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Ghost Tweeting is the Milli Vanilli of Web 3.0.

March 30th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

ghosttweetingToday I did the unthinkable. For a Mac fangirl it was absolutely preposterious. Egregious. Some might say sacrilegious. Or at least some sort of something with an “ous” at the end. Seriously.

I unfollowedous Guy Kawasakious.

As I rifled through my follow list, my heart was pounding. Was I really going to do it? Was I going to extricate myself from the biggest Twitter party on the planet? Could I really let go of @guykawasaki? Could I accept being relegated to the Twitter clueless who wouldn’t know a Guy Kawasaki from a lawn mower? I mean really. Who doesn’t follow Guy Kawasaki. And if I dared to hit the ominous “remove” button would he swiftly launch his minions upon me in a mass unfollow? What could I possibly be thinking??? Am I nuts?


I hold my breath. I look around. The sky isn’t darkening. Storm clouds not rolling in. No scowling Vincent Price peering through the window. No gargoyles to speak of.

So like, whew! I really did it. I broke up with Guy Kawasaki. No tears. No regrets. And no blood was shed. Or maybe his minions just didn’t have my street address. Finally, I had my freedom. Churn, baby, churn.

This is what happens when you do bad. People walk away. They unfollow. They untrust. I am now unceremoniously referring to it as #guyfail. When you represent something so awesome, but then somehow lose what made you awesome to begin with. Guy Kawasaki used to get it. But when he announced last week at #SESNY that he has three ghost tweeters writing under his Twitter account, I realized somewhere along the way, he lost it. If he can’t see the incredible value of a genuine, unfiltered Twitter persona and the abomination that is a ghosted account, then my friends the man no longer gets it. And it’s time to pass the mantle.

Sure, Guy might get it in a Web 2.0 kind of way, understanding that he must have presence. Write articles. Make Twitter accounts. Build empire. But that’s not Web 3.0. The new era of social media is about more than just making sure you have 30 pithy tweets per day attributed to your name. It’s about CONNECTING. For reals.

Yeah, I can hear it now. The voice out there saying it’s okay to ghost for a brand, and hey, isn’t Guy Kawasaki a brand? Well, let me ask you this. Aren’t we ALL brands today? Isn’t it the new mantra that everyone needs to have “reputation management?” And aren’t we all supposed to be building our “personal brands?” How fast would any one of us get unfollowed if it got out that it’s not really us behind our Twitter. Or behind our blog. If you found out that Seth Godin wasn’t writing his blog would you value him as much? Would his blog feel the same? Would you respect him in the same way? Would anything attached to his name carry the same weight? No, it really wouldn’t.

It’d be kind of like walking down Canal Street and seeing a hundred women carrying Louis Vuitton handbags, and realizing maybe one or two of them MIGHT be genuine. Sure, they look nice and all. But having a designer handbag has lost a lot of its cachet. Because so many out there simply aren’t real. This is what ghost tweeting does to social media. It injects doubt where there should be authenticity.

Think authenticity doesn’t matter?

Put on your denim jacket and parachute pants and let’s H.G. Wells ourselves back to the world of Milli Vanilli.

America loved Milli Vanilli. Six times platinum loved them. Grammy for Best New Artist in 1990. But then it came out that the two guys on the cover didn’t sing a note on the album. We all know where the story goes after that. Now maybe Guy Kawasaki doesn’t want a Milli Vanilli debacle on his hands. So he’s using a little Web 2.0 swagger and admitting to ghost tweeters in the name of transparency. But doing that is what makes it so clear he doesn’t get it. Because it’s not just about connecting and presence and faux transparency.

The magic of social media is in the authenticity.

And if you think people just want the content and don’t care about things being authentic, take a look at Milli Vanilli’s career after their fans found out about the deception. Lawsuits all over the U.S. with angry album buyers and concert-goers demanding their money back. They didn’t seem to care that the albums were great. They didn’t care that the concerts were entertaining. It didn’t matter that Milli Vanilli’s songs were burning up the charts, or that the duo was an MTV darling. The fans wanted authenticity. They wanted it to be real.

