Anyone over the age of 20 knows it’s important to guard the information posted on social media. But what about those of us who make our living online or aspire to? Bloggers are on a whole different security level as almost everything we do is meant for public consumption.
Can you imagine one of your readers standing at your front door, calling you at work, or publishing your personal info online? Look no further for an example than the infamous stalker/author, Kathleen Hale. She is a professional writer who did all those things to one blogger because she got a bad book review, despite having a couple other hundred bad reviews.
While nothing is fool-proof, there are some steps you can take to protect your private information from becoming public.
First, let’s identify the 3 different levels of blogger anonymity:
1. The Open Blogger– The blogger who uses her real first name, possibly last name, and is easy to find geographically. She will be able to gain a following faster because she can welcome her family and friends into her blogging world and spread the word through their communities.
2. The Pseudo Blogger– This blogger has chosen a pseudonym, or a variation of their real name, just like authors choose pen names. Most everything else- stories, opinions, pictures- are real. For this option to be successful, the pseudo name has to be chosen from the very beginning of the blog and accounts (email, service providers, networking, etc) established in the pen name. Switching to a pseudonym with a currently active blog would be unsuccessful, and a little weird.
3. The Anonymous Blogger– Usually for bloggers writing about controversial subjects that want the protection from public backlash or being fired- think religion, politics, non-popular opinions about society norms, reviews, critics, or business insider information.
There is no right or wrong way and one way isn’t better than the other. The decision is what works best for you, your family, and your niche!
For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on how best to protect the most vulnerable- The Open Blogger– because the other two types above have some existing built-in protection.
7 Steps to Protect Your Privacy as a Blogger:
1. Use your first name only, maybe a last initial.
Be careful of those awesome Instagram shots that have your monogrammed wedding info in the background, “Smith, est 6.26.2004”.
Since your living online as the real you, protecting your last name makes it much more difficult for people to find your personal profiles on social media and Google.
2. Setting Up Your Company
For LLC’s, corporations, and some partnerships: Every state has a searchable, online database of corporations, usually found under their Secretary of State’s website. If you want an additional layer of protection, use a “Registered Agent” for your company. This person acts as a point of contact for state law and tax issues, and keeps your name off of database searches. They will receive mail from the state, so make sure it’s someone you trust greatly.
For Sole Proprietors: Since your business is solely about you and filed on your personal tax returns, every DBA or fictitious name filing with your county has to have your name attached, making it searchable online. There’s no way around this one, but millions of entrepreneurs are just fine being a sole proprietor. If you decide to start a new controversial blog at some point, you may want to follow the step above and form an LLC with a Registered Agent.
3. Register Your Site With Domain Privacy Protection
If your website doesn’t already have domain privacy protection, open a new tab and go get it now through your registrar (GoDaddy, Bluehost, NameCheap, etc.)
For less than $10 per year, your full name, address, and phone number are excluded from public display on the ICANN WHOIS Directory. And if you think that no one looks at the directory, I’m here to tell you EVERYONE looks at that directory.
True story: A few months back, I was curious to see when this girl I follow started her blog. Instead of going to her site and digging through archives, I just headed to the Directory. Btw, this is a high 6-figure blogger we’re talking about.
Sure enough, her home address and phone number were listed. Ouch! I emailed her right away to make sure she knew. Not that I wanted to tell her how to run her business, but I’d want someone to let me know in case I’d accidentally let my privacy subscription lapse, which was the case.
4. Rent a Post Office Box
Disclosing your physical postal address in every commercial or business email is the law. Unless you’d like to use your home address and everyone know where you and your family sleep every night, rental and disclosure of a Post Office Box satisfies the CAN-SPAM Act.
Although this is a U.S. law, if your ESP is located in the States this applies to you too.
Here’s an excerpt of the requirement:
Despite its name, the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email. It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email – for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line – must comply with the law.
So if you’re sending bulk email (newsletters) or if you mention any product or service, including affiliate links, you must disclose your address.
Go spend the $85 for a 12 month PO Box rental and put your address at the bottom of every email. You may be avoiding a $16,000 penalty, PER EMAIL!
5. Create a Blog-Only Email Address
A good rule of thumb is to not use your personal email address for anything work related. Before you get signed up with vendors and service providers, either get a firstname.lastname@example.org address, or a email@example.com email account and use those for everything.
Can you see a theme developing as we’re separating our work and personal lives? 😉
Please don’t use your actual signature as your blog header or at the end of every post.
The last legal worry you should have is a bad guy producing a document in court that is your real signature he lifted from your site! If you like the look of your name in a manually handwritten font, find a friend to write it.
7. Social Media
Social media gets a little sticky if you’re an “open blogger” trying to disguise your personal information.
I’m guessing it would take me under a minute to find your last name and where you’re from, even if all of your accounts were in your blogs name. And if I can do it, a bad guy could do it way faster!
Here’s how: Since I know your early followers were probably your friends and family, I’d scroll down to your first 20 followers or posts to see who liked/commented on them. Then I’d go to their followers and find your first name, getting your picture, last name, and geographic location from when you followed them with your personal account.
The solution? First, be vigilant with your personal posts on social media. Secondly, clean up the beginnings of your business social accounts, deleting the early stuff liked by all your friends and family, if necessary. Since you’ll have more followers over time, you could sneak those back in and tell your loved ones why. They’ll appreciate their privacy too!
* Note about coworkers* If you have Facebook, Messenger or Twitter on your phone, you automatically gave those platforms access and permission to scan your phone contacts and email contacts. Don’t be surprised if a coworker gets a “people you may know” suggestion and they happen upon your blog. That’s great if they follow you! Not so great if you’re telling stories about them. :0
Semi privacy, even for bloggers, is possible with a little due diligence. While most blogging communities are filled with friendly, good people, taking a few extra steps to protect yourself and your family is always a good idea.
In summary, here are the steps discussed above:
- Use your first name only, when possible
- Designate a Registered Agent if you’re a LLC or a corporation
- Ensure your domain privacy protection is up to date by checking ICANN WHOIS
- Get a P.O. Box
- Create and use a blog-only email address
- Don’t use your real signature anywhere online
- Clean out your blogs early social posts that were only liked by family & friends.
Have you taken extra steps to protect your privacy that aren’t mentioned here? Please share in the comments below!
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