Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 19, 2010 9:47 PM

The Death Of Social Media

The minute we (as a community) allow and accept traditional mass media tactics to pollute Social Media, is the minute that all is lost.

In one of the most depressing articles titled, The Ghost Speaks, published in Entrepreneur Magazine (February issue) they looked at ghostblogging (the act of paying a writer to Blog on behalf of a company, brand or individual). These ghostbloggers do more than Blog posts, they also post on the person's behalf to Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, etc...

How depressing is that in the era of real human voices and real human interactions?

"As a young industry, ghostblogging has no best practices or trade organization. Some practitioners write blogs of a paragraph or two, others 250 to 300 words, but rarely longer. This is the Internet, don't forget. Attn spans r short. Writers charge by the blog or tweet and juggle half-a-dozen clients or more. Some ghostbloggers prefer the loftier title 'social media consultant.' The best are careful to plant key search-engine words into their posts, which will raise a company's web-search ranking."

Boring advertising from boring people (and now we know who all of those "Social Media Consultants" really are).

Thankfully, Entrepreneur Magazine also took the time to interview smart marketing professionals like Jason Falls (Social Media Explorer) and Shel Holtz (For Immediate Release):

"'Ghostblogging is a horrible thing - I'm vehemently opposed,' says Shel Holtz of Concord, Calif., a former corporate communications specialist who now blogs about the intersection of communication and technology at blog.holtz.com. 'I'm a huge fan of transparency. My advice to executives is: If you don't take the time to write yourself, find another channel of communication.'"

Can we stop the madness?

I'm being naive (I know), people will say, "someone writes the speech for the President" or "if people like it and connect to the content, who cares who writes it?" I dunno, I do. People have lost faith in marketing (just like they have lost faith in those who serve the public office and celebrities). We allow things that shouldn't be... to be. Saying that ghostwriters have been around for years doesn't make it right or authentic. Times have changed, and these platforms are (or should be) celebrated for the human and real side. Can you imagine that some Blogs, Twitter and Facebook feeds that you follow are not the real person, but the musings of someone else who simply interviewed the person you thought that you were following? Sure, there's a place for ghostwriters, but maybe Social Media isn't one of them?

If we keep heading down this road, doesn't Social Media become nothing more than a boring, traditional mass media channel?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Tony Shimkin
    Mitch Joel

    Ghostwriters blogging tweeting?? Of course! I can't believe anyone would be so naive to think otherwise. Do I believe Sandra Bullock is tweeting at 3am or that Ashton it the mastermind behind all his tweets! C'mon they pay people called publicists and now Social Media "Experts".

    A company that wants to succeed via social media would be stupid if they didn't hire someone to spin their social media content if they themselves didn't know how.

    Transparency would be wonderful but so would a harmless cigarette or a healthy all sugar diet yet something tells me none of these things will happen. Transparency is needed in every facet of government, press, print media, televised media.... In our personal relationships SHIT in every aspect of our lives! Will it ever happen? NO.. NO and NO

    Use your intuition, was Will it Blend a brilliant marketing concept thought up by the very people that run the company? I hope so! Makes for a inspiring story. Does David Meerman Scott write his own blogs? I am pretty sure he does. Does he write for others? Possibly. Why wouldn't he parlay his expertise.

    I am sure of one thing. Social media is far from dead. It is only in it's infancy and there WILL be growing pains. I am very impressed with the abilities of many to not only work social media but to innovate, educate and inspire. I am equally unimpressed the the majority that feel it important enough to let me know every badge they have earned on foursquare or why they "hate the sound of someone eating Bananas" NEXT! @azizansari.

    I am more interested in those that developed foursquare and the future of augmented reality and folks like @MitchJoel and @GuyKawasaki and companies like Fast Channel, Tech Crunch, Mashable etc....

    If you don't like a persons tweets UNFOLLOW them. If you don't like a certain radio station don't turn it on.

    If a company found someone that is helping them blog, tweet and grow or become more sucessful good for them!

    And for the sake of Transparency! I wrote this comment myself.

