Tweeting, Ethics, and a bit of Jack Welch at the World Business Forum


Have we crossed the Ethical Crossroad?

For those of you who have followed me for a while, you know that I made the decision earlier this year to not get involved with the Twitter Craze.  For the back story on this, you can read To Tweet or Not to Tweet.

This past week I became part of the Twitter Craze as a result of my involvement in the Bloggers Hub at the World Business Forum 2010.  My original plan was to focus on writing articles with minimal tweeting.  That certainly didn’t go as planned, not at all.

After getting Tweetdeck that morning, I somehow managed to tweet 170 times.  Forty during the first speaker alone – well, it was Jim Collins…  The next day 190 tweets.  Twitter craze, I have arrived.  Eh gads, what happened?

  • I found that I was mentally engaged by the speakers.  Not just thinking about the words they said but implications.
  • I noticed that many tweeters in the Bloggers Hub focused on quoting statements. 
    • While this is quite useful, I wanted to push the conversation further.
    • I wanted those following on the Hub to be challenged – to ask themselves questions.
  • While I occasionally did include a quote, I focused on interpretations, observations, thoughts, and questions.

I was feeling a bit more hip, involved in social media in a way I wasn’t before.  Yea me.  

Then during Jack Welch’s talk, I slammed into a wall.  An ethical wall.  One I had bumped into the week before but hadn’t realized was so pervasive. 

During the interview with Jack Welch, I was startled, yes startled when the interviewer asked if he tweeted for himself.  What?  People are writing under other people’s names?  That doesn’t seem right to me.

Here’s the tweet I immediately sent out to the Hub:

  • “I struggle with even asking if someone is doing their own tweets.  Something seems fundamentally wrong if you are not.”

I am happy to report that Jack does tweet for himself.  Go Jack!

On Day 2 I noticed that one of our Hub bloggers was tweeting under another very well known person’s name.  Huh?   This bothered me.  Quite a bit.  So those tweets I thought were coming from Famous Person X aren’t written by him?  Have we crossed an ethical gray area and why do I seem to be the only one concerned?   

There are a number of things to ponder: 

  • Are we misrepresenting information when a tweet is posted under Person A’s name but was written by Person B?
  • How much more influenced are you by an idea when “written” by Famous Person X.  What does that tell us?  
    • Are we more willing to buy into an idea because of who said it than because of content of the idea?
    • How many other times and in what other ways does this happen?  
  • Why does an individual feel the need to have someone else tweet and blog under their name?  
    • What are the motivators and factors involved?
    • What are the risks?
  • If we believe that someone is really putting out a significant volume of work by themselves when they really are not, what kinds of incorrect comparisons are we making relative to what they can and do accomplish vs. what we do?  
    • Might we view ourselves negatively compared to an unrealistic benchmark?

Am I just too naive or idealistic to think this shouldn’t be done?  I can understand “brand management”, but at what point does it cross a line? 

I personally vote for substance over volume, for not choosing the “popular” name for name’s sake.  Yes, there are ghostwriters for books, but in the end, the creative elements and creative content is provided by the author.  They participate every step of the way.  Can you really claim that content comes from the author named when the post is 140 characters long and the “author” never read it?

It is one thing to blog and tweet as part of a company, as a representative of a company.  It’s another to tweet and blog as another person.  Yes, it might be “on their behalf” but isn’t it really a mis-representation of the truth?  I think so (and so does my spouse who was kind enough to be my reviewer for this blog).

My personal conclusion remains a blend of To Tweet or Not to Tweet and my recent experience I will:

  • Tweet for myself. 
  • Minimize the amount of tweeting and retweeting I do. 
    • It must have value, not just be noise or be about “look at me, look at me.”
    • Choose time with my family over being constantly on-line and available.
  • Continue to question the ethics surrounding the use and mis-uses of social media.
  • Continue to elevate this issue.  To question the precedent that is currently being set.
  • Be clear if someone else is tweeting on behalf of my brand – it will be clear that it is not me, rather the brand. 
  • Politely say no and explain that why I am uncomfortable if someone asks me to tweet under their name.

It’s not just about this step that concerns me, it’s about the next step and the one after.  What line might we cross in the future if we so willingly and easily cross this one?  How does this impact copyrighting, creative use, and other legal situations? 

It seems like something we should be concerned about.  Something to pay attention to and challenge.  Ethics are important, really important.  We think the truth is out there, but is it really what we think, or has it been mis-represented? 

Is this another Elephant in the room?  I think that this might just be the On-line Ethics Elephant.  I think it should be talked about.  Do you?

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Guiding Principles

- Think Holistically
- Seek the Root Causes
- Respect the Individual
- Demonstrate Accountability
- Collaborate with Clients
- Work with Integrity, Always
- Relate to the Business Strategy
- Ensure Alignment
- Demonstrate Responsibility
- Transfer Skills

Thoughts and Quotes