I want to use social media to connect and make a name for myself and my work (introvert networking, sup), I’m concerned about what I put on the internet being connected to my name forever. My creative work is in comedy/writing/film, but I do project management at a startup by day. I want to be able to be candid and funny and post parts of my work that might be weird/naked/political. But I don’t want my future self to feel that promoting myself/stuff online cost her options/jobs. Bullish advice?
Absolutely. You need to use a stage name. I don’t mean that you need to create a fake person who you pretend isn’t you. You can create a fake name — even one that is pretty close to your real name — and openly tell people, “I publish my comedy work under the name Abby St. Bones” (or whatever).
For more on this idea, check out Can We Learn About Privacy from Porn Stars? in the NYTimes. Quoth the great Stoya:
Along with desires to differentiate themselves from performers in similar fields, increase ease of spelling and pronunciation or convey a certain image, some performers do take a stage name for the purpose of making themselves more difficult to recognize. This might possibly have worked in the ’70s, but with easy access to enormous amounts of adult content on the Internet and the ease with which we can all find juicy tidbits of information about one another’s pasts online, I can’t see it having much effect anymore.
…My stage name is less about withholding parts of myself or maintaining privacy than it is a symbol of the idea that I am more than just my job or any other isolated slice of my identity.
My best friend Molly Crabapple is “really” Jennifer Caban. I mean, “really” according to the government, and maybe her mother. If the majority rules, then she’s “really” Molly Crabapple. Louis C.K. is really Louis Szekely. This information is freely available to anyone on Wikipedia. It’s not a lie. It’s just good marketing.
If your name is Abby Smezmowski and you decide to do comedy as Abby St. Bones, you should set up social media profiles under both names.
Use the Abby St. Bones accounts for all your creative stuff. Maintain the Abby Smezmowski accounts at least a little bit — post occasional articles about your field on LinkedIn and Twitter, post photos of your vacation to Instagram.
That way if someone casually googles you, she’ll come across the Abby Smezmowski accounts (and the Abby St. Bones ones right underneath), but she’ll probably just click on something with your real name and be satisfied that she’s “checked you out.” Most other people really don’t think about you as often as you think. Even when the information is right there in front of them. Or you might get an email that says, “Abby, is this you???” And then you say, as though it is the most natural thing in the world: “Yes, I use Abby St. Bones for my creative work, and my real name for project management, and keeping in touch with friends.”
Keeping a little bit of separation between your two professional lives will probably be enough for work at a tech startup. Especially in big cities, a LOT of people have a day job doing one thing and a creative life doing another. At my last “real job,” everybody loved to hear about the graphic designer’s band, and the front desk staff was constantly inviting us to plays and performances.
This level of separation won’t be enough if you want to work at an investment bank. But if you wanted to work at an investment bank, you might very well have to sign a contract saying you won’t take on any outside employment in the first place, much less would you be on social media about it. A friend of mine was given an ultimatum by a large financial services company: stop doing comedy sketches (which he did under a fake name, while wearing a mask) or quit your job. He wasn’t in danger of being fired, but he was induced to quit his creative outlet.
If you’re serious about your creative work, you wouldn’t take that kind of job anyway, of course.
I spent some early years trying to maintain a separation-of-church-and-state between doing comedy and tutoring teenagers. Ultimately, those things started to merge, and for the better — not only does everyone want to be tutored by a funny person, but the parents of my students were wealthy people who were often involved in planning, say, charity galas that hired entertainment. And colleges like to hire comedians with a link to education. Et cetera.
I’ve written before about “coolness arbitrage” — the people you know in the creative world don’t think your talents are all that special because they have them too, or all their friends do, whereas the suits you work with (or know through your dad, or whatever) think your creative skills are MEGA-AMAZING and they want to seem more cool just by being around you and being able to tell their friends they know someone who is SO BRAVE for going on stage, or SO FAMOUS for making funny videos on the internet.
What kind of startup doesn’t need a hilarious web commercial that goes viral? While I still suggest keeping it classy by maintaining separate sets of accounts, I think in the long run you will benefit from greater transparency.
Originally published on DailyBull, Get Bullish’s official Tumblr.