Ghost Tweeting: A Fact Of Social Media Life

June 27, 2011
Bob Vila

"I tweet ... or do I?"

Last Wednesday, I received a tweet from Bob Vila. You know, Bob Vila, host of “This Old House“? The bearded and flanneled one? Yeah, that Bob Vila.

I had published a blog post (on my personal blog) earlier that day paying homage to the five public figures I’ve idolized the most in my life. In the late ’80s, for reasons I can’t explain, I worshiped Vila like a deity. I ranked him No. 2. He tweeted me on Wednesday to say he was “honored.”

I was thrilled. I may have yelped something to the effect of “HOLY S#$%! BOB VILA TWEETED ME!” at the office. The feeling was fleeting, however. I came back to reality and remembered most public figures with millions of fans (like Vila) rely upon a social media manager or a handler in their entourage to manage their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

It’s social media’s open secret – ghost-posting. Create the sense that you’re connected with your fans and you want them to see the real you. The reality: it’s often someone else.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BobVila/status/83537212318294016″]

When celebrities and athletes started flooding Facebook and Twitter a few years ago, throngs of fans and curious onlookers followed because it gave public figures the chance to tell their own story and be their own media outlet. We thought social media was the platform to provide us a peek behind the curtain into the lives of the rich and famous. It seemed so transparent, so raw, so honest.

Of course, it was too good to last. Public figures, just like us, get drunk, get mad, get offended, get sensitive, and, as we recently learned with one public official, get horny.

Social media was meant to be direct, but when acting roles, sports careers and political campaigns hang in the balance, public figures can’t let a few mistyped characters become their downfall. So, they wisely outsource their online presence.

Work with a celebrity or athlete and you’ll see their publicist(s) or a friend busily tapping at their iPhones, sending tweets through rounds of approval, dropping product names for which a single mention can yield five figures. Social media has become its own business and perhaps the easiest, most tangible way to manage reputation. So, if you follow a celebrity, an athlete, a politician, you shouldn’t assume the relationship is personal. Chances are it’s mostly business.

So, I’m fairly confident Bob Vila didn’t tweet me. I’m pretty sure Bob Vila Inc. did. And you know what? I don’t blame “him.”