    Tony Shimkin
    @noblenyc

    Reply
  • Posted by Scott Webb
    Mitch Joel

    How does this play with 'guest posting?'

    I've shown up at a number of blogs and find a guest post for blogs.

    I totally see the benefit to guest posting, but isn't it just a way of being transparent about not writing your own blog posts?

    Copyblogger is mainly guestposts now. It's rare to come across a post by Brian Clark.
    I show up and there are posts by another blogger. I go to their blog and there are posts by someone else. Suddenly, it's rare to come across blog posts written by the blog owner.

    Perhaps I'm a bit frustrated because I start to notice cliques, but that is another thing.

    I wonder what your view is on guest posting?

    Reply
    • I'm not sure I see the link between ghostblogging and having multiple Bloggers or guest blogging?

      I think if the guest is great and adds value, it can work. It's not something I practice on this Blog, but I think Copyblogger is becoming more of a publishing platform than a personal blog from Brian Clark.

      Beyond that, he is transparent and you know he's doing it. How would you feel if you found out that Brian Clark never actually Blogged, tweeted or touched his Facebook profile and he was paying someone else to do it? (thankfully, he's not!)

      To me, those are two completely different spheres.

      Reply
  • Posted by Michael Hyatt
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with you. I hate ghost posting. Eventually people find out. It is worse than doing nothing at all. I blogged on this several months ago under the title “Ghost Blogging and Twittering.”

    Reply
    • Posted by Duke Dillard
      Mitch Joel

      Dear Michael,
      I am sincerely interested in your opinion here as I've thought about this before. Are some of the books you publish written at least partially by ghost writers? Maybe my information is wrong? How do you compare ghost writing books versus ghost writing blogs?
      thanks,
      Duke

      Reply
      • Posted by Michael Hyatt
        Mitch Joel

        I think that ghost writing books is different. Book are essentially monologues. Readers don’t expect to be able to engage with the writer (although this, too, is changing). Social media, on the other hands, is a dialogue. The author starts the conversation but must then engage it for it to have any real impact. It also requires authenticity, which is especially difficult if readers are engaging with someone other than who the person claims to be.

        Reply
  • Posted by Jeff Brown
    Mitch Joel

    As one who has been asked by a number of local small businesses where I live to help in this area, I'm struggling with this concept. It has been suggested one way I can help is to ghostwrite, tweet, etc. I'm not comfortable doing that. I'd prefer to consult long enough to train/teach and then get out of the way.

    At the same time, I struggle with the idea of consulting in this area (one that I love) because there seems to be so many pretenders out there. I worry that it's nearly impossible to consult in SM without being immediately thrown into that camp.

    Reply
  • Posted by K.C. Procter
    Mitch Joel

    I heartily agree. Ghostblogging is a cop out and disenchanting for fans and interested parties.

    While I think companies can legitimately hire a "social media manager" to run their corporate Facebook or Twitter profile (like @Starbucks) it is just lame when an individual has someone else ghostblogging/tweeting for them (like @michaelbuble). It cheapens the connection.

    Thank you for the candid perspective.

    Reply
    • Posted by K.C. Procter
      Mitch Joel

      I wanted to clarify that by "social media manager" I mean an in-house employee working for a company and not an external consultant juggling multiple clients as described above.

      Reply
  • Posted by Dan
    Mitch Joel

    It's all about a question of scale imo. I'll admit - I hate when people make cross connections about other mediums but it sometimes helps to put things in perspective.

    Radio comes to mind even though I know very little about it. Let' s just think about this though: it's got bandwidth that is shared by ham radio 'operators' and also with large radio stations who employ a small army of people to handle it's broadcasting. Is one more authentic than the other? Sure. But it's just sort of how the medium evolved. Just like the internet, they're all able to co-exist and find their own 'space.'

    Would I be pissed if I found out that one of the blogs I read daily wasn't authentic and written by a ghost? You're damn right I would. Would I be equally upset if the CEO of @cocacola didn't @reply me? No.

    Having said that - is one more engaged with their audience? No question.