Sad thing is, social media is ALL about being real. At the core of what makes social media such a fantastic tool for branding, marketing, and communicating is that it allows consumers to connect on a real, personal level to brands they care about.

But dear Guy Kawasaki, there’s a difference between Coca Cola having ghost tweeters and you having ghost tweeters. Last I heard, Coca Cola isn’t human. I don’t see a smiling, toothy pic of Mr. Coca Cola on Coca Cola’s Twitter profile. However, there is one of you. A brand you may be, but if you’re going to set up a Twitter account that you don’t have the time to deal with genuinely and authentically (ie. Guy Kawasaki, the human, isn’t going to be the author of Guy Kawasaki “the tweets”) maybe consider changing the name to guykawasakifanclub or guykawasakiinc. And then think about maybe putting an image of a book on your profile. Or an Apple. Or a gargoyle.

Because if @guykawasaki pops up in my timeline, I want to know it was his fingers touching every key on the keypad and that he had that same last-second “do I really want to tweet this” moment we all have before hitting UPDATE. And that occasional tweegret. Because if it’s not really you behind the curtain, your account doesn’t have AUTHENTICITY. And I’ve lost a little trust in you. I’m looking at your blog a little differently know. I’ll still read it, but the love isn’t there. You’re now some dude in an ivory tower, sipping mocha frappuccinos shuttled in by an intern. Overseeing your vast domain from afar. Letting the little people eat cake. Give me the @names of your ghost tweeters so I can start following them. And I’ll take that intern’s name, too.

Yes, people are brands. But they won’t be for long if they start acting like a brand, and stop acting like a human.

So yeah, ghost tweeting is not in the spirit of social media, and definitely not in the spirit of Twitter. If social media’s value is ultimately in its authenticity, and one of social media’s greatest networkers is not using his Twitter authentically, then who else out there is faking it? And can anyone, or any brand for that matter, really be trusted?

Because if Guy Kawasaki says it’s okay to put your photo and your name on Twitter and then hire someone to impersonate you, and be a filter between you and the people who buy your books, and go to your speeches and click on the advertisers on your blog and support your new projects, well hell! Maybe it’s okay for everyone else! To heck with authenticity.

Which leads us to a total social media meltdown. Back to the days when brands spoke “at” the masses for no purpose other than to create what was ultimately a flimsy connection to gain market share. Do we really want to go back there? With all the opportunity we have to make a difference with social media?

Maybe it really is time for the mantle to be passed. Maybe Guy Kawasaki having ghost tweeters is a good thing. To mark the edge of the chasm. To mark the difference between the social media Milli Vanilli’s and the NEW “revolutionaries.”

To be sure, this was a difficult post to write. Because I’ve been a Guy Kawasaki faithful for at least a decade. And loved his Apple branding genius well before that. But creating evangelists is a double-edged sword. Because sometimes they pay attention.

Be revolutionary. Be authentic. And when your heroes veer off the path, never forget this one important thing:

="font-weight:bold;">Where the “remove” button is located.

(And where you can quickly hide to escape the gargoyles.)

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  1. March 31st, 2009 at 12:01 | #1

    Interesting, and great points. Individuals should not have ghost-tweeters.

    I do think we need an easy, consistent way to distinguish between individuals (“Yes, it’s really me” like @the_real_shaq) vs. individuals being managed as a brand (@senjohnmccain as an example) with ghost-tweeters and so on.
    I think there is a great place for ghost-tweeting, it adds to Twitter, but I agree that ghost-tweeting for no other reason than to increase volume/quality of tweets, while pretending to be an individual, isn’t right.

  2. March 31st, 2009 at 12:12 | #2

    A few weeks/months back, Alex Bogusky stopped tweeting. Said it wasn’t for him. Maybe he just had too much on his plate running an ad agency.

    Yeah, he caught some flack, but at least he was honest.

