Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Should your blog be anonymous or not?

This one goes out to all of you who are thinking of starting a brand new blog.


This isn't an article on how to increase your readership or some top ten list for better blog content or any of that fantastic stuff. Although I do believe that those are all valid and important things to read. Just google those phrases and you'll have hours of reading to do on marketing strategies and the like.

What I do want to tell you about has to do with the trust you gain by sharing with your readers. It's tenuous, because it's basically a intangible text-based relationship you are cultivating, at least at first. It's the kind of relationship that's easy to break or lose or just straight-up forget about. And twice this week bloggers have lost me by "breaking character".

Let me explain.

When you're starting your blog, you must decide whether or not you are an anonymous blogger or not. I've been both in my awesome blogging career and I am not saying that one is better than the other.  But you have to choose.

Being anonymous means hiding all personal and identifiable information, which may seem like the best way to go, especially if you're new to the blogging world and are embarrassed to let your "real life" friends find out about it. That's why I did it, anyway.

Being a "named" blogger means you let it all hang out. You post photos of yourself, you write about your life, and you know that your employer, your dad and your enemy from high school are all possibly reading everything you say. You also know that the internet is forever, and you watch your mouth! (Er...fingers?)

If you are asking yourself "Should I blog anonymously or not?" maybe I can help. Here are some of the pros and cons I have found over the years for being anonymous and not:

When I was anonymous I could ... talk about anything I wanted as long as it didn't reveal where I live or work, or what our names were. I could tell embarrassing stories about anyone and pretend it happened to me. It was like writing fiction sometimes, and although I never really outright lied about anything, I most certainly could have. I could be whoever I wanted, hide or reveal whatever parts of my life were convenient to the stories I was telling, and be as mysterious and alluring as I wanted to.

I didn't have to worry about getting weird internet stalker people, which I think is a secret concern of most beginner bloggers. Maybe it's conceit or the media or something that told me that if I put my name and where I live on the internet I'm gonna get killed by a crazy person. (It hasn't happened yet!)

I had a larger readership much faster than I do now because I wasn't afraid to tell awful embarrassing stories about myself, conversations I had, stuff that happened at school...that kind of thing. I never did, but a lot of anonymous bloggers are much freer to talk about their sex lives, things they hate, and just stuff they'd be afraid to say out loud in their every day lives. Which, of course, makes them quite popular reads.

But I could not ...  share or really honestly connect to other bloggers. It was fun for a long time ... until I started doing things I wanted to tell everyone, like getting tattoos or cutting off my dreadlocks...things that needed photos to accompany them or more details than I could really give.

Also, even though to you non-bloggers out there this might sound cheesy or really nerdy, after a few months of emails and comments back and forth, reading each others lives and connecting, there were a few people I really wanted to get to know, and ultimately to be friends with. I  felt like I was hiding information and would never really connect with these people, which was hard because I would see them forming real relationships through their blogs in a way I could not achieve and I would feel envious and left out.

I was also proud of what I was writing. I was funny! And nobody in my real life knew about it. It was a secret that became more and more difficult to keep out of conversations. I was feeling stifled using only text and fiction, and that made the entire thing break down.

Near the end of my anonymous blog I actually started "breaking character", becoming penpals with bloggers, adding some of them to my facebook, and telling some people from my real life that my blog existed.

My blog identity became muddled, because to some people I was a real person and to others I was a secretive anonymous blogger. It was becoming increasingly more work to write, because I basically had two sets of readers. The "real people" and the bloggers who didn't know me. I ended the blog after about a year and a half. It was actually a kind of tough decision, and I felt such a loss that I immediately started up this one.

 Cartoon via Pam Cranford's blog.

Now that I'm a 'named' blogger, I can ... be myself. Truly myself. I can share all the million photos I take every day, I can talk (tastefully) about things that are happening in my life: at work, at home, in my family, what my friends are doing, etc. I can use my real name and address and be pen pals with whomever I like.

People come into my work and know me from my blog! It's really exciting when that happens. So far, no crazy murderers have contacted me, so that's a good thing.

If I write something I particularly like, I can tell my friends about it, and they can read it. I feel a lot lighter and happier about the entire process because it doesn't feel like I'm constantly keeping secrets. I feel like my readers like me for who I am, not because I'm the swear-word-iest or the raunchiest or the most secretive. I'm just putting me out there and there is a positive response, which feels good. It's all fun, not work.

But I can not ... say everything I want to. I would love to tell more of the crazy stuff that happens in my everyday life, but I won't if it's offensive. Obviously. I always have to consider who will be reading what I'm saying. This blog is linked through my work's website, which is what I think about the most ... what if somebody is trying to get a feel for the tattoo shop and they come across some spiteful petty rant from the shop manager? I also know my dad and my sister are readers. What would they think? It's still kind of a balancing act. Usually I just err on the positive side of things and it all works out. Or I go by the mantra:

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. (Unless it's really funny.)


 Cartoon via Social Licks blog


So...what's wrong with switching your blog from anonymous to 'named'? 

I guess nothing. Except I have found that after years of reading anonymous bloggers, I am always always always let down by their true personae. They are never who I built them up to be in my head. It's like watching the movie version of your favorite book; the characters you imagined are so much better! 

Recently a blogger I read on the regular posted a picture of herself. After years of anonymity. I had, partly because she had a sexy pin-up lady as part of her header design, built her up in my brain to be this absolutely gorgeous, brilliant, glamorous individual. And although there is absolutely nothing wrong with her or the way she looks, and her writing style hasn't changed very much, she is nowhere near the movie-star/genius/ninja/supermodel/adventurer I had imagined. She's just a normal person. 

It's like, being an anonymous blogger invites this kind of fill-in-the-blanks kind of reading, and over the years I really made her into a super-human entity. And now I am completely disillusioned and don't want to read about her every day life.

I think that in order to make the transition, you really have to start anew. I haven't been satisfied with a major blog-shift yet. This is why it's important to really consider the anonymity level of your blog from the beginning. You don't want to build up a relationship and then pull the rug out from underneath it one day when you become bored with what you've created. Because it's about more than just you. It's about trust and friendship, or at the very least, it's about consistency and stability. 

Anyway, it's something to think about. Good luck! 

Do any of you know of a great blog that made the big transition successfully? 
I'd love to hear about it and see how they did it!

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