WebEx Blogger Updates Dimdim Review
Boston Social Media Panel Event

Fighting The Good Fight In Social Media

Doug Haslam wrote a round up of events for the week and touched on Beth Harte’s experiment with transparency during last week’s #pr20chat online meet up in twitter. Beth had asked another colleague to tweet on her behalf to explore the effects upon the audience and their response once she posted a blog post revealing the experiment. I do not agree with the experiment, but the conversation and discussion on her blog is really great. I recommend you take a look.

In response I wrote a long post about authenticity, which I republish here slightly edited. This discussion is timely for me, because I believe the growth of the content marketing movement is pushing the marketing community to accept the concept of ghost writing for social media. There’s now a market.

Here’s my edited response to Beths post:

I think this question of authenticity is all about money. Basically a few years ago few companies used social media, and there was not much of a market for generating content via social media. Those people who started using social media developed the community, and used many of the ethics from the field of journalism. Authenticity became the order of the day.

The genesis of authenticity is basically if I write content, where people have the ability to write back to me, I’d better be prepared to answer otherwise I may be caught out as a fraud.

As more and more people started using social media, and more companies jumped in to start using social media for promotion, the market for developing content in social media grew.

Customers for social media content were either unused to developing the content, did not have time or assumed that as they had once paid for content in traditional media from other authors to represent them, it was completely okay to do so for social media content.

The market for ghost content grew, and though most writers would probably prefer authenticity, it actually helps to have more bylines; ghost content writing does pays the bills.

As the number of customers and vendors of ghost content has grown over the years, the voices for authenticity though still vocal have grown less significant.

I think the debate is really about what the ROI of authenticity. If the community believes ghost social media content is a cost effective way to promote a company, the community will continue to ghost write social media content. If the community believes writing such content doesn't get the sort of ROI they are looking for it will diminish. I think the level of ghost writing in social media is more dependent upon the market, and that market is dependent upon the law, social rules in the community, and how the community responds to revelations of ghost writing. If the community criticizes social media ghost writing and the consequences of ghost writing social media content is harmful to a brand there will be less of it. If not, I think the practice will grow.

I look at the market and the changes that have happened over the last few years, and wonder if the ideas contained in the cluetrain are dead, or were ever valuable. The central idea people are online and they are talking together is still true. The web is not one large community but a series of different companies. I read on Beth’s blog in the comment thread that many people suggest ghost writing is okay, and it’s been done in PR and communications for a long time. But I wonder if those people are living in the PR echo chamber, or maybe the ghost writing echo chamber? And if you may be setting yourself up for a fall when you write for a community that takes a dim view about writing in an inauthentic way.

Doug Haslam had also discussed the WebEx blogger incident in his post and wondered if any lessons were learned. Here was my response:

Here’s where Beth’s experiment and the WebEx incident intersect. I firmly believe that social media communities can police themselves; it’s up to the members of the marketing, PR and social media communities to call out to people who are uses practices that don’t seem fair or credible. A lot of writers in the past have panned bloggers who made mistakes. In this case I believe the community provided constructive criticism and attempted to help the WebEx blogger in learning some of the rules of the community, and what works in communicating with people online. As a result of these exchanges things did change, and it seems the blogger has gained from that experience.

On the question of transparency and ghost blogging, just because the tone in the echo chamber has changed does not mean that we should not continue to get involved. To me the lesson is that’s its still possible to convince the community and individuals that their communications strategy should be one of authenticity and engagement.