Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter about whether people felt it was right for PRs to ghost tweet for their clients.
Becky McMichael captured and commented on some of the initial responses and 24 hours later I'm finally getting round to blogging my own thoughts on the matter.
The reason I asked the question in the first place was because I'd heard about an agency that had just set up and is planning to run, seven separate Twitter accounts on behalf of a client. I won't go into the specific circumstances here but it set off alarm bells ringing in my head. Client is (apparently) happy as they have been able to tick a box – Twitter – check. PR agency happy – revenue stream, foot through the social media door for this particular client but I can't help but wonder what the outcome will be. To be fair I don't know whether they have carefully considered all the implications, whether they've set up a strategy to deal with potential customer service issues, thought about how they will deal with specific questions, whether they will be overt that it's them and not company employees tweeting etc (truth is I suspect they've probably half considered some of this stuff and then just thought they'd do it anyway).
So here's my view. I don't think it's categorically wrong for people other than the client themselves to Tweet but I do have some specific concerns.
1. I think it's probably fairly straightforward with a smaller client who won't attract customer service issues and about who there wouldn't necessarily be an expectation that they have the resources to do it in house but for a larger brand or B2C business – the potential for getting into a sticky mess is far greater.
2. When the account is new and doesn't have a large number of followers, I'm sure it's feasible to say we'll tweet 3 times a day on each account (yes in the example above they are apparently being that specific) but it's nonsense to think you can be that prescriptive with Twitter. Irony is that if they want it to be successful they're going to have to enter into conversations, be interesting, respond, engage. But in doing so, they could easily get out of their depth. Yet if they keep it bland it's not worth doing in the first place.
3. Quite a few responses on Twitter suggested that it's no different to writing other material for clients, releases, marketing copy etc. But on this I disagree, that kind of communication is very different to Twitter which is about a conversation between two or more people, it's not about pushing a prescribed message out there (even if from time to time brand info, special offers or whatever, are – transparently- shared).
4. If we believe that social media engagement can have real benefits for clients then shouldn't we be helping clients to learn how to do it themselves? Of course it's not always realistic to expect them to go from having never used Twitter to running seven separate accounts and they might have resource issues but they're never going to fully embrace social media if we don't help them to make a start on the journey. It's like never teaching your child how to feed themselves because it's easier, faster and less messy just to do it for them.
I think that everyone accepts that pretending to be the client is wrong, but this issue is about much more than that and while some PR agencies understand all the implications completely, I fear that many more don't and the consequences of that will reflect on the industry as a whole.
Twitter bird http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthamm/3631563041/