Friday, February 27, 2009

The Fuzzy Ethics of Twitter Marketing

A few days back, there was somewhat of a mini-controversy regarding the purported Twitter account of Brian Burke (the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs).

From the viewpoint of a Leafs fan, his Twitter posts (or Tweets) are quite hilarious (even if they are unfortunately true):


Of course, it's painfully obvious that this is NOT the real Brian Burke. Although Burke is not hesitant to call out his players, Twitter would not be the medium to do so. The hockey rumour site HockeyBuzz even want as far as to contact Burke himself to get his thoughts on the Twitter account, to which Burke said that he thinks the impostor is "scum".

So, what purpose does the "fake" Brian Burke Twitter account have? Well, it's run by the same guy who write the Leafs blog "Down Goes Brown", and by getting his name out there through these funny, well-written one-liners under the "Brian Burke" persona, he's attracted a whole bunch of new people to his blog.

In my opinion, this is an example of just one way to use Twitter correctly. Let's face it ... many Tweets out there are boring and often just a rehash of a site's RSS feed. This guy stands out by delivering constantly funny material that encourages the user to read more of his stuff (and yes, his longer blog posts are just as good a read as his Tweets).

While the Brian Burke Twitter profile clearly states that it is a parody (and parodies are allowed under the current Twitter Terms of Use), this whole "impostor" issue does bring up some questions about the ethics and standards of using Twitter (and any sort of online forum, really) as a marketing device.

Under the same vein as Brian Burke, there are also fake Twitter accounts for "Bryan Murray", "Bob Gainey", "John Tortorella", "Gary Bettman", and a whole slew of NHL players and management. While it's fairly obvious when somebody is faking a celebrity or sports personality, what happens if it's on a smaller scale? What happens if somebody creates an account under your business name and starts writing ridiculous (or even slanderous) things under your name? Now you can see why Burke says this guy is "scum".

It's a fine line, and like any sort of Web 2.0 application, it's hard to say how it will evolve and be used over time. With Twitter continuing to grow at an unbelievable pace, I'm sure we'll see more and more of these situations pop up. The only question is, will this practice be shunned, outlawed, or embraced?