As a Financial Blogger, How Do You Decide Your Level of Anonymity? ⋆ [FinCon]

As a Financial Blogger, How Do You Decide Your Level of Anonymity?

One of the interesting conventions at the Financial Blogger Conference last month was a helpful designation on name tags as to who didn’t want to be identified. Even though some people had their real names on their tags, they made it clear that, in pictures or in updates, they didn’t want to be identified. Others didn’t even have their real names on their badges — they just kept with their online monikers.

I was never anonymous. The closest I have ever been to being anonymous is using a different version of my name on one content farm, mainly because I didn’t want those articles to dominate the search results for “Miranda Marquit.” As someone who has always wanted to be a freelance professional, it seemed natural to just put myself out there. However, that’s not everyone’s experience. In some cases, anonymity is a requirement, due to a day job. And, in other cases, there is a desire for privacy. I emailed some different bloggers, and here are their stories about being anonymous — and even revealing themselves after years of using a pseudonym:

“Sam” at Financial Samurai

One of the things I love about Financial Samurai is how straightforward “Sam” is. I don’t always agree, but the posts are always thought-provoking and interesting. “Sam,” the founder of the Yakezie network, is probably as anonymous as it gets. And here’s why:

I want to focus the reader’s attention on the writing. If you take away one’s sense of sight, their sense of smell gets heightened. The goal is to wipe away preexisting biases and focus about the topic at hand. It’s a much more rewarding environment to see progress based on one’s writing, rather than on one’s credentials.

It’s also just the way I am. I’m not one to announce my birthday, tell how much money I make, reveal what I give, lobby for votes etc unless I’m forced to. It’s really fun to fly under the radar and do my own thing. I prefer to blend in.

Blogging is a hobby which I really enjoy. Perhaps when I retire and work on-line full-time will I change my stance. I doubt it though because I enjoy my privacy too much. I’m happy to meet people face to face at get togethers. I have a goal to meet every Yakezie Member in person and am always pinging Members if they can meet up whenever I go travel.

It would be much easier building credibility in the personal finance space if I went public. But what’s the fun in that?

“SVB” at The Digerati Life

While SVB shared her real name with conference goers, she is still mostly anonymous over at The Digerati Life, a rather useful financial blog. While some of the writers on the site use their names, Silicon Valley Blogger isn’t quite ready to come completely into the open:

I have a few reasons [for remaining anonymous]. Firstly, I had a long career prior to becoming an online publisher. I worked in technology and software engineering and have an entire work life that is separate from the publishing world, so I had wanted to keep that separate. I also started my site on a whim, and it was just a hobby for a while. As time went on, the pseudonym I was using for my site seemed to “stick.” I used the name “Silicon Valley Blogger” and everyone started using that name to address me as well. I thought that I would keep the name given that it was recognizable and that readers seemed to “take” to the name.  It evolved into its own very small “brand.”

Today, I contemplate whether I should go public with my true identity. I am not entirely anonymous right now though, as many people are aware of my real name. The reason that I’ve hesitated is this: The name I use to identify myself has become all too recognizable and switching to my real name may actually be more confusing. I also use a pseudonym in social media sites because I like to keep my work and personal circles separate and it’s easier to manage that way.

One other positive consequence to being anonymous is the level of privacy it affords. When one has a public persona, they feel more comfortable about being upfront about revealing certain things through their public profile which they would otherwise keep secret from the public. Having an anonymous shield allows some people (including myself) to feel more comfortable about lowering our guard. Many bloggers give a lot of details about their finances online, and it can be dicey, with a known identity (especially if you have a highly trafficked blog).

Glen at Free From Broke

I’ve been watching the “real” Glen, from Free From Broke, reveal himself bit by bit over the years. First, he was just “FFB.” Then he went by Craig. Indeed, I was so used to thinking of him as “Craig” that when we got to Chicago and I met him in person, I was having a really hard time thinking of him as Glen. But he still didn’t want his image used. And then his anonymity went completely out the window as he shared his financial mistakes with Credit.com. Why the change in policy?

A big reason I stayed anonymous for so long was the work I was doing. I didn’t want my employers to find out.

I have to admit I was also a little concerned with what other people would think if they saw the site as well as general safety issues with having my name out there.

