Should you use a pen name for social media marketing?

Authors note – Many of my clients ask if they should use their real name and real personal profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs to promote their products. Their concerns include personal and family privacy, maintaining a professional image for their business marketing, and the benefits of keeping a clear distinction between their business and personal lives.   These are very valid concerns.  The one thing I insist that my clients understand is that NOTHING in social media is private – no matter what settings or profiles you use.  Always assume that it will be read by anyone and everyone.

That said, the best person to ask is someone who has had a successful, high-profile career in social media in the aviation industry using a pen name or pseudonym – of course that would be Max Flight!

Max is an Aviation enthusiast, creator of ThirtyThousandFeet.com, (a huge directory of aviation-related products and services that’s been around since 1996)  and host of the AirplaneGeeks.com podcast.

Paula – When and why did you decide to become Max Flight?

Max – Max Flight was “born” quite a few years ago, for two reasons.

In the early days of the Internet, before social media existed as we know it now, privacy was taken more seriously and very few people used their real name online. You just didn’t want people tracking you down, but also your online identity was more transient. We all commonly had multiple identities used for different purposes. That’s all less compelling now because your online “brand” has more value today. That and, well, privacy is dead.

The other reason was to create a separation between work and outside activities. Many companies are not comfortable with their employees having a public face. We know the stories of bloggers who have been fired for violating “company policy.” It was just easier to try and avoid all that mess by creating a new identity.

Paula – Do you keep separate accounts in LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook?

Max – Most of my online activity is related to aviation and the Max Flight “brand” so Twitter, Facebook, myTransponder, etc. line up with that. I did use my real name on LinkedIn so there is some intersection of identities there, but I’m not sure I’d do that again. It’s too confusing to others.

Paula – Any advice for people considering a pseudonym? What are the pros and cons that you’ve seen?

Max – If you can avoid a pseudonym it makes your life simpler, but if you have distinct “brands” then it can make sense. If you choose to use a pseudonym, draw clear lines between your identities and be consistent in how you use them.

Paula – Is it awkward when you have business colleagues who are also personal friends? How do you manage the “crossover?”

Max – My “day job” business associates, personal friends or not, do not know Max Flight. Outside work and online, it’s all about Max so there is almost never a crossover.

However, there was one instance where a journalist I had only known online visited with me and my family. She knew Max Flight was a pseudonym and asked right up front, “what do I call you?” I said “Max” because it was less confusing for and that’s how she knows me. Now on the other hand, it was a bit weird for my totally computer illiterate mother.

Conclusion – Using a pen-name is something that can be done, and done very well for social media. There are a number of factors to consider. For me, the ideal solution is to use my own identity, but to use groups and filters.  Max Flight uses separate accounts.   It depends on your objectives and methods,  the solution may be different for everyone.  I suggest you plan your branding and marketing and base your decision on what best suits your objectives, and what makes you the most comfortable while you do the work it takes to meet those objectives!