I am going to start off with a bang, in this 1st of 7 planned posts about Real-World Ethical Dilemmas in Social Media.

What would you do if a client contact — who had a pretty solid Twitter following — asked you to tweet from his account, as if you were him?

Crazy? Wrong? Unethical? Let’s discuss.

The client contact is well-known in his field. He enjoys a loyal following of industry peers on Twitter. He posts regularly, sometimes several times a day. He “gets” Twitter; he finds value in the dialogue and his followers appreciate that a well-placed exec from a Big Company is engaged with them online.

Now, a big industry tradeshow is coming up. He’ll be very active there, as a speaker and organizer.

The executive wants his tweetstream to reflect his activity at the show, and to highlight other happenings at the conference, as well. He’s very concerned that he won’t be able to support this many to-do’s.

We work closely with this executive and he has come to trust us implicitly… which leads to the ethical challenge. I’ll paraphrase the request as it came from him:

“I want SHIFT to ‘take over’ my Twitter account, and tweet as me, during the course of the show. I’ll also tweet, but very sporadically and with far less ability to interact and respond to my followers. I don’t want to let them down, and I trust you guys to act in my stead. I know you won’t answer questions that you don’t know how to answer, and I trust that you won’t embarass me or misrepresent the company … Be ‘me’ online, so I can make a full commitment to my engagement on the show floor.”

You can see how this request comes from a “good place.” This executive’s commitment to online engagement is so fierce, he doesn’t want to abandon it even for an important event. He knows his followers would understand his absences, but he thinks there is going to be real value in tracking what’s happening at the conference, and in responding to folks online throughout.

While it’s true he is asking us to misrepresent ourselves, he feels that it would still be authentic because of his trust in us.

How do you respond to that? Do you just say no?

Well, there’s no such thing as “no,” when you work in a Service industry (thus this series of posts!) … So we suggested a compromise …

Yes, we would tweet from his account, but with the following conditions:

—-Prior to the event, he must tweet, “During the show some of my tweeting will be supplemented by our extended team.” We felt that the term “extended team” was appropriate, suggesting that that term covered both internal and 3rd party colleagues.

—-A reminder to that effect would go out, regularly, throughout the conference, i.e., every 10th tweet would remind followers that someone besides the executive might be “at the controls” of his Twitter account.

—-When character spaces permitted, we’d add a #team hashtag to denote that the tweet was not published by the exec — but honestly, this attribution fell away more often than not; we largely relied on the “every 10th tweet” approach to cover our ethical backsides.

For the record, there was no pushback from the executive’s followers. Anyone who took the time to react to our approach seemed to appreciate the fact that, for a short time, his tweetstream became a mix of on-the-floor reporting by the exec, supplemented by dispatches from a 3rd party response team in Marketing.

Still, no doubt there were folks who only checked-in on the executive’s tweets intermittently. To them, our team members were ostensibly tweeting under false pretenses; they were unwittingly “duped” by our approach.

I’m not troubled by that, as the tweets authored by SHIFTers were always innocuous and helpful. But … should I be troubled?

How would you have handled such a request?

Posted on: January 26, 2010 at 7:15 am By Todd Defren
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