But I discovered that you can better connect to readers when you post an identity as opposed to writing behind a logo. It’s also easier to make media connections as well.

I was also starting to meet other site publishers in person. It was kind of awkward that some didn’t know my name or what I looked like. As time went on I would release my name more and more. By the time the Financial Blogger Conference came around, I knew I couldn’t introduce myself as “FFB” anymore.

The MSN mention was just a product of timing. I was already in the works to do some work that required me to post a pic. When both came up I realized I needed a real picture. Also, when Google+ came out, it was requiring users to have real names. That was pretty much when I started to seriously use a pic of some sort.

Flexo/Luke Landes at Consumerism Commentary

I’ve always loved the moniker “Flexo,” so it’s kind of sad that it is slowly being retired. But, at the same time, it’s worth noting that the founder of Consumerism Commentary retains some of his mystery.

When I started Consumerism Commentary, my intent was to share the intimate financial details of my life: my net worth down to the bank account, my income, and my spending habits. The purpose was to track my financial progress publicly. Even with no readers, sharing progress in an open forum is like setting something in stone. If you publicly announce your goals, you’re more likely to stick with them. I was hoping that was the case for me. Because of the personal nature of the numbers I was using, I thought it would be best if I didn’t allow this website to be discoverable by people who knew me or who might know me in the future. One particular fear was an employer finding the website and reading about some particular workplace practice I didn’t like, a potential future employer researching my name after receiving my resume to find my net worth and income statements, or a family member who might take a general criticism of some sort personally.

I chose to write using a pseudonym, Flexo. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best choice. The name kind of reflects my sense of humor, but also shows that I wasn’t thinking about Consumerism Commentary as a business at the time. I didn’t expect to have an audience. I didn’t expect to be asked to write for major publications.

That’s exactly what happened. PC World invited me to write an article about Black Friday, and I knew I would not be doing so under the name Flexo. By that time, I had already given some thought to what I might do in this situation. Although I didn’t make it a big deal when the article was published, that was the turning point. I slowly began to introduce my real name, or at least a portion of it, into my writing. Over time, I shifted most of my writing off-site to my new byline, included the real name in select locations on the site and in social media, and began using photographs rather than cartoonish avatars to help identify me.

Many colleagues still didn’t know my name when me met for the first time at the Financial Blogger Conference after years of email correspondence. The process of coming out with my true identity has been slow, and it’s not over yet.

If I had to start again, I would have used my name from the beginning, but of course, that is with knowing that Consumerism Commentary would be the driving economic force in my life and I would never need to worry about what an employer might think of what I’ve written online in the past. Even without knowing this, I should have at least chosen a pseudonym that sounded more professional than “Flexo.” Yet, at the same time, I’ve been told that such a unique name has helped create an immediately identifiable personality tightly linked to Consumerism Commentary. It might be clever branding, but that certainly wasn’t my intent at the time.

Thanks to the bloggers that answered my email. It was great to learn your stories, and find out more about you.

What do you think about anonymity? Are you anonymous? Why or why not?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Miranda

Miranda

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  • Avatar
    Donna Freedman

    My photo and my name are both on my MSN Money articles and MSN links to my personal website, so anonymity wouldn\’t really work.

    I can see why some people prefer anonymity: It allows them to operate outside concurrent systems, such as a boss who wouldn\’t appreciate your slamming the workplace or an in-law who resents being called a cheap bastard. When deciding whether or not to out yourself, it\’s necessary to remember the impact on other people.

  • Avatar
    IAmDebtProject

    Thanks for putting this together, excellent piece. I\’ve been wanting to do a post on why I like writing anonymously. I have to say I am almost 100% in agreement with FInancial Samurai. I\’ve never been one to share things publicly, and yet my blog helps me do that about a very personal topic. Plus if my blog gets big, I\’ll know it\’s because of what I wrote and not how I look or who I am in real life. In my personal life, I\’m always very careful about what I put online (I check my Facebook maybe once every few months). I would have to completely censor my thoughts if I knew people who know me personally are reading (although most of my close friends do read my blog). If my blog ever gets big, I\’ll probably use a pseudonym. I really would love to attend #fincon12 but even then I would remain anonymous. It\’s like George Costanza in Seinfeld when he said \”Worlds are colliding Jerry! They\’re killing independent George!\” I like to keep my worlds separate.