Posted September 9, 2010 9:30 am by with 7 comments

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this page

Is it ethical to hire a ghostwriter to post updates to your social media accounts? Take a quick turn around the internet and you’ll find the majority of the people crying “no!” Words like authenticity and transparency get thrown around along with trust and honesty.

The American Marketing Association recently published a report titled, Social Media Ethics Shades of Gray: GhostTweeting and other Dilemmas. In it, Wayne Hurlbert, host of Blog Business Success on, says that hiring a ghost is a grievous error.

“If you’re pretending to be someone else or pretending to be an organization that you’re not, then all trust is lost.  People prefer to do business with those who they know, like and trust and if you remove those factors from the social media world by trying to shade it into gray areas, you will not succeed.”

This seems like good advice, but let’s get real. Your average company doesn’t write their own press releases, they don’t write their own copy for a TV ad and they probably didn’t even come up with their own tagline or logo. No one, not even consumers, cry foul when a company hires an expert to handle their marketing, but for some reason, this logic doesn’t cover Twitter accounts.

I’m not saying anyone should out-and-out lie to consumers. If your Twitter account features a celebrity spokesperson, then that celebrity should be tweeting – even if they have an assistant actually hit the send button. But most business social media accounts are set up as an entity and not as a person. It’s, not As a consumer, I’m there for the deals, so it really doesn’t matter to me if someone sitting in the corporate office typed in the words or if a WAHM from Boise is doing the deed.

Still, marketing mavens everywhere say no to ghostwriting. Valerie Maltoni put the question out to her Linkedin contacts and posted the results on her blog, Conversation Agent. Several of the respondents returned to the same issues of authenticity and personality. Many take the stand that social media isn’t really about marketing, so the same rules that allow you to hire a marketing company don’t apply.

Not everyone was against the idea, though. Those on the “pro” side, said that outsourcing your social media to a ghostwriter makes sense if you don’t have the time to properly nurture your accounts, or if you’re new and don’t know where to begin. Everyone agrees that under any circumstance, the company must ultimately take responsibility for what goes out over social media, making sure that it is consistent with the brand and is delivering the right message.

The AMA report is right about one thing. Their experts say that social media is about conversation and that is all the more reason to hire a ghostwriter. Social media marketing isn’t just posting a tweet a couple of times a day. It’s about responding to Facebook comments, approving or banning Twitter followers, wading through pages of Tweets in order to find reTweets that will connect your company to important decision makers. It is about giving your company a human face, even if the face has to wear a mask while doing it.

Your turn. Do you think it’s ethical to hire a ghostwriter for your Twitter or Facebook account?

  • As you point out, Cynthia, many other corporate communication functions are outsourced on a regular basis so why not this communications channel?

    The most important thing is to make sure that you are keeping a very close eye on what is being done and said in these SM outlets so that whoever is making the updates is representing the business properly. I see no harm in this.

    This notion that it takes an employee is so ridiculous because how many employees who are representing a company today are busy looking for their next job while on the job?! Are they doing the best they can for the business? Not likely. In this new world order we are going to need to be flexible and realize that the ideal doesn’t exist in most cases and if there is nothing done that is immoral or unethical why not hire someone on the outside with the right skill set to help social media efforts?

    • Cynthia

      “This notion that it takes an employee is so ridiculous because how many employees who are representing a company today are busy looking for their next job while on the job?!”

      LOL – brilliant, Frank and sadly, oh so true. You may have a point in that a freelancer is going to work harder to keep the business than a full-time employee.

  • Hello! I really liked this subject, so I decided to give my opppinion. Well… I can explain my oppinion with an example. Here in portugal, Phone companies outsource the job of installing the phones and the lines to other companies. Sometimes the employees of those companies are rude, and the one that gets the bad image is the phone company. If in the actual world you can hire people to stay the whole day sitting on a phone and accepting calls and “talking by you” and solving costumers problems, why can you hire someone to be sitting on a desk with a laptop in front, making conversations and working on your social media?

    What is the big difference between a phone call where you call the company and yet the call may be redirected to some call center where you dont even speak with someone working for that company, and adding a company to facebook and being accepted, someone greets and welcomes you, and chat with you… and in the end is someone from “a callcenter”.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a “Facebook callcenter” showed up. You have a company, you hire them, and they take care of your social marketing “campaign” (yes… its all campaign and marketing).

    • Cynthia

      Callcenters are a great example, didn’t think of that, but yes, it’s a similar situation. And a potentially more damaging situation since many calls to a call center begin with an unhappy customer.

  • Is it ethical? If we took apart that business, we’d see a lot of things that were really unethical. Like the homemade soups from a plastic tub, the Mexican tile from China, the butter-flavored palm oils in the shortbread, the non-recycling of wastes, and on and on. Are insurance sales people ethical? They push a product that is full of loopholes. It is everywhere.

    I think that if you are hiring someone that is familiar with your product and isn’t lying about it, then that is okay. Every business hires writers, even if it is just the local newspaper ad.

    I’ve discovered that a lot of people aren’t familiar with a keyboard, or they have trouble putting their thoughts into words. Its even harder to hype up something that you’ve done yourself (like an award win), speaking in the third person.

    I like to write, so I can spot people that cannot write, or use a keyboard, or spell, or don’t like computers, or can’t punctuate, or others similar things that make posting easy for others.

  • Soumya

    I agree that if all other marketing activities can be outsourced, why not social media?
    But social media is different from customer service where you outsource post sales activity.
    It is also different from all other marketing activity like writing ads etc because you have direct conversations with potential customers.
    The rules for selecting and managing the outsourced personnel are different. For one, you need to have an expert in house to manage the ghostwriter. The ghost writer you hire needs to have knowledge about your industry and your product with experience interacting with customers. Like customer service, the need to create detailed processes and conversation scripts is essential.
    We also need to define whether the person is ghostwriting for another person or for the corporate brand. The rules could be different for both.

    In a nutshell, its not whether you can hire a ghostwriter for social media but how you hire and manage the ghostwriter that is important.

  • I would argue that (in most instances) it is not unethical and in fact, not only practical, but prudent as well as strategic for companies to hire experienced social media marketing professionals if social media marketing is indeed not their core business. Given the vast array of “social media experts” out there today, it’s completely understandable how some might say that hiring a ghost writer or social media community manager is a mistake and unethical. Let’s be real – the barriers to entry to social media marketing are very low – and given the astronomical unemployment rate of the day, you can understand how we got here.