    If you're tweeting for yourself, your blog, your blog network, or your small coffee shop then you've gotta get into it, you've gotta enjoy it because it's how you're going to be successful. Being authentic and servicing the only clients you'll be able to sell to: the satisfied ones. If you're at the helm of a large corporation: you'd better care and hire real professionals to listen and react.

    This is game changing.

    Reply
  • Posted by Shari Stauch
    Mitch Joel

    Absolutely! It's the difference between mentoring/training a client to engage and "doing their homework" for them. Emphasis on authentic voices is crucial to authentic audience.

    Reply
  • With respect, while ghostblogging is a deceitful and abhorrent practice, it is the least of our worries. As long as we have paid celeb-endorsements, we'll always have shills.

    More troubling is how brands use social media to broadcast the stock press release and try to enforce their view through digital jackbooting.

    The current Nestle debacle is a great example of the latter. And if you're looking for an example of the former, check out the "blog" of a local bank, Standard Bank. Both are clear signals that there are brands who still believe that they control the message, that the message doesn't have to differ from their mass broadcast and that the message is not up for debate.

    If we don't push back against this kind of behaviour, then our future relationship with Social Media will look a lot like radio.

    Thanks Mitch. Awesome post, as always.

    Reply
  • Posted by butterfly
    Mitch Joel

    totally right, if it isn't the right person of the company, the source writing it, then how to we know they are real ? as bloggers we have to be real because no one will believe in us.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jon DiPietro
    Mitch Joel

    I am not nearly as worried about this - for two reasons. The first is that I think that your argument assumes something that will not be true in all cases; that the ghostwriter is insincere and manipulative. I don't think it's a bad thing for a person with writing talent to articulate the values and thoughts of someone else on their behalf and at their direction.

    The second reason is that people can spot insincerity from a mile away and I don't think it will last very long. Mitch, you've been doing this long enough to know that even someone with as much passion as you must work hard at blogging. If companies are hiring crappy ghostwriters to spin drivel, they won't see a return and will probably stop before too long. It's not like spam, where the cost is extremely low and enables a profitable scaling model.

    If I found out tomorrow that Six Pixels was actually written by a ghost writer, would I be upset? No - the value I've received from the information and the idea exchange hasn't changed.

    Reply
  • As a social media consultant, or freelancer getting started I can say that what we do isn't all about ghost blogging, in fact most is consulting - I teach people how to blog themselves, and if they want someone else to do it, then that's their choice, in how they do business. It's no a sleazy business. As for faith in Marketing - I lost mine when I turned 18 and started getting Telemarketing calls.


    I think they should try and write posts when they can, to add their voice to them, I think the best approach in this way is to have a go-to guy. A social media manager that's employed by the company to basically be a spokesman. Someone customers can ask questions with and expect to get real answers back.

    The thing about social media that makes it so great is that it's social - if someone's just guest blogging, then they probably don't login daily to see all the comments a post gets, it's upto the blog owner to reply to these comments.

    Social media is about the conversation, it doesn't matter who starts it as long as people can freely express themselves. As social media consultants it's our primary focus or should be to educate people on what social media is, how to use it to benefit a company, and ways to use it without it taking all their time and effort. I personally don't do much in the way of ghost blogging, myself, but it's not for me to say that it's necessarily bad. Many statements that politicians read, or celebrities is written by PR companies, does this make them any less interesting? I don't think so.

    That's just my 2 cents.

    Reply
  • Posted by Sally Falkow
    Mitch Joel

    For the last 100 years, ghost writing has been an acceptable PR activity. But we were then in an era of one way, mass communication. Social media has changed the rules of the game.

    In a 2-way dialogue you do expect to actually be speaking with the person you think you are talking to. SM is about transparency and an open conversation. Ghost blogging or tweeting is not a real conversation, and people predictably get upset when they disover they have been duped.

    I totally get that some execs are just too busy to blog or tweet. But there is someone in the company that is passionate about the business or product, writes well, has a lot to say,and will make a great blogger. Microsoft did not make Bill Gates their blogger - it was Robert Scoble. Who ever heard of Robert Scoble before he blogged for MS?

