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Who can resist a good panel discussion about emerging social media trends? I know I can’t. Yesterday I attended this one:

THE NEW GHOSTWRITER: “As brands, personalities, and campaigns embrace social media to create conversation and extend their reach, we wonder: What issues arise when third parties disseminate messaging on behalf of others? Are there ethical issues such as trust, authenticity, and transparency involved, or can ghostwriters be a valuable, nuanced asset to a brand?” Moderator: Todd Wasserman, Business and Marketing Editor, Mashable. Speakers: Terry Li, COO Bre.ad; Sam Graham-Felson, Chief Blogger, Obama for America; Aliza Licht, SVP, Global Communications, Donna Karan International

Here’s what I learned: Using social media to promote a brand is a pretty tricky business, and there’s not a whole lot of history to draw on:

• The Obama blogger and DKNY PR exec didn’t have any protocol to follow when they started out in 2008 and 2009. (Twitter was launched in 2006.) At DKNY, they knew that DK (the designer) didn’t have time to tweet; but they didn’t want to have someone on staff pretend to be her, either. They instead created the “DKNY PR Girl” persona to represent the brand—which sidesteps the whole ghostwriting issue entirely.

• Who is actually writing the tweets for other companies, brands, and celebrities you follow? One estimate was that 4/5 of the tweets you read are ghostwritten. The overall consensus seems to be that while the value of the Twitter relationship is that people (“followers”) feel a sense of connection to the person or brand, much damage can be done by an off-message (or just plain stupid) tweet.

• What about having a celebrity or candidate write his own tweets, and have those tweets vetted by a committee? Not a good idea: Committees (handlers, lawyers, etc) are known to have a chilling effect on both “authenticity” and fun. The tweets won’t get the tweeter in trouble; but they won’t generate much buzz, either.

WHAT: Social Media Week,  a series of conversations about emerging trends in social and mobile media. WHERE: Hamburg, Hong Kong, London, Miami, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto, Washington DC. WHEN: February 13-17, 2012