Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why transparency matters—building equity in your personal brand

What if you didn't know the real names of your doctor, lawyer or accountant?

Most social media acquaintances aren't exactly on a parallel plane with professional or collegial relationships — but how about your friends?

In 2008 when I began on Twitter, it wasn't unusual to see people using descriptive monikers instead of their real names. How many people remember @TrendTracker or @TrendyDC? Today we know them as @GlenGilmore and @AnnTran_. I think they recognized their Twitter identities were going to be significant and went public at a point where their major growth was ahead of them. It enabled them to start positioning themselves as brands, and I believe they helped others feel comfortable about following suit. 

It's about trust

I think most of us appreciate it when their connections on social media are transparent about who they are.  If I'm being honest with someone, I hope they'll afford me the same courtesy. What is the point of engaging with or filling one's timeline with less-than-honest people?

A cloak of secrecy signals more than "mystery." It says, "There is a reason I don't want you to know who I am." Deceit is a shaky foundation for real connections. 

How people perceive your brand

In establishing yourself as a brand, simplicity in your name and image and consistency in the way you interact are essential. Your behavior both on and off the public timeline matters. By using your real name, you are inviting people to trust you, and by maintaining a consistent and positive presence across channels, you build relationships with people as well as equity in the recognition of who you are.

Business accounts may not identify the specific person tweeting on its behalf, though many do. Identifying who is tweeting is a good thing because most people would rather tweet with a person than an "entity." When one is responsible for engaging in conversations on behalf of a business, they need to keep in mind the reputation and personality of the company they represent. And if their identity is known, they have the opportunity to project positively for a business, but also build recognition in themselves. 

Using a descriptive moniker along with your name

Highly recognizable and respected people very successfully use non-name monikers, but self-identify using their real names. Reg Saddler, or @zaibatsu, and Heather Frey,  @SmashFit, both are well-established across social media channels with memorable handles that evoke a strong image of their brands.

If you decide to use a descriptive moniker, it's helpful and important to include your real name somewhere in your social media profile and I'll list several reasons why:
  • First—You are creating a climate of trust by using your real name
  • Second—It allows others to find you by name or by moniker      
  • Third—exchanges with someone whose name you know is more personal and engenders the creation of relationships                
  • Fourth—By using your name, rather than building equity in a pseudonym, you are building equity in the recognition of yourself and your personal brand. And at the end of the day, in social media, recognition is the form of currency that matters.
Short and easy versus long or difficult

Whatever you choose, make your identity as short and easy as you can. Abstract combinations of letters and numbers are difficult to remember.

Clever handles can be fun, but people can be difficult to locate if their monikers are not exactly memorable, or if you cannot search for them using their real names. 

The substitution of numbers for letters may be good for building a password, but expecting others to remember quirky configurations is unrealistic. Also—adding characters that require changing case on a smart device (phones, tablets), makes it inconvenient for someone to type your name. (Included are underscores and numbers or other special characters.) There are settings in some applications that will "auto-complete" a name once you begin typing, and you can also type once, then copy and paste. But still—isn't it easier when those extra motions are unnecessary?

Changing your moniker 

Once you've established the handle people are meant to recognize, try to keep it. If you change it, you will retain your friends and followers, but unless you've done some groundwork to prepare them for the change, they may not recognize you. 

Chris Luzader (@TechZader) handled this situation beautifully. Chris used to go by the name @The_Tech_Update, but he could see the value of simplifying his name as his brand evolved. He combined part of his original moniker with his actual name resulting in a shorter, simpler handle. But before making the change, he prepared by getting feedback on possible names, and gave his then-large following of 16,000 advanced notice.

Maintaining consistency in your avatar and your brand

Establishing a consistent presence across social media channels — hopefully both in name and avatar — reinforces the identity and recognition of your brand and what it stands for. Think of it this way—your avatar is your social media logo. If "Starbucks" changed its name or logo often, what is the chance you would recognize it? 

When someone changes their avatar on a daily, weekly or fairly frequent basis, it sends a message — "I don't care if you realize it's me." One friend had a maddening habit of frequently changing both his moniker and his avatar, making him impossible to find.

You might know someone on Twitter by "@whatever," but if they circle you on G+ using their real name, then send friend-request on Flickr using yet another, they undermine the chance of making connections. They might seem familiar, but who are they?*

Trust is the foundation of real relationships

By using your real name and placing trust in others, you are inviting them to trust you, too. By building recognition of your name and avatar, you establish a "brand promise" creating an expectation of what others can expect when they encounter you or your company online.
Relationships matter in personal life and in business. People DO want to know who they are dealing with. By being transparent, the potential gain is greater than the risk.

What are your feelings about transparency? Are there good reasons for obscuring one's identity? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


*"Twitter for Busy People" will allow you to grab up to 1000 followers, by recency and by avatar. So if you are searching for someone and can't remember their names but remember their avatars, and if they've tweeted recently, you might be able to find them using this site.

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