… Or, Should I Buy Myself a Mask for #FinCon? ;-)
We’re now almost 200 posts in on Our Next Life (this is #188), and since we’ve been blogging anonymously from the beginning, it’s not something I really even think about anymore. Except when something cool happens and we want to share the picture with you guys, but then can’t because it’s obviously us — but that doesn’t happen very often. Mostly we just have a good groove of the things we share, the things we don’t because they’d make us easy to identify, and we keep on keeping on.
But, next month I’m doing something that I’m super excited but also a little nervous about: I’m going to FinCon, the financial bloggers’ conference. I’m excited on basically every level, and nervous on just one: the photos.
Though we’re close enough to retirement to feel like it’s getting real, we’re also still far enough away that our plans could be seriously derailed if our employers found out and decided to cut us off. So even though the odds are low that someone would take a picture of me at FinCon which would then be spotted by someone I work with, and that they’d then connect that back to the blog, the consequence of getting found out is extremely high. Low risk, but high penalty.
So all of this has us reflecting on everything we’ve learned about blogging anonymously so far, things we’re still wresting with, and questions we’d love your help answering (that’s at the very end). So if you’re thinking about blogging anonymously, or you’re just curious what goes into it all, read on!
We aren’t planning to stay anonymous forever, which is a big part of why we don’t share our numbers. As soon as we give notice at work, we’ll unveil ourselves here, maybe through an extended reveal of fun facts, and perhaps through a contest. (Steve chimed in with one idea for a contest last week — share any others you have in the comments. Or maybe we’ll do a contest about the contest? How meta.)
But since we’ve always planned to reveal ourselves at some future date, we’ve wanted to make sure that, even though it’s currently anonymous, the blog still sounds and feels like us, so that when it later becomes obvious that it’s us, it doesn’t feel any different than it did before, except that we’ll actually be in the photos, and we can stop calling each other Mr. and Ms. ONL. (Though if the Frugalwoods are any gauge, the monikers just might be here to stay, even post-reveal.)
So for us, our general, highly non-scientific approach to blogging anonymously has been about sharing as much of ourselves and our voices as we possibly can without running into that high consequence of getting found out.
Getting the Basics in Place
I’ll cover the basics quickly:
Register your URL as private — When you register your blog URL, you have the option to make your WHOIS information public or private. Making it public opens you up to boatloads of spam anyway, not to mention the potential for identity theft, so there’s no reason not to go with private registration, even if you’re planning to blog openly. Private URL registration isn’t a fail-safe (there are ways around it), but the majority of people won’t go to that level of effort.
Get a not-your-name email address — The blog will be a place where you’ll interact with folks, as might whatever social media platforms you choose, but you’ll probably end up using email a lot, too. If you don’t want people looking you up on LinkedIn and maybe finding you (or if you’re emailing with other anonymous bloggers who, for all you know, could be your boss!), play it safe and get an email address you only use for your blog. Ours is “ournextlifeblog” at gmail.
Decide what you’ll share — “Anonymous” means something different to everyone. Some people share darn near everything — where they live, what they earn and spend, what they do for a living, just not their names. Others share next to nothing. Decide what you’re comfortable sharing and not sharing, and decide how to work that in to your blog. If you decide you want to share numbers, make sure you think that through — you can’t put that genie back in the bottle, and sharing numbers now might make it tough to unmask yourself later. There’s no right or wrong answer here — just make sure you’re at peace with where you draw your lines.
Don’t put your name or face on your blog — Obviously. ;-)
Bringing the Blog to Life
Once the basic infrastructure is in place, then it’s time to make an anonymous blog come to life. And it’s harder to bring a nameless, faceless, placeless, numberless blog to life than it is one with a real person on the cover. But a few things help a lot:
Use real photos — There are a lot of good reasons to use stock photography on a blog, and if you go for a similar theme with all of them and apply a consistent set of filters, stock photos can be helpful in branding a blog. But if you are blogging anonymously, stock photos can also make it feel generic quickly. From our first post, we’ve made a point of using our own photography here, never stock, because we want to share a glimpse of our world with you, and because they help personalize the look of Our Next Life.