    There are many services an agency or consultant can provide to a company to help them improve their SM presence and engagement. Ghost writing is not one of them.

    Coach them on their writing, advise them on their content strategy, teach them how to find influencers and reach out correctly. Monitor mentions of the brand and help them measure the effeciveness of their SM activity.

    You can put their training wheels on but ultimately they have to ride this bicycle themselves.

    Sally Falkow APR
    PR Trainer of the Year 2009
    Author of The Future of PR

    Reply
  • Posted by Ian M Rountree
    Mitch Joel

    Generalization is a dangerous game - and it's something traditional media is VERY adept at.

    The problem with ghostwriting is not that there's a market for it - there are more bizarre, troubling markets all over the place - but that the market is threatening the broader use.

    I disagree with the idea that ghost writing immediately kills social media, but it may well have a hand in it, if (and this is the key) the production of social media as a commodity becomes the norm.

    How I read this is; Capitalization is not the antithesis of socialization; commodity is. Am I far off?

    Reply
  • Posted by Adam Singer
    Mitch Joel

    Now I realized what rubs me so wrong about your posts Mitch. It's less the content, more the fact you write gimmicky headlines. "The Death of Social Media" or "The End Of Big Website Builds." You always speak in such absolutes. That's why I respond to them - so I guess your strategy is working :)

    Reply
    • Posted by Lori Johnson
      Mitch Joel

      Adam, honestly, if there wasn't a gimmicky, catchy title why would you stop by indeed? As much as I hate to admit it, humans (me) are drawn to sensational ideas. It's just curiousity and each individual has to be sure that they listen and make their own opinions about what they stop by to see. I guess curiousity did kill the cat but I'm sure it was quick and painless.

      Reply
  • Posted by Tom Snyder
    Mitch Joel

    The power of a blog comes from the personal brand that is being built by the author, and the benefit a corporate brand derives by having that blog on its site. A ghost-written blog is not a blog... it's PR and needs to be renamed as such and moved to the appropriate area of the site.

    My company has been the online services partner for one of our area's most visible brands for nearly a decade and a half. While they know their brand better than anyone else, we know their brand in the online space better than they do. If they could afford to pay me enough to leave the company I own and be on their payroll, I'm probably the most qualified person in the universe to BE them in the Social Media sphere. They can't. We have told them that unless it's actually the corporate face of the brand who's blogging, they really shouldn't do it. And so we use an integrated installation of Wordpress on their site to post their press releases, giving them the RSS benefits of blog, but clearly labeling it as "The News" and not a blog.

    However, as an already popular location on Foursquare, not being on Twitter isn't an option for them. That puts me in a weird position. Having developed their Social Media strategy, voice, rules and roles, and needing to accommodate their lack of time and internal resources, we decided to make Twitter a co-effort. Initially, I posted each Tweet, but only after their review and sign off. It was a clumsy process with some of them taking several back and forth edits prior to posting. However, that process has resulted in an even better understanding for us, and an educational process for them. The eventual goal is for them to actually be doing all the Tweeting, and we'll just continue to monitor for brand mentions and let them know when they need to respond to something. But for now, most of the Tweets are still coming from me without their review, although they are now also occasionally Tweeting themselves, and doing a good job when they do.

    If we decide to have a Tweetup, or some other type of Social Media-based event there, I would be there, along with the other two folks there who are part the process. So everyone would actually meet the people they've been following, and in some cases engaging with. I don't think that will be a problem for any of them if they'd find out that one of the three is not an actual employee, but instead a "contract individual." But if we don't even disclose that, is it a violation of the authenticity and transparency that Social Media requires? Tough call.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jeff Dolan
    Mitch Joel

    The authentic people who care will win out. They will have a unique voice. And build solid relationships. The rest will keep doing the same old school tactics, stay impersonal, and lose over time.

