want to let them down, and I trust you guys to act in my stead. I know you won’t answer questions that you don’t know how to answer, and I trust that you won’t embarass me or misrepresent the company … Be ‘me’ online, so I can make a full commitment to my engagement on the show floor.”

You can see how this request comes from a “good place.”  This executive’s commitment to online engagement is so fierce, he doesn’t want to abandon it even for an important event. He knows his followers would understand his absences, but he thinks there is going to be real value in tracking what’s happening at the conference, and in responding to folks online throughout.

While it’s true he is asking us to misrepresent ourselves, he feels that it would still be authentic because of his trust in us.

How do you respond to that? Do you just say no?

Well, there’s no such thing as “no,” when you work in a Service industry (thus this series of posts!) … So we suggested a compromise …

Yes, we would tweet from his account, but with the following conditions:

—-Prior to the event, he must tweet, “During the show some of my tweeting will be supplemented by our extended team.” We felt that the term “extended team” was appropriate, suggesting that that term covered both internal and 3rd party colleagues.

—-A reminder to that effect would go out, regularly, throughout the conference, i.e., every 10th tweet would remind followers that someone besides the executive might be “at the controls” of his Twitter account.

—-When character spaces permitted, we’d add a #team hashtag to denote that the tweet was not published by the exec — but honestly, this attribution fell away more often than not; we largely relied on the “every 10th tweet” approach to cover our ethical backsides.

For the record, there was no pushback from the executive’s followers.  Anyone who took the time to react to our approach seemed to appreciate the fact that, for a short time, his tweetstream became a mix of on-the-floor reporting by the exec, supplemented by dispatches from a 3rd party response team in Marketing.

Still, no doubt there were folks who only checked-in on the executive’s tweets intermittently.  To them, our team members were ostensibly tweeting under false pretenses; they were unwittingly “duped” by our approach.

I’m not troubled by that, as the tweets authored by SHIFTers were always innocuous and helpful.  But … should I be troubled?

How would you have handled such a request?

Posted on: January 26, 2010 at 7:15 am By Todd Defren
153 Responses to “Tweeting Under False Circumstances: Social Media Ethical Dilemmas”


  • Thomas Maynard says:

    I would say being transparent is always best. The “Every Tenth Tweet” rule is a good idea, and the client should be happy with this too. That way, if anything were to go array when he was not behind the wheel of his twitter, he has some insurance.

  • I think that was a great approach, given the fact that the executive was the regular (and sole) voice of his tweets prior.

    I am noticing more and more companies are hiring a social media manager for the sole purpose of tweeting and doing social media under the company (or even a specific executive’s name).

    I’ve written many letters and provided quotes for articles attributed to an executive (who never read or approved them) – do these things fall under the same ethical question?

    If I receive a direct mail promotion from the head of Comcast, should he have written the letter himself (since it has his signature line), or is it acceptable for it to be written and approved by his marketing or communications staff?

    Just throwing these questions out there — I guess I see both sides of this. As a communications professional, I get paid to write for others and serve as their voice. I’m not sure if I would have thought about an ethical question involving tweeting on someone’s behalf. Tough topic and interesting discussion. I do like the approach you took!

  • jared says:

    Hi Todd.

    It’s been a couple of years since you originally posted this. I was just wondering, would you make the same decision today? :)


  • Clare mcbrien says:

    As you say, issues of transparency and honesty are vital when it comes to social media and so I think you took the right approach in reminding people at regular intervals that the tweets were coming from your client’s team as well as from him.

    Your use of the term ‘extended team’ made it clear that a 3rd party would be helping to manage the tweets but it also gave the impression that your were trusted by your client and would be working under his supervision. Therefore, for the most part the tweets would have been seen as reliable and authentic.

    Perhaps rather than using a hash tag to indicate when it was the ‘team’ that was tweeting, perhaps you could have set up a ‘team page’ and tweeted from there rather from your client’s page? Another option would have been to explain that you would use a hashtage when your client himself tweeted.

  • Britten says:

    Great post. I think that this is a great way to handle the situation. I would expect that a well-placed exec from a big company would have some sort of assistance with his tweeting especially during a big event. Sending out the reminder every tenth tweet is a great idea and I am sure followers appreciated the courtesy.

    Britten Feldman
    Freeman School student

  • John S says:

    I think you did an excellent job handling the situation. The tweets reminding everyone that some are coming from the marketing team is a more than sufficient ethical solution. I would even say that many people on Twitter assume that companies have Twitter professionals, ghost Twitterers, etc. writing for them. This is definitely a new issue to consider moving forward.