  3. March 31st, 2009 at 12:56 | #3

    I say if you’re too busy to tweet, don’t. If you hire someone to tweet, I want them to tweet their own tweets, not your dictation.

  4. March 31st, 2009 at 16:17 | #4

    I had to unfollow too, as his alltop tweets were filling up my Twitterstream with the same post over and over and over and…well you get the point.
    Thanks for following, we will have to talk some more.

  5. March 31st, 2009 at 17:35 | #5


    yes, yes and yes…

    Very many insightful points in your post… especially the predictive analysis implying this issue as a turning-point… and regecting the Web 2.0 ‘marketing’ excuse. After all Guy Kawasaki should know more than most that ‘marketing’ is not something you do ‘after’ you make something and want to sell it, that’s really ‘advertising’… marketing is a deeper more subtle art, and Kawasaki has committed what amounts to marketing ‘hari kari’… and I hope his voluntary ritual brand-suicide is protracted, very public and indeed represents a mantle-passing moment.

    keep up the brave and excellent work…


  6. March 31st, 2009 at 19:58 | #6

    Thank you for being so eloquent.

    When I had it out with @Guy directly on Twitter, I wasn’t nearly as tactful as you were in this blog article.

    I’m also glad to see that my belief was correct.

    The more time that passes, the more the novelty of following him and his pseudo-selves wears off and the more it becomes evident that Guy’s future potential is limited because he just doesn’t get it.

    Yet Twitter really is a microcosm of society, so I’m sure there will be plenty who try what he’s doing regardless of the downsides.

  7. March 31st, 2009 at 20:35 | #7

    Ghost-tweeting on an ethical level makes no sense. It has a hint of deception, and while industries such as advertising and branding (to a certain degree) might be predicated on some form of deception, social media venues such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, operate on a deeper level that plays into the public’s trust far more than a billboard ad on the freeway or a 30-second car commercial. Reason being that with ads and such, the public takes them at arms length, while social sites bring the product (ie: the person behind the name) a lot closer to the consumer (ie: those that follow).

    Be that as it may, how difficult it is to take 5 minutes out of a busy day to provide an authentic tweet instead of putting on a dog and pony show to come off as being socially engaged on a high level? (oooh look at me, I tweeted 500 times today!)

    Are we not as advanced as social creatures as the media we purport to use?

  8. March 31st, 2009 at 21:46 | #8

    Very long but well written.

  9. April 1st, 2009 at 01:47 | #9

    i unfollowed him a while ago, even before learning in NYT that he wasn’t generating the material. to me there were too many funny cat videos — like the tweet-version of email joke forwards. i figured if he was ever to tweet something important everyone would be talking about it so no possiblity of missing it. oddly, i’ve see very few g-k RTs or “via”s since. oh, except for today’s bacon donuts, and that’s a cheap shot. everyone likes bacon.

  10. April 1st, 2009 at 02:55 | #10

    This post is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I couldn’t agree more with your position. I too had early on subscribed to certain people and then realized that they weren’t Twittering themselves and I promptly unfollowed them.

    I certainly does lower the value of the Tweets knowing that it is someone else ghost-tweeting just to drive up volume of Tweets for another individual.

  11. April 1st, 2009 at 08:15 | #11

    “Yes, people are brands. But they won’t be for long if they start acting like a brand, and stop acting like a human.”

    - Bravo.

  12. April 2nd, 2009 at 05:25 | #12

    I hate one word responses to post, but in this case – Priceless –

    I’m not against “assisted” writing of materials. For example, draft blog posts that go to a marketing manager for editing.

    Even Twitter monitoring by others who flag certain tweets for the company representative to respond to.

    But when it’s a public person, Guy Kawasaki then I think the post needs to come from them. It may not originate from them, but the post needs to be something they are directly familiar with and can accurately respond to.

    Here’s why, and I never made a big deal out of this because that’s just not my style, but in this case I believe it add value to your point. I wrote a post about Seth Godin’s radical intern program last December.