… But not too real — The flipside is that photos can be a giveaway about where you live, which may or may not be an issue for you. Plenty of anonymous bloggers share where they live. We don’t, and we avoid sharing obvious local topography features, or hope that certain things would only be recognizable to people who are familiar with the area anyway. (We also use tons of photos from places where we do NOT live.) We haven’t gotten this right in every case, and know some stories we’ve told have accidentally included giveaway clues, but we try hard not to let our photos or stories betray us.
Personalize your design, and make it consistent — Using a common blog template and just changing out the name is another surefire way to telegraph “generic” to readers. Remember, the burden of anonymous blogging means you have more hurdles to climb over than other bloggers do, and the more steps you take to personalize every aspect of your blog, the better. Fortunately, customizing a blog doesn’t have to be costly — we use a free WordPress theme and a logo I made in an ancient version of Photoshop using photos I took on our trips. We purposely chose a theme that makes the header photo big and prominent instead of itty-bitty, and we’ve started adding pinnable images into each post that infuse more of the feel of the header photo. We also use a consistent font and text weight in all of our headers and images so that everything feels related, along with a consistent color palette in graphics we create for posts.
Write with your own, authentic voice — You’ve heard this advice before, but I think it’s even more important for people blogging anonymously. Without a name or a face to go on, it’s hard for readers to connect to you if you’re writing in a way that isn’t completely true to yourself. That stuff comes through. If you’re trying to emulate someone else’s style or use all the 50-cent words, that’s obvious to readers as well. Everyone has their own approach to this — mine is to write the way that I’d talk to someone familiar — but don’t be afraid to let your own voice come through. That’s what draws people in and makes them come back.
Tell the real stories — To me, this is the second most important piece of blogging anonymously, behind writing in your own voice: Tell stories. Lots and lots of them. They are the most personal thing you can share, and if you get in the habit of telling them, we’ll all get to know you even if we have no idea what your name is or what you look like. Stories tell us about the lens through which you view life, what your assumptions are, how you make decisions, and all those other wonderfully messy and complicated things that make us human. Bring all of that forward, show us your vulnerability, admit when you were wrong or changed your mind. That’s the best stuff there is.
Take a stand — We all have opinions on things, but sometimes it feels risky to voice those opinions on a blog for fear that it will alienate some readers. But taking a stand and voicing how we feel about something lets readers get to know us so much better than they will just from reading a financial update or a rundown on how to optimize some aspect of life. Don’t just tell us what to do — tell us what you believe in your heart and how you came to that conclusion.
Really engage — We are total evangelists for responding to all comments, and when you’re blogging anonymously, it’s even more important. The post itself is only a one-way conversation, and when readers comment, that’s when it actually gets interesting, and the back-and-forth can be the best part. Same goes for conversations on social media (I mostly use Twitter for ONL) — just blasting out new posts is fine, but actually engaging in conversations is where people can get to know you, and where you can actually dig in on questions. When we change our view on something these days, it’s often because of a conversation that starts in the comments here, or in some back-and-forth on Twitter.
Of course, all of these tips could be applied to non-anonymous blogging (say “non-anonymous” five times fast), too, but they’re all the more important when you’re holding back on sharing the elements of yourself that make it easy for readers to feel like they know you.
Coping With FinCon
So back to FinCon and my photo anxiety. First, a plea to those attending FinCon: no photos, please. I can’t wait to meet everyone (and, fair warning: I’m totally a hugger), and hope to be able to do photos next year, but for this FinCon at least, we can’t risk ’em. And if you happen to get me in a photo, please no tagging. Now with that out of the way, a question we’d love your input on:
For real, should I bring a mask to FinCon? Or temporarily dye my hair like Harley Quinn? Or wear a disguise, like a Groucho Mark glasses-nose-mustache setup? (I’m inclined to say no on that one.) ;-) Hold up an auction paddle in front of my face when the cameras come out? Tackle people who take photos and steal their phones?
What would you do in our situation? Let’s hear your best (and wackiest) suggestions in the comments.
What Would You Add?
If you’re contemplating blogging anonymously, what else do you worry about? For those who already do it, what else have you learned that we missed? Hit us up in the comments!