  • Todd, I like this piece for two main reasons. One, your line:
    How do you respond to that? Do you just say no?

    “Well, there’s no such thing as “no,” when you work in a Service industry…”

    And two, your quite reasonable solution. I’m surprised more of the Social Media Fundamentalists haven’t jumped down your throat on this — all kinds of people in all kinds of organizations use professional writers to help them be most effective in a variety of circumstances, from speech writers, to presentation experts, to a PR pro who crafts quotations for news releases and scripts for investor conference calls. Even the President uses such people.

    Disclosure may even be an arguable point, depending on the situation, though I agree that being transparent about it in the example you cite is the right approach.

    If the intention, however, is to mislead, all bets are off — and that would be the case even if Social Media weren’t the channel being used.

  • Amir Lehrer says:

    I would have changed his twitter bio to your “every 10th tweet” to let people know what was going on. I would also have changed his profile picture to either a picture of the team or something that will get people to question the change and look for the answer. Many active users don’t check twitter profile pages but they will see the profile pic and if they care about this person, they will notice that change.

  • jon b says:

    There are two primary issues at play here:
    a) honesty of identity
    b) integrity to one’s earned audience

    Clearly both impact one another.

    In my experience, if I am not thrilled about work I am being asked to share, I will share it but make note that this is something from a client. I have also been asked to “loan out” my Twitter account, and frankly declined bec I didn’t believe the content would fit the personality I have established online.

    At the end of the day, your twitter account is part of your equity in the business. It’s up to you to decide how you want to invest.

  • Ching ya says:

    Thanks to @askdebra (from Twitter), I had a chance to came to this site and think about such circumstances. I’ll voice my opinion as a consumer’s point of view.

    We are very much aware that there will never be a perfect way to handle matters concerning people. What seems to be a good-willed intention might be interpreted as a deception so the concern is understandable. To prevent reputation & credibility lost, I second your idea to make known to users about the condition & when he’s not tweeting as himself. Since he only has limited time to tweet, what if he’s not able to catch up with all the progress and acting ‘weird’ when been asked about conversations during his absence? When it comes to trust, it’s all about the ethics. ^^

    Yes, I would very much like to know who am I talking to if a connection has been recognized beforehand. Unless the account is initially designed to have multiple co-workers to handle.

    Social/Blogging Tracker

  • Todd,

    As professionals, we walk a tightrope. I think the approach was open and honest. I agree 100% with how you handled the situation.

    And by the way, your client gave you one of the best compliments ever, he trusted you fully with his personal brand. A nod your way for that.

  • SAM FISHER says:

    Great post. Identifies an issue that we’re currently experiencing.

    My Creative Agency supports a client and tweets on its behalf (an organisation rather than an individual). We have done this in agreement with our client while the client watches as a follower. The reason for this is to demonstrate to our client how to engage with followers and stimulate discussion. As they learn, they are taking the reigns and will eventually become the only Tweeter.

    On consideration, while we do this, I think it’s a great suggestion to let followers know. I’m going to amend the profile accordingly and send out sporadic Tweets to inform people that it is a “team” tweeting.

  • Shel Holtz says:

    I would have handled this just as you did. Transparency and disclosure.

  • egaitken says:

    Toronto’s Mayor David Miller does his own tweets and we all think he’s one of the best!


  • Julie Wright says:

    God love ya, Todd and Shift. And thank you to my pal Michelle for sending me the link to today’s post.

    Seems as fair and reasonable an approach as an autobiography that is authored ‘with’ a professional writer. That practice is frequently applied and widely accepted for 140 page communications let alone 140 characters.

  • Traci Browne says:

    Thanks for bringing up the question in your post, it’s a great topic. I kept hoping you were going to say that you did exactly what you did end up doing. First, because you were honest and showed that honesty is important to you. Second you probably saved yourself future tragedy…if anything would have gone wrong you might have been blamed.

  • A very timely post as I am facing a similar dilemma. Your compromise is similiar to what I proposed and it is nice to see validation from the crowd. Thanks for airing it, Todd.

  • Todd, your honesty and the way your are crowdsourcing opinions are commendable.