    And I was pleasantly surprised to see that he commented about the post. Not only that the comment referred back to a paragraph I wrote which, to use his words “this paragraph is just killer.” This produced a Sally Field moment for me as a writer, and I went on my merry way. I believe until proven otherwise that this in fact was Seth Godin’s words, that he in fact read the paragraph and liked it.

    So my comment, social media practitioners attempting to monetize your consulting, or companies trying to get the most out of social media because you heard it’s all the rage take note. If your tactics undermine the concept of trust, a pox on all your houses.

    If, however, it is genuine then the digital world will be a worthy place to hang your hat.

  13. April 2nd, 2009 at 19:12 | #13

    Spectacularly well-written. Reads like it all came easy. Enjoyed the telling of the story as much as the story.

  14. Anonymous
    April 2nd, 2009 at 20:07 | #14

    Maybe I’m a cynic, having grown up assuming that most letters to old-fashioned editors were ghost written. Oh, and executive speeches that were ghost written. And books by celebrities. Statements. Quotes. I just don’t expect real people be behind much of anything anymore, not even ALL social media.

    Now, if someone really is authentic, that’s awesome. I love it. But if a tweet is ghost-written? Do I really care if Britney is writing her own tweets? Or Guy Kawasaki? Not so much. Am I a bigger fan of Shaq? Absolutely. But to be honest, that probably has more to do with how entertaining he is. And if some super entertaining tweet from someone turned out to be ghost-written, I’d still probably follow just for the sake of being entertained.

  15. Eric Peterson
    April 3rd, 2009 at 05:59 | #15

    Amazingly well-written, Michelle, and touched on similar feelings that have been simmering within me. In fact, I’ll take it a step further… When I see tools like TweetLater, which allows you to queue-up your tweets and launch them according to a pre-determined schedule, it makes me cringe. Where’s the authenticity there? Even if they are written by the account owner, the tool removes the spontaneity that I so enjoy about others’ tweets. Much like ghost tweeting, it feels staged, mechanical, and bloated with self-service. I’ve been following Guy since I recently jumped into the game. I guess it’s just what everyone does when they’re getting their feet wet on Twitter. I’m all set with that now. Less frequency. More insight into the person. Those are the folks that I’m attracted to.

  16. April 3rd, 2009 at 06:54 | #16


    And the next to be purged from my Following list will be those whose content are almost entirely metaTweets – Tweeting about Tweeting. I've long since dropped the echo chamber metabloggers from my RSS feed list, having grown ever so weary of their Mobius-like monotony.

    If Twitter is indeed the world's biggest & longest-lasting cocktail party, I don't wanna be the guy trapped in the corner with the stale drink listening to the uber-geek and used-car salesman drone on…

  17. @mhp_video
    April 3rd, 2009 at 07:20 | #17

    Spot on Michelle! I never did jump on the “Guy bandwagon” and after reading this I’m glad I didn’t! It just screams “fraud” so good for you!

  18. April 3rd, 2009 at 09:35 | #18

    Thanks for the comments! I was really impressed with some of your perspectives. And I appreciate all the thoughtful posts.

    For the most part here and on Twitter I keep hearing the same thing: ghost tweeting is disingenuous and not in good taste. A few people have disagreed and feel like it’s okay, but I’m really glad to see so many people who “get” social media and don’t want to see it compromised.

    Oh and thanks for reading such a long post! I knew it was getting unwieldy but it just kept coming out!

  19. April 3rd, 2009 at 18:48 | #19

    Michelle, I wish I could have said what you said so eloquently about ghost tweeting in my ghost blogging post. You paint a very vibrant picture of why ghosts are just downright spooky and have no place in social media. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    I am okay with Guy’s ghosts though. Why? Because he’s always been upfront about being a traditional marketer using social media tools for traditional marketing. And, maybe because he told us about the ghosts a few months back (it was on Twitter, so you would have only caught it if you were in the discussion). The other reason is because he doesn’t promote himself as a socialous mediaous godous and I respect that.

