Often time-poor and rarely social media-savvy, New Zealand CEOs are following in the footsteps of celebrities and politicians and hiring experts to "ghost-Tweet" for them.

Businesses are increasingly using Twitter - which, for those in the dark, is a social networking phenomenon where users post 140-character mini-blogs called "Tweets".

But even if executives realise they should be online for the good of the company, the concept often baffles them.

The answer for some is to get their communications or marketing people to run a brand Twitter account for them using the name of the company - Telecom, Vodafone and Air New Zealand are examples.

Some other chief executives go for the individual approach and set up a Twitter profile using their own name - but they get someone else to Tweet.

"I ghost a couple of CEOs in New Zealand right now," social marketing consultant Courtney Lambert told a recent conference in Auckland. "I'm not going to tell you who they are, but I pretend to be them online. This is a stop-gap method that we're doing for them at the moment because it's impossible to get them online otherwise."

One of those executives is Bede Ashby of Momentum Consulting, who employs Lambert to manage the social media side of his company.

"I have advice on it because it's such a new area," says Ashby. "A lot of senior executives just don't have time to focus on it, but we will need to in the future."

Lambert contributes to the Twitter presence but he does have input, Ashby says. "I will write the content and she will advise me and tweak it a bit," he says.

Lambert wouldn't say who else she ghost-Tweeted for, as some were in their "pilot" phase.

In the world of celebrities, ghost-Tweeting is common - 50 Cent and Britney Spears employ people to Tweet for them, and Barack Obama has a team.

In New Zealand, our own Prime Minister is more upfront about his Tweets. Occasionally, it really is John Key, but often the Tweets are prefaced with "via staff" or are links to his website.

Social media guru Simon Young said ghost-Tweeting "might be needed as a transitional thing, but it's ultimately not sustainable".

Twitter should be a "conversation", said Young, between real people.

Associate Professor Ken Deans, head of marketing at the University of Otago, believed ghost tweeting was unethical.

"It's about trust and mistrust. If someone else is writing for the CEO, that's unacceptable."

One of Deans' PhD students, Adeline Chua, is writing a thesis on corporate blogging.

She believed ghost-Tweeting was widespread among New Zealand executives, but was more often delegated to someone in the IT department rather than contracted out to a specialised social marketing consultant.

"It's quite easy to tell if it's ghost-Tweeting," said Chua. "You can tell from the tone or style. If it is a ghost-Tweet, it won't be personal."

Ghost-Tweeting negated the effectiveness of Twitter as a communication tool, she said.

"You're using the CEO as a face for the company and hoping the personality of the CEO is projected on to the company or the product. It's humanising the company."

So if the CEO was not the Twitterer, it was missing the point.