Fake Identities, Cowards, and How to Truly Elevate Your Online Brand

by Marcus Sheridan

fake online identities

Sadly, many businesses feel they need to be the Talented Mr. Ripley to establish their online brand.

I see it more and more, and frankly, it’s an action that makes me want to vomit. Just the other day, I was on a swimming pool forum and noticed how a supposed ‘pool shopper’, who of course had no identity, was speaking of his experience with a particular manufacturer and discussing why he thought they were great. The post was worded and titled in such a way that it was obviously written by said manufacturer for SEO and branding purposes. In fact, it was a blatant case of fake identity.  Even worse, that same day the ‘manufacturer’ had, again under an assumed customer name, made multiple comments under other posts talking about how good of an experience they had with said company (i.e. themselves).

When I see such ridiculous and dishonest practices on the internet and on forums, I can only shake my head in disbelief. Why companies and businesses would choose to purport to be consumers is a clear sign that they have no clue in terms of how the internet really works and how to properly establish an online brand.

To Hide or Not To Hide, That Is the Question

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, the swimming pool forum I’m referring to, PoolSpaForum, has thousands of ‘members’. But despite all these members and despite the fact that so many are actually pool and spa professionals, a huge majority work under aliases and have no bio information.

The other extremely small minority is made of up people like me. They have real names. They have real photos. They actually fill out all the information on their bio forms. In short, they’re real people with real opinions and they care.

But the question is why do companies elect to use such a gutless and thoughtless approach ? Why not build your brand the honest and straight-forward way? There is only one good answer I can think of:

They Are Cowards and They Are Lazy.

Yep, strong words, but it’s true. Such companies are scared to have a voice, afraid to be right or wrong. They are also too lazy to put their thoughts on a forum, a blog, or a video for the world to see.

Fact is, before I got into the world of teaching about sales and marketing I developed my brand as a thought leader in the swimming pool industry. I’ve written an ebook, hundreds of blog articles, and produced hours of video for the sole purpose of educating consumers about swimming pools. And have I come under attack at times? Yep,sure thing. That’s what it means to have an opinion. Some will praise you, some will attack you, and such is the life of the guy or gal that bothers to have a voice.

But along with these attacks my business partners and I have developed a following. People know that we are going to say things like we see them, without all the bull that often accompanies an opinion. We are the antithesis of a politician and because of that, consumers trust and believe what we say.

And one other point about actually being a ‘real person’ on venues like forums, blogs, etc—This year alone I’ve sold 2 swimming pool projects because someone found out about me and my website on PoolSpaForum. In layman’s terms, that equated to about $90,000 in sales. In other words, while most companies are busy faking their identity and attempting to sound like a consumer, I’ve been happily building my brand, increasing my web traffic, and making more sales.

Which Do You Choose?

So that’s my simple challenge to you today. Never hide. Never fear criticism. Stand up, with chin high, and say what you feel about your product and niche. I can promise that if you only do this with a sincere heart, and contribute valuable content to your niche on a consistent basis, your brand will eventually skyrocket and your sales will follow the lead.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Terez October 26, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I wholeheartedly believe in this post. Thanks for sharing your story.

Taking an honest, straightforward approach to business is the only option, in my opinion. I really like how you’ve built an expert status, thus creating trust among your customers and potential customers. It’s an example worthy of imitation.

Right now, I’m trying to find my place on the Internet. I know it’s going to take time. But I’m not in a rush. I would rather create something of high quality than a quick piece of garbage.
.-= Terez´s last blog ..A Spoonful Of Advice: Finding More CommentWorthy Blogs =-.

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Marcus Sheridan October 26, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Love what you’re saying Terez. You truly ‘get it’. And you’re right, it does take a little time, but ultimately, it will be worth it. You’re doing great things. I can see it. Your time is approaching.

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Terez October 27, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Thanks, Marcus. I do appreciate every word that you write. I feel like each time I open a sales lion post, I know I will take away something truly useful for my business.
.-= Terez´s last blog ..When To Stop Commenting =-.

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Eric Pratum October 26, 2010 at 4:23 pm

You can’t stand strong, tall, and proud if you have a glass jaw. You guys clearly took the chance, hoping you could actually roll with the punches, and came out stronger on the other side. Luckily, you weren’t too scared of taking a few hits that you had to be cowardly and lazy. Hopefully, some of these folks will get through this and start acting right ;-)
.-= Eric Pratum´s last blog ..Running Barefoot =-.

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Marcus Sheridan October 26, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Glass jaw is the truth Pratum. And to be very honest and open, it was hard at first for me to be attacked by others when I thought I was doing good and elevating the industry. I’m not used to have ‘enemies’. Confrontation ain’t my thing. But, as Godin so well puts it, such is the life of a heretic– Every industry has them, the question is whether or not we, like you say, are willing to take the punches to do what we feel is right.

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Eric Pratum October 29, 2010 at 8:07 am

Definitely.