    As many above stated authenticity is key. I loved Elizabeth’s suggestion, probably because that’s what we do. Whoever is tweeting for our corporate account during a given time period is clearly stated in the bio. That way, followers and others know who is tweeting. Of course, it is done by internal employees, but I think you can also apply this model to external/third-party folks.

    Looking forward to this intriguing series.

  • Karen Swim says:

    I agree with the way this was handled and have done the same when I am “ghost tweeting.” I am so so glad you are delving into this area of ethics and social media. As we expand the use, new questions arise and as you noted the answers are not always so clear cut. Open discussion is helpful as I believe we all desire to do the right thing.

  • I’m a huge Twitter purist but I think you handled it very well. The approach is transparent and engaging. I’d be shocked to see this approach not be well-received.

  • “No such thing as ‘no’ in the service business…” ???!!! I take vehement exception, at the risk of sounding old-school preachy. When in doubt, DON’T.

    • Todd Defren says:

      Take it with a grain of salt, Stan. As a reader of this blog, you might recall instances where I discussed firing a client over ethics or staff abuse. I merely meant that “no” is never a KNEE-JERK response. Gotta think it through.

  • Emily lenard says:

    Many great responses already. It is my inclination to ask a clarifying question–what is the client’s Twitter user name? Is it his actual name (i.e. JohnSmith) or is it the corporation for which he works (i.e. AcmeSupplies)? There is a huge difference in my mind how these two different user names are perceived by the general public. Subsequently, the appropriate response from a PR firm in this case needs to be predicated on the answer. This to me all leads back to the need for a user name, group name, etc that genuinely describes the person behind the PC.

  • Amanda jones says:

    Love the approach – it’s honest and also gives your client what they want.

    Quick question, after the conference would you send a tweet letting the followers know that it is no longer a 3rd party tweeting?

  • I think you took the appropriate, necessary precautions before tweeting on his behalf. You exercised transparency at its finest, reinstating that you weren’t in fact the man behind the name but a team behind the man.



  • Todd,

    Great start to the series that I am also looking forward to reading. Ethical issues are often not black and white but I agree with others who say you handled this one very well.

    You might also consider adding initials to the tweets your team is making for the client. It further reinforces the team aspect of the tweets and adds to the authenticity.

    Thanks for taking a lead in the discussion.

  • Dan wedin says:

    I agree with your handling of the situation. Similar to having a guest blogger for a post or two.

  • I like the compromise position very much, and think both the client’s desire to convey information and your level-headed approach at a transparent solution are admirable.

    On a related note, while I applaud the client’s dedication to Twitter, I wonder if his initial approach (having your firm tweet as him) is widespread amongst others. If it is, it places a false expectation of time management. This is one of the few problems I have with the current application of social media. It seems to carry with it the expectation that people are always ‘on’ everywhere, at the same time they are doing other things. It’s an inhuman burden, and unhealthy.

  • Sorry Todd, but I have to take the other position. Your headline says,
    ”Tweeting Under False Circumstances”. What part of ‘false’ is a problem?

    Tweeting is a first person solitary activity, or so I have been led to believe. The ‘value’ proposition is that it is coming from the horses mouth, and as such derives its value from that principle.

    Tweeting is one of the tools of ‘engagement’ in the Social Media PR playbook which requires buy in and participation on the part of the client, to do whatever it is you think will help the client.

    It is one of those tools just like giving a kid a loaded gun. I am sure that there are a number of clients you would not recommend they use Tweeting as part of a campaign due to the ‘having a hammer and everything looking like a nail’ problem, or when meeting with the client the phrase Loose Cannon flashes before your eyes:)

    The previous comments seem to be taking the position that by pasting disclaimers, this is okay and then they can create ‘billable’ events.

    Disclaimers by their very nature are antithetical to Open and Honest communication. Like watching a car commercial showing a car doing hot rod things, and then disclaiming it by saying ‘pro driver, closed course’. So you want me to buy this hot rod, but you don’t trust me to control it.

    This is not an ethical dilemma and no disclaimer jujitsu will shake the mud off your shoes. This is just wrong.

    ‘False Circumstances’ as you yourself has put it. Again, what part of False are you having a problem with? You mention that this dilemma comes from a ‘good place’. You say;

    “This executive’s commitment to online engagement is so fierce, he doesn’t want to abandon it even for an important event.”
    Really? Read it again.
    His commitment is so fierce that he wants your team to pose as him? What part of ‘open and honest’ are you going to kick to the curb here? He can’t say ‘sorry I am in meat space for a short time’?

