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June 01, 2010

In the past ten years a distinct trend has emerged towards using your real name when interacting online. Whereas in the past even businessmen might go by HotStuff58 when posting on forums – even if they signed their posts with their real name – that has changed such that it’s pretty rare to find any adults using ‘handles’ or pseudonyms online. By and large, that’s a good thing – after all, it doesn’t reflect very well on you to be seen with a childish name, and when you’re building your brand you want everyone to know who you are.

In some cases, though, having an online pseudonym can be a wonderful way to act more freely online. With a growing understanding of how important online reputation is – and how permanent anything you say online actually is – many people have begun to feel constrained about what they do and say online. And ultimately, not everything people want to do online will send across the message they want to be their professional face. Maybe you enjoy getting into vigorous (sometimes unseemly) debates on online forums, maybe you have alternative interests that don’t befit a professional demeanor, or maybe you just want to unwind without always worrying what Google will show.

In that case, an online pseudonym can be an excellent way to still have an active online existence without threatening your online reputation. If you’re going to do it, though, there are a few good rules to follow to make sure your pseudonym remains anonymous:

1. Create a New Email Address

Make a new email address on a site like Gmail, and use it whenever you register with a forum, social media site, or other site. If you use your real email address, even if you hide it from the public, the administrators of the site will still know who you are, and that can come back to haunt you later.

2. Choose an Anonymous Pseudonym

You don’t want to use a pseudonym that has a direct connection to you, as it might allow someone to figure out who you are. If you’re going to come up with an alternate identity online, you’re best off choosing a completely random pseudonym that doesn’t have personal meaning.

3. Don’t Use Your Normal Writing Style

People’s manner of writing forms a sort of digital fingerprint which can easily be picked up by others who know them well. If you’re going to try to be someone else online, make sure not to use the same expressions or grammatical idiosyncrasies you do in your everyday online interactions. Either write with flawless grammar, or come up with a few new idiosyncrasies to use only with your pseudonym.

4. Don’t Tell People Who You Are

It seems obvious, but if you want to keep your alternate identity a secret, don’t tell anyone who you are. Even if you think it’s in confidence, all it takes is one instance where they mention your pseudonym to someone else for the entire thing to be ruined, and all of the material you’ve posted under your new identity to suddenly be linked to your professional manifestation. However, if this does occur, you can use a reputation management company to help you build another more effective online identity.
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