The Double Edged Sword Of Anonymity

Given the boom of musician bloggers (and mini-boom of managers who blog) over the last year, it’s inevitable that some of them are going to discover blogs have the potential to help or hurt a career. Over the holiday season I received an interesting email from a reader asking about that very issue…

The reader in question, who prefers the moniker “A Soprano”, sent in the following note:

Say, could you help figure out whether blogging is good for the artists’ soul or virtual career hari-kari? Help!!!!!!! I would personally LOVE to hear your opinion on this one.

Having authored Adaptistration for just over two years all I can do is offer my own opinions and observations; nevertheless, I think this issue is certainly worth exploring as blogs are bound to become more popular over the coming years.

Blogging anonymously is a tricky issue and I don’t believe there’s a universal answer to whether it’s good or bad. In general, the impact would depend on what an individual blogs about and who they are. I have had a few musicians and managers who were interested in blogging contact me about this issue over the past few years who were concerned about possible repercussions and the advice I give is usually this:

If you plan on writing anything which may be remotely construed as controversial or critical and you’re in a position to suffer consequences for your writings then you should do one of couple of things: don’t write about anything controversial, don’t write at all, or post anonymously.

The caveat to that last option is it’s difficult to be truly anonymous these days; it’s such a small business that people can usually figure out who you are based on your subject material and details you present. Along those same lines, a strong factor in deciding to go anonymous or not is an individual’s personality; is your personal motto “better safe than sorry” or “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”?

Another rule of thumb to consider is where you are in the grand scheme of the business. Are you an executive manager, staffer, concertmaster, section musician, or substitute player? Each of these individuals has different issues to consider if they author a blog.

Individuals such as executive managers and music directors need to consider that what they say in a public forum can easily be construed as speaking for their respective organizations (even if they clearly state that their blog is personal opinion); as such, board members and colleagues (not to mention the traditional media) can give them a great deal of grief. Whereas staffers and section musicians may have an easier time presenting their own opinions by virtue of not being in leadership positions within their respective organizations, yet they can easily become targets of professional retaliation from superiors. In both examples, anonymity could benefit the individuals.

mrx.jpgThe other side of that sword is that anonymity is easily abused (one of many subjects parodied in The Simpsons). It’s simple to criticize and spread unsubstantiated claims if people don’t know who you are. At the same time, that same protection can easily degrade credibility, which has an adverse impact on the amount of influence a blogger could ever hope to build.

To complicate matters even more, every edge of that sword has contrary edges of its own (I suppose that makes it a serrated sword). For example, readily disclosing your identity while deliberately publishing complementary articles about individuals or organizations (deserved or not) as a tool to curry favor or using an anonymous personal blog as a calculated propaganda tool is, at best, contrived and abusive.

It’s a cloudy issue, but in tomorrow’s article I’ll illustrate some of the above points with a few real life examples. In the meantime, submit a comment with your thoughts and observations. Have you noticed bloggers who were unfairly targeted by superiors for what they published or abused the security provided by anonymity?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “The Double Edged Sword Of Anonymity”

  1. Drew, thank you so much for posting on this issue. It’s one that I’ve personally wrestled with and it nearly caused me to stop blogging entirely.

    My solution as a blogger and “emerging artist” is an alias, but with the full knowledge that there are people out there who already know or can/will probably easily guess who I am. Also I used to use initials, now more recently I use just X’s, to represent people I’m commenting upon.

    Renee Fleming is a notable exception, I guess I figure she’s famous and in the public eye and besides, I really am not mean or obnoxious person. Just someone who says what she’s experiencing and asks alot of questions about the direction of this business of the art of music and the decisions artists make along the way.

    Overall, if someone has taken the time and energy to figure out who I am, I firmly believe they can jolly well take the corresponding amount of time & energy to be respectful, too. (Most of my readers are sympathetic, interested or at least respectful because of it.) Otherwise, as one blogger buried somewhere once put it, “No likee, no clickee.”

    Can’t wait for Part 2. Thanks again,

  2. Hi Drew,

    Good post. I’ve been reading other blogs about the anonymity issue. I understand why they do it but …

    I prefer to remain accountable to everything I put up at my blog, and being known helps with that, so I won’t post anonymously. I did try having an anonymous blog and what I found I did, for the most part, was whine! I didn’t like reading what I’d written even just a few days following the post. It looked petty or pathetic. Or both! I know, posting publicly, that all I say can and probably will be held against me. I do wonder if I’ve ever lost jobs because of my blog, but I won’t lose much sleep over it.

    I can understand why some might post anonymously, and I still read their blogs. It’s their decision and I’ll respect that, but it does mean they can say things I wouldn’t ever put in print! I will say, though, that I’ve figured out who each anonymous person was once I did a bit of research. So bloggers, beware!

    Hmmm. Rambling as usual; guess I’ll never change! 😉

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