As an individual and not a representative for a business, it took me a good while just to engage so openly and frequently with people online without getting defensive or aggressive in certain cases. I’d build a relationship of sorts on Twitter, comments, or whatever else…think I’m aligned with a person, and then, one of us would shoot out something that the other vehemently disagreed with politically, religiously, environmentally, or who knows how. Suddenly, we’d go from thinking (and maybe even saying) “We’re on the same team” to “How can he think THAT?!” It’s taken time to get to the point that I can few aligned with a person online on many issues and not really be bothered if we disagree on one or two points that are fundamental our world views…you know, typically religion, politics, etc ;-) It would be so much easier (at least at the outset) to be an anonymous, lazy comment sniper, promoting my own position and not having to actually deal with my own relationships, defending my viewpoints, or supporting my business’ stance, but then, I wouldn’t get the benefits of having put in the hard work to get through those things.
.-= Eric Pratum´s last blog ..Running Barefoot =-.

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Kent Carpenter October 26, 2010 at 10:35 pm

“Every Onlooker Is Either A Coward Or A Traitor” Frantz Fanon

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Well that sums it up nicely Kent ;-)

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Blog Tyrant October 27, 2010 at 2:42 am

This article is very interesting to me.

I have come under fire the last day or two from one or two people who think I am untrustworthy for not using my real name. I find it a tad confusing after writing high quality content with the intention of helping people, sharing my processes to online success for free and never, at any time, being duplicitous.

So my question to you would be whether you think it is always necessary to show your face? Sometimes I think the face can mean the integration of ego and so on.

tyrant
.-= Blog Tyrant´s last blog ..How to Write Successful Emails to AList Bloggers amp Industry Leaders =-.

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Hey Tyrant, good to hear from you man. Really love your blog by the way……

To be honest, this article wasn’t so much directed at your type, as your approach is not of the ‘fake’ matter. Notwithstanding, I am curious as to why you don’t have more of your own identity/name on your blog. I think it’s great that your brand is the ‘blog tyrant’. It’s cool, it’s catchy, and I like it. But based on my experience, it’s great to establish both. For example, I have 2 ‘identities’ online:

Marcus Sheridan, Fiberglass Pool Expert/Teacher/Whatever you want to call it

Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion

Do you see what I mean? In terms of building your brand, I believe your real name is key, especially so you can benefit financially from your intellectual property.

Just my two cents, keep rocking it over there on your blog. :-)

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Blog Tyrant October 27, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Yeah I completely understand. In my other world I am always telling clients to do the same.

I am actually going to write a post about this down the track because I want to address is publicly. Part of the reason I chose the character is marketing, part something else.

From the marketing side it sounds good and builds a memorable brand as well as creating mystery because I said I will reveal my identity one day. Also, if I ever decide to sell the site (not planning on it though) then its easier for someone else to step in.

The “something else” side is that I am a massively competitive person and keeping my real name out of it has made it more about content and sharing secrets than about reputation management. I feel like I have taken a big ego out of the equation.

Who knows. Maybe its just laziness.

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Hmmm, that’s pretty wild Tyrant. I never looked at it like that. Even though it’s not for me, I completely get it.

And I certainly don’t think laziness is in the equation here ;-)

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Scott P. Dailey October 27, 2010 at 7:31 am

Marcus, you’re reading my mind brother. I just finished a piece cued up for a January release that deals with all the noise we have to sift through to to find the legitimate communities and community contributors. I liken this noise to the commute I take into NYC three days a week. It’s ironic really. The commute is awful. Thousands of us droning in and out of public conveniences, all of us chasing a buck. And here we are, many entrepreneurs liberated by an evolving internet revolution and what appears to be happening? The commute – the chase – seems to have found its way onto the democratic Web. Democracy! What a wonderful thing. Everyone gets their shot with the microphone, and yes, some of us use our time to make noise while others among us, use our 15 minutes to do some good. I love your contentious approach and tone and I love even more that you take on the tough topics, the unpopular ones. Someone needs to be on that hill, to quote Colonel Jessup, from the movie A Few Good Men. So thanks for keeping us watchful of the noise that appears ubiquitous anymore on our wonderful online watercoolers. Kudos broseph!
.-= Scott P. Dailey´s last blog ..How to Take Take Take and Never Get Caught =-.

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Freaking gotta love Jessup…good analogy there Dailey.

Thanks for your kind words man and I love the comparison of the commute and the chase….Can’t wait to read it.

Appreciate you stopping by my friend.

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Kyle Clouse October 27, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Great post. Authenticity is what people want. Nothing is more distasteful than anonymous commenteers.
.-= Kyle Clouse´s last blog ..4 Steps to Adding a Custom Photo Gallery to your WordPress Blog =-.

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Sure thing Kyle, distasteful is right, especially in settings where Mr. Anonymous goes after a product, service, company, etc. Look, if you’re going to go on the offensive, have the guts to put your name on the jersey ;-)

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