    What commitment is demonstrated by outsourcing? I already have a problem with 140 characters containing meaningful communication, and with disclaimers and hashtags what is left?

    This not only devalues his communication by not being at the wheel, but also begs the question of your communication, both personally and professionally. If you tweet for this guy this week, next week you will be walking his dog and washing his car.

    This is not an ethical slope, this is a sheer vertical cliff. The good news is you are smart enough to question it.

  • Tom Ricci says:

    Todd, seemed like a fair and honest way to handle the issue. I had been tweeting on behalf of a client (a live event) and clearly stated in my profile what I was doing and gave my personal Titter ID so they could view my profile. I didn’t run across any issues, at least that I’m aware of. After demonstrating that Twitter was a viable tactic, the client then wanted to intersperse their own Tweets along with mine, but they weren’t ready to take-on full responsibility. I wasn’t comfortable with that approach given I had developed a personna for the client and wasn’t sure who would be posting and on what topics. We mutually agreed that I would continue posting until they were ready. Recently, we announced that tweets were now coming directly from the client and introduced the individual. Seemed like a smooth transition.

  • Lisa Rizzio says:

    Good call on this one. As long as there are extenuating circumstances and this is done infrequently and transparently, I could let it slide although I must admit I’m not 100% comfortable with it. If I were the exec, I might want to know from my followers which was more important to them;to get a blow by blow from the conference or to keep it pure.

  • Marc Meyer says:

    I’m going to play devils advocate. Is it spot on? Maybe. I’m not sure it’s as spot on as it’s the best(only) way to appease the client and make the best of a dicey situation you hate to be put in. Let’s face it, no one wants to lose a client. The purist would like to say, “there is no way we are going to tweet as you”. But if you the purist is pulling in 6 figures from the client-what sayeth you?

    The options were few. The client may walk if you say no. Or you do it and feel dirty. The fact of the matter is or was, though there was disclosure, the tweeting was not coming from him. At the end of the day, I would almost suggest to the client that it’s Ok to not to tweet every day or every hour. Or perhaps tweeting sporadically might be easier to deal with in the long run, then those who might feel “betrayed” by the lack of authenticity.

    I just wanted to throw a little bit of a curve into this, given that everyone seems to be in total agreement with Todd. Great start though, this is going to be fantastic to discuss.

  • John Carson says:

    I think it’s fine you tweet on behalf of him. Just change his Twitter background for the conference, with the names of the PR team, and add their initials [jc] after each tweet.

    The followers should appreciate the transparency.


  • I agree with the tactic of alerting followers to check a certain hashtag a la “I will be out of pocket during the remainder of the conference, and will only be tweeting sporadically” kind of like an out of office voicemail or email response.

    I don’t understand why this executive felt the need for his followers to get a completely uninterrupted stream of tweets. I think THAT need hits at what’s not genuine. The essence of twitter is that it’s human interaction between real human beings. I think reasonable people would understand that he might be inaccessible for a few days and would be more than willing to follow a hashtag instead of phantom tweets from a PR team.

    That is how I would have counseled the executive. I would have had him write that message on his blog

    [Sorry, I'll be running around for the next few days at xyz conference that you know all about so I won't be tweeting like my usual self. Feel free to follow the conference goings-on at #xyz, a hashtag manned by my PR team. I'll check in from the ground to let you know how things are going when I can!]
    A personal, human message probably would have fostered a more genuine relationship with his followers, who would have understood his dilemma and been eager to actually hear from him when he did tweet, however sporadic, just to see how things were going.

    Looking forward to the rest of the series!

  • SKIP says:

    Todd- very good explanation of what could be a misleading situation.

    My feeling is that it is okay to use distribution mechanisms like twitter, Facebook or even e-mail as long as the content is drafted by the original, intended source.

    As marketing and PR companies go, in many cases they are distributing content for corporations or on behalf of executives. We can pretty much rest assured that a CEO at any Fortune 100 corporation is not answering every e-mail personally. Write a letter to the White House, and there is a 1% chance that Pres. Obama will answer himself. Is this misleading? I don’t think so. Again, as long as the content is drafted by the original source, it really doesn’t matter who clicks around the screen in order to distribute it.

    But, you bring up a very good point in that we should all be aware of how to handle up-and-coming social media distribution mechanisms.

  • Like others I agree with the approach you took, disclosing the tweeting and labeling the tweets. Louise makes a good point about tweeting for a company or brand, vs. an exec with a following but it’s still a smart idea to identify the tweeter or tweeters.

