Tweeting as Fictional Characters

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Fake-celebrity Twitter feeds had their day. Now that the microblogging site uses a verification process to ensure that followers can keep tabs on the real Ashton Kutcher or Taylor Swift, it's pretty easy to tell who's legit and who is not. But what of all the Twitter feeds from fictional characters? Dating back to the early days of this "newfangled thing" — as Mad Men's @bettydraper calls it — Twitter has often been used as a marketing vehicle by the entertainment industry. The creators of NBC's Chuck set up online profiles for its main character, Chuck Bartowski, months before the show's 2007 premiere, and Australian soap opera Neighbours has four characters that share their fake thoughts and feelings.

Now the trend has moved to the stage — well, sort of. This week, the Royal Shakespeare Co. began its latest production, Such Tweet Sorrow, a 21st century remake of the classic play Romeo and Juliet. It will take place entirely on Twitter. As the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Co. told the BBC, "Mobile phones don't need to be the antichrist for theater." Characters like @julietcap16 and @LaurenceFriar have been posting their musings on daily life.

Under the vision of a director and team of writers, Juliet Capulet writes things like, "@Tybalt_Cap HEY! Shut it! Its not our fault your [sic] in so much trouble! You have noone to blame but yourself!" And @LaurenceFriar goes on about his murky past: "Perhaps I shouldn't have told them about my role in the legalize cannabis campaign? hmm. There's something meditative about skinning up."

For private citizens like Helen Klein Ross, a New York–based advertiser who has written the Betty Draper Twitter feed since 2008 (not to mention running the Mad Men wife's blog and LinkedIn profile), it's a love for marketing and fiction writing that inspired her to create the page after discovering fictional husband @don_draper's feed. "I thought it was a revolutionary idea in marketing, and I wanted to be part of the experiment," she says. "Brand fiction is a great compilation of these two areas of my life." Some recent tweets from Betty: "My mother said a woman should be in the newspaper only 3 times in her life: When she is born. When she is married. When she dies" and "I didn't realize that controversial new book by Betty Friedan began as [an] article in Good Housekeeping."

Ross explains that though it might seem easy, "establishing a voice for a character is sort of hard." Not to mention making sure that what she writes isn't anachronistic to the show's time period. The Mad Men feeds were met with some resistance early on from AMC, the show's network, but the company's digital agency quickly explained the benefits of having virtual Drapers. And now, Ross says, she has "friendly but parallel relationships" with creator Matthew Weiner and AMC, and calls the shots for Twitter Betty, writing several 140-character tweets a day for her more than 25,000 followers.

The relationship between Twitter's battling Homer Simpsons is much less amicable. @HomerJSimpson, billed as the "Official Twitter for Homer Simpson," seems to be related to the show's creators. That's much to the dismay of @homersimpson, who cried foul against Fox on March 18, saying, "They've created some FAKE Homer Simpson. And he's stealing all of my bits! FOX, could you be any more commercial?" Never mind that Fox's Homer has been tweeting since July 2009. But hey, if Fox doesn't mind a little friendly competition, why should independent Homer? He does have Fox beat by more than 7,000 followers.

All in all, the blurbs from fictional characters on Twitter are hit or miss. A number of characters from hit shows like Glee, The Office and 24 have inspired Twitter feeds (some authorized, some not) and even some from Stephen King novels like The Stand have found their way into the Twitterverse. But what these feeds should really serve as are complements to their source material — not the main event. As @don_draper put it when asked for his thoughts on transistor computers, "I'm not too sure about those computers myself. I'm just hoping that we don't become too reliant on technology in the future."