    Now, that said…would I be okay with other companies doing this, probably not. I’d say that it wasn’t really social media, it was just traditional marketing. Unfortunately, that is what most companies will start at first with social media anyway. Is it right, no…but it’s all they know for now (and yes, Guy should know better).

    We need to keep informing companies that they are only damaging their own brands if they they want to act like Milli Vanilli. But it will only be a matter of time before their customers out them and take their platinum albums back. As I said before, the community makes the rules and it looks like you and a bunch more are inching towards taking one of Guy’s platinum albums back…

    A great post!

  20. April 4th, 2009 at 05:08 | #20

    I loved this post. I learned of Guy’s non-tweeting tweeting at the Mom 2.0 Summit. I was a little hurt, I guess. I felt on Twitter he was accessible to me. That he *might* even be reading my @replies. I know he has a gajillion followers……but still.

    How brave of you to unfollow!

    I’m torn. On one hand, I’m glad he’s transparent that it’s not him and that’s a key branding practice nowadays; don’t lie! On the other hand, I’m sad that Guy and I will never be real Twiends. Sigh.

  21. April 4th, 2009 at 05:30 | #21

    Thanks for the comment, Caroline! From what I’ve read, Guy Kawasaki does claim to read his @replies. He also says his ghost tweeters don’t engage in conversation on his behalf. Okay, so we can give him that.

    The issue remains that by using ghost tweeters he’s compromised the connection between himself and his followers. His Twitter account now lacks authenticity.

    The ultimate issue is that as Guy Kawasaki he should know better. He of all people should realize the powerful, yet delicate value of social media connections. They’re not something that should be taken lightly. And compromising them for the sake of some extra tweets on the timeline is essentially selling out.

    It’s a sad day. He basically sold out his authenticity in exchange for EXPOSURE.

  22. April 4th, 2009 at 11:39 | #22

    I’m with you. Effectively, social media should be about authenticity, even if it’s not. When your brand is as big as Guy’s, I don’t think he cares one way or another, but…too many folks look at the model and think that they can fake their way to the “top” of the social media fireplace.

  23. April 4th, 2009 at 13:19 | #23

    I feel hip now for having never followed him. Ghost tweeting makes no sense to me. Clone tweeting, real physical clones, now that might be worth a debate and possibly a horror film.

  24. April 7th, 2009 at 05:12 | #24

    Very good read. I think I just found someone else to add to my reader list.

  25. April 7th, 2009 at 05:26 | #25

    I’m definitely with you on this one. I wasn’t following Guy before, but after these keynotes I’m pretty set on never following him in the future.

    But it’s hard to suggest that Guy’s publicized Twitter spamming has had any serious negative effect on his follower count overall.


    Not even a blip on the chart.

  26. April 13th, 2009 at 07:43 | #26

    Great post Michelle.

    I’ve been considering “unfollowing” Guy as well. The only reason I didn’t do it immediately after I heard about the “ghost tweeters” is that every once in a while, his “ghosts” have a decent tweet that is worth the 140 chars. I suggest his ghosts reveal themselves so we can follow them in true twitter fashion.

  27. April 14th, 2009 at 04:10 | #27

    I like the headline. Yeah.

  28. May 5th, 2009 at 17:02 | #28

    Great post, Michelle!

    I never really thought of Kawasaki as a person — even though we did correspond once about some baby orangutans!?!? — so the ghost-tweet thing bothered me less than his volume. I’ve almost unfollowed him several times, before and after the ghost revelation, but there’s usually just enough signal amidst the noise to stop me from clicking “remove”.

    BTW, I came across your blog via Twitter and scrolling through, Milli Vanilli caught my eye first, but #guyfail was too much to not leave a comment!

  29. Anonymous
    May 14th, 2009 at 21:49 | #29

    Dogmarcopolo said: You said ‘Maybe it really is time for the mantle to be passed’ and it is. Its time for ‘open Source News’ as in open source software. Would you or anyone else be interested in such a project?

  1. September 26th, 2009 at 12:14 | #1
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