    Rich’s point about “putting words in his mouth” is spot on. If you’re already consulting on PR and marketing, you probably have a good idea of the client’s voice. You had direction from the client as to the nature of the tweeting: show coverage to keep engaging, while the exec focuses on the job at hand (which I’m all in favor of) and the client trusts you to do represent him appropriately.

    Disclosure, early and often is key; if someone didn’t like that the exec had someone else “doing the typing” they can always unfollow. FWIW.

  • nick vehr says:

    I think this was exactly the right solution. I was really worried where you were going until you proposed the solution to your client. Kudos to your client for accepting and understanding. Transparency and honesty are non-negotiable.

    This series is an automotic retweet for me. Thanks for sharing and looking forward to the next “dilemma”.

  • jeffscott says:

    Hi Todd,

    I think your approach reflects the real world application of social media tools: they move too quickly for most people with other responsibilities. Many people probably don’t realize that a lot of what they hear right from executives’ mouths wasn’t necessarily written by that executive (let alone what they type). Imagine a CEO saying at the beginning of a speech to some Chamber of Commerce that his communications firm drafted the words he was about to speak – and proceeded to reminded the audience of this fact at 15 minute intervals!

    I think SHIFT’s approach was not only ethical but an excellent example upon which new social media standards can be further developed.



  • davefleet says:

    This is certainly one of those issues that falls into the ‘grey area’ where, rather than right or wrong, the answer will come down to different peoples’ perspectives.

    Should you have been troubled? I’m not sure. You were certainly right to insist on disclosure. Then again, I wonder why you didn’t go with something more explicit. To me, “extended team” could mean people within the organization but outside the immediate department.

    I’ve found myself asking the following question when it comes to disclosure: “Why would we avoid identifying exactly who is posting?” Was it because you felt the tweets would be less effective if people knew they were coming from an agency? When I’ve asked myself that question in the past, it often came back to that fear of being less effective as an “agency guy.” If that were the only reason, I found myself compelled to disclose more fully.

    For example, it would have been just as easy to have the disclaimer read “During the show some of my tweeting will be supplemented by our agency colleagues including Todd (^t), Greg (^g) and Fred (^f)” or something similar.

    Like I said, it’s a bit of a grey area but that’s my two cents.

  • RACHEL says:

    Interesting post and something I believe we will see more and more of in the not so far future. As others have noted, I believe the way you handled the situation was “the right way” (assuming there is a right/wrong way) however I see the potential for the waters to get muddy fast. You stated you could see the request came from a “good place” and while I agree, I don’t believe the exec had ill intentions; however, where is that line drawn? I think one of the bigger issues you stated is the inability to say “no” in the service industry, especially in today’s economy. Firms are desperately trying to hold on to the clients they have while hungry to attract more. I don’t believe there are any hard and fast rules and inquiries should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis but are we opening ourselves up for trouble down the road by suggesting we will evaluate such requests at all? I have more questions than answers but thank you for the post as it is a dilemma and something I, as well as the industry at large, should continue to consider/discuss.

  • I like the approach very much. It respects the principles of full disclosure and met a client/audience need. Without disclosure, it’s a major problem. But this example is, rather, a nice case study. Well done.

  • Kerry says:

    Interesting conundrum. Guest-blogging is a fairly common practice, so I suppose it’s only natural that guest-tweeting might happen from time to time. However, it seems like the retweet or hashtag functions would be effective ways to handle this: just RT content from the “guest tweeter” or RT relevant hashtags. Or, if you want constant coverage, use a collective/company Twitter account, rather than your individual one. I guess I don’t have a big problem with what happened, but it does feel slightly unsavory.

  • Rick says:

    I’ll agree with the other comments that it was spot on. One case in point here in Columbia, SC is the ladies basketball team for the University of South Carolina. The coach is all over twitter, but obviously can’t tweet during games. With women’s basketball, there’s very little coverage – so she’s in essence given her followers another outlet for game information by giving over to a guest tweeter during games. The play-by-play is cool, the time is well-used, and everyone knows Coach is focused on the team.

    • lEE dOYLE says:

      Super post. Thank you. I’ve been facing a similar dilemma with “ghost-blogging.” Clients get social media, and yet they don’t always have the time to do it consistently. Your solution is brillant, and will help maintain the built-in credibility of social media.

  • Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

    Todd ~ After I restarted my heart by reciting the PRSA Code of Ethics in Latin, I found myself in total agreement with you. “Open and honest communication” is the key to this conundrum, and you handled the client’s request exactly as I would have done.

    I spent nearly an entire class period with my Intro to PR troops at Curry College yesterday discussing just this issue; it took a little role-playing to help them understand, but they got it.

    Let’s hope both our clients…and our publics…understand that transparency is crucial in cyber-communications. Thanks for another great thought-provoker!

  • Todd, what a great question/topic to discuss. I really like the idea of the client’s tweetstream being supplemented by an “extended team.” This seems like a very reasonable condition to meet the situation. I think this is also in the realm of the disclosure question on if you tweet on behalf of a client (on your own Twitter profile) and whether or not you indicate the relationship. As for being troubled, I think yes, it is wise to be troubled by these types of things in a way that first gives pause before rolling something out with not much forethought. Thanks for sharing.

    - @vedo

    • Jass Seljamaa says:

      But what is more interesting to me is that “paid pr practitioners” (as called by some) is softened to “extended team”. We all know what does the first one mean. What about the second?

  • Ginger says:

    Personally, I liked the way you handled this situation. People who truly understand how to use Twitter will find a way to make a situation work and the executive you helped is a great example. Even though Twitter is micro-blogging it still takes time and that can sometimes be in very short supply. I applaud the executive and I applaud you for finding an acceptable solution.

  • Todd:

    First, let me say thank you for sharing this. Talking about challenges is the best way for all of us to become better professionals.

    I think your approach was spot-on. The only other tweak I might consider would be to temporarily change the Twitter bio to reflect that the extended marketing team would be tweeting during the conference. If 1 or 2 “Shifters” are the primary helpers, you could also mention their usernames in the bio. Then, just switch the bio back after the conference.

    Looking forward to the next entry in this series…

  • Lara Dickson says:

    Great idea in disclosing who’s behind the tweeting curtain. As a ‘virtual tweeter for a restaurant, I must gently remind them to interact on their own; I tweet clever anecdotes regarding their menu, daily specials, etc. I don’t want to be a robot RTing or responding under a facade. Otherwise their missing the whole point of their Twitter effort: being social.

  • patmcgraw says:

    My first reaction was that your client does not get Twitter or social media. There’s a layer of dishonesty on his demand.

    Second, I think your approach made sense though I wonder why not use #hashtags for the conference and have your client announce to his/her followers that he/she will have extra ‘feet on the street’ covering all angles of the event? Then your client can tweet whenever possible, the coverage is strong – wouldn’t that make your client look like a hero to the followers?


    P.S. Great start to the series – looking forward to the rest.

  • Rich says:


    It sounds like you handled this elegantly and ethically as always.

    You probably help write press releases for people like this, with his quotes in it. Not exactly the same, but close.

    You could make ads for him with “real people” but who aren’t really his customers.

    Yup, this sounds like rationalizing. The big question is: Did SHIFT Tweet something that the client never would have said? Did you literally put words in his mouth that were out of character, both substantively and stylistically? If the answer to these is yes, then you may have crossed the line.

    If it’s no, then it seems you did what you could to let people know that someone else was doing the typing.


  • I think that’s the right approach.

    Our company’s webcare team in the Netherlands ( uses a single account, but they want it still to be personal, and for the tweeters to be accountable. They’ve developed a convention of using “^” to indicate who the tweet is from and you’ll see ^Hakim or ^Erik at the end of tweets.

    I think as long as there is reasonable clarity about who is tweeting, either as a team account, or as a support team for one person, it’s OK.

    The murky water is when the account looks like one thing, a personal tweeter, and is in fact another.

  • Joe Boughner says:

    I think the way you handled it was spot on, Todd. Another great example of this is the Ontario Ombudsman (@Ont_Ombudsman). When the account was first launched it was managed by the communications staff – a fact they repeated regularly so people knew. Once a week or so, the Ombudsman himself would take the keyboard and answer questions directly. Each time the hand off occurred, it was well broadcast.

    Eventually the Ombudsman grew to love Twitter and took control of the account himself, using it for work AND personal tweets. The only time he’s not tweeting is when he’s doing a press conference or at a conference – and he always indicates when he’s handing it over to the comms team.

    I think people just want authenticity. If that means handing the keyboard to someone else for an afternoon, that’s not a big deal, so long as it’s well publicized. It’s all part of being human.

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