Real person, fake person or logo? This is one question I get often. It really boils down to the following: “How should the community manager be presented in an online community?”
I have always been a big believer that every community needs a clear person or team that seems real. The level of realness, however, depends on a number of other considerations, such as the community topic and any personal safety concerns that the community manager may have.
I will unpack the “realness” of your persona in a moment, but before I do, I would like to strongly advise that as a community manager, you should not to interact with your community using a brand named user (i.e. AMCECorp). I'd like to also equally advise you to never use an avatar of your logo, notwithstanding perhaps corporate news or important announcements. The reason for this is simple: if you're asking people in your community to connect, engage, share and be themselves, you yourself need to embody these values. You need to be as real as you want them to be (well...to some extent, of course!)
Now, let’s unpack my statement about creating a persona that seems “real."
Let Your Personality Shine
In a business community, where people are professionals, you can likely use your real first name and photo with little concern. There's still a risk, however, as with anything on the internet, of unwanted attention. Most experienced community managers are aware of this, which is why no company should ever force anyone to use their real photo or name. There are also certain types of communities, such as ones where emotions run high (i.e. gaming), where I would never tell someone to use their real full name and photo. But even without a real name or photo, you can still be real.
When I talk about being “real,” I mean you should have a clear persona—don’t be shy to share your love of chocolate, or 90’s sitcoms. You can use a username that suits the community—maybe it’s a nickname or your middle name. In terms of photos, make sure the photo you use in the community is unique to the community. It can be a real photo, or even one of your dog (who doesn't love that?) It should ideally be a photo you have a copyright for, and make sure that it's unique.
Be Real, But Remain Cautious
But I would caution you: if you do want to keep your true identity out of the community, be careful about which photo you choose. Keep in mind that it's very easy to reverse search a photo on Google to find out who you really are. Yes, I know it’s a sad time to be alive, but you need to be aware of your safety too. So if you have concerns, please take these precautions.
I know some of you have been very lucky and have never had an issue. It’s also likely you may never have one—especially in a B2B or internal community. However, I would be remiss to not tell you, I have heard stories from male and female colleagues of horrific stories, including death threats, unwanted attention, doxxing and general creepiness. Certainly this has skewed mostly towards my friends in the gaming industry, but I am aware of a few instances where community builders in the software space (non-gaming) were targeted because a user was not happy with a company decision. While very rare, I think this is a risk we should not be afraid to let people know about.
Now as a Canadian, it's obligatory to apologize. I am sorry if I have scared anyone. Does this mean that you need to run and change your name and photo? That's not for me to decide. I have always been “Adrian” in every business community I have managed and I have always used my photo. In gaming communities, I have a nom de plume—however in both cases, I am always real. I let my personality shine through. This is my main point: How ever you present to your online community, let your real personality shine through, and don’t hide behind the boring logo.