    Reply
  • Posted by thom singer
    Mitch Joel

    Death of Social Media? Um, I doubt it. But being authentic is so important to social media that I think it will have an impact. But books are ghost written all the time, and it is okay with most people. But you can't deny it when asked. I met a woman with a big following who brags that she pays someone to blog for her. Not right for me, but at least she is honest.

    Reply
  • Posted by Malcolm Pearson
    Mitch Joel

    Ghostblogging/tweeting can only end up biting you in the royal behind! People expect to be communicating with the person they assume it to be.

    What an opportunity if my competitor ghosttweets - all I have to do it tell everyone that I communicate with that they are ghosting and that will be a huge dent in their supporters confidence in them.

    Reply
  • Posted by Clay Frickey
    Clay Frickey

    I have mixed feelings about this blog post. I think that authenticity is paramount when talking social media, so in that sense, ghostwriting is a negative. But what if someone who can't write well because of a learning disability (dyslexia) has someone write their posts for them? The person with dyslexia comes up with the topics and the talking points and someone else writes it out. Is that bad practice to you as well? I ask because this is something I deal with daily. Our main provider of content for our blog is dyslexic and really just can't write properly. So, he has someone write out his thoughts and we use that for a lot of our blog posts. What do you all think?

    Reply
  • Posted by Mary Anne Hahn
    Mitch Joel

    As Executive Director of an association for ghost writers, I naturally twitch when I see ghost writing portrayed in a negative light. We write for those who can't, and we write for those who don't want to. It has always been an honorable profession, and many of the best writers I know are ghosts.

    I sincerely doubt that ghostwriting blogs or even tweets will send social media into a death spiral any more than ghost writing autobiographies, speeches, etc. led to an untimely end of those types of writing. Ghost writers simply help others get their messages out in writing. Nothing sinister there.

    Reply
  • Perhaps the real question here is "is marketing as we've known it dead"? Marketers have failed; I've been marketing for nearly 20 years.

    Social Media channels have simply helped put sunshine on a festering sore. Maybe the reverse is at play? Perhaps Social Media will change marketing and it's really marketing that's dying?

    Reply
  • Posted by Promotional Products
    Mitch Joel

    I agree, if the trend does continue we will be looking at a very bland use of Social Media. I hope that this doesn't happen, but the reality of it is this, we are heading that way.

    Reply
  • Posted by Tyler
    Mitch Joel

    I've been thinking about this lately, as I work for a political media figure who goes on the air every day and reads someone elses' words as his own. His tweets come from a staffer. I have always been conflicted about this. On one hand, I value transparency. On the other, this man simply does not have the time to write a radio script every day and tweet considering everything else on his plate. What is the alternative?

    Reply
  • Posted by Jaky Astik
    Mitch Joel

    The death of social media will be totally social. I mean, yes. You are right. Social Media is turning into a heavy marketing tool instead of a social phenomena. And well, a time will come when no other person would want to visit or believe in information social media site offers because only marketers and prompters will be dwelling up there. huh.

    Reply
  • Posted by Roy
    Roy

    "How depressing is that in the era of real human voices and real human interactions?"

    As a person who dislikes telephones and would rather talk to someone face to face, I find the above quote amusing.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Parente
    Mitch Joel

    There is a middle ground here. My agency NEVER participates in social media environments without full discussion of who we are. When we have a client interest we reveal it.

    OTOH, do we draft content for clients? Of course! Most execs are too busy, and let's face it, there are many, many very smart people out there who can't write a halfway decent essay on anything. Good writing is always going to be a marketable skill.

    What I reject is the purist view that you can't partake in social media with a business purpose. That's crap. It's not all about conversations, or media outreach, or better customer service. If social media -- done PROPERLY I mean -- can't prove it facilitates business objectives like deal capture and lead generation, then guess what? It won't get funded by companies (read, clients).

    Reply
Add a Comment

Please complete all the fields below, including the spam filter (to prove you're not a robot).

  1. Fill in your email address to have your Gravatar photo included with your comment.
  2. Please type the word pixels here:
TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://www.twistimage.com/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/1947