Covert branding works against you

ghost, business, covert branding

Would you buy a product you cannot see that hasn’t even got a name? Thought not. Still some people believe they can get a following on social media by branding themselves like ghosts.

identity, covert branding, social media, Linkedin, Facebook, branding, covert branding, ghost, transparency,
Would you do business with a ghost? Thought not, and the same applies to the rest of humanity. So leave covert branding behind and start reaping the benefits of social media.

How can you take people seriously when they hide their identity? Obviously you should not post your contact details on social media. But your name and picture are essential if you want to be taken seriously.

A statue cannot sign a contract

Hiding takes away fear and I can understand that to some extent. But what’s the point of using social media if you are afraid of it? And what’s there to be afraid of? Apart from people who, usually for dodgy reasons, are using a fake identity, social media is a wonderful thing that people should embrace and make the most of.

But when you hide behind a photograph of, say a rose, and an alias you give the impression you have something to hide. So if you haven’t, what’s the point in making people suspicious? Chances of getting new customers, a job offer or business proposals are next to none if you are not transparent.

Identity theft doesn’t only take place online

Some people hiding claim they are afraid of identity theft. Seriously that can, unfortunately, happen even if you have no presence whatsoever online. All it takes is for a letter with your essential details to fall into the wrong hands. And, deplorable as it is, it happens all the time. Both in the real world and online.

Fearful leaders and entrepreneurs

Is it really feasible that so many people priding themselves to be leaders and entrepreneurs are afraid of online identity theft and posting a photograph or name? Seriously they wouldn’t be leaders and entrepreneurs if that was the case. So why are they hiding? Far from all of them are con-men, so why don’t they post their names and photographs?

Linkedin is not Facebook

If you use Facebook to communicate with your friends only, anything goes. But on business networks, such as Linkedin, you have to come across as a serious person. Posting a picture of yourself half naked doesn’t do the trick. Or a picture that makes you look dishonest. Chose a photograph that makes you look business like. It’s not a question of being ugly or beautiful but looking like a person businesspeople would like to be associated with.

Like products without logos

Imagine walking into a supermarket with your shopping list and all the logos and descriptions had disappeared from the products displayed. How would you know what they were? Even a simple thing like buying a can of Coca Cola would be difficult because you wouldn’t know what was in the different cans. And how would you know if you were picking up a bottle of shampoo or body lotion?

Learn from 007

There are covert agents on social media aiming to influence public opinion pro whatever country they are working for. They don’t want to draw negative attention to themselves and I can guarantee you that they all post a name, appropriate photograph and a credible profile. If not, how would they be able to do their job?

Would you do business with a ghost? Exactly, and you are not the only one. The same applies to the rest of humanity. So do yourself a favour by refraining from covert branding and display your photograph and name on social media. When people take you seriously, things can happen out of the blue and the positive aspects of social media will be available to you. Invisible branding works against you so unless you are in a witness protection program, or something similar, be transparent and start reaping the benefits of social media.

Pictures : dawnzy58 – Mario Antonio  Pena Zapateria

108 thoughts on “Covert branding works against you

  1. What a creepy looking photograph of a 'ghost' – I guess that is the point!

    I agree that when advertising or connecting with others, a profile photograph and name is essential. How will others take you or your business/blog seriously if you do not reveal yourself?

  2. Very great informative article. It is funny, a company, or person, spends years developing their company, reputation and product identity, but turns around and tries to hide it on the web.
    I like your paragraph that Linkedin is not Facebook, too many people there are treating it like FB, and it is annoying.

  3. I agree with you Catarina if one can't use their name and identity how can one build a business with them what is the reason for a mask? Hiding brings in unnecessary negative speculation. If you are on the Social Media to connect with others there is no point in hiding yourself.

  4. I totally agree. In my organizing and admin support business, trust is especially important. So being transparent and honest really helps.

  5. I have always been rather cautious about my details being available online. I do not post my full date of birth or my location at any given time. From time to time I Google my name just to identify how much information is provided.

    With regards to a profile photograph, people like to see who they are connecting with. Without one you remain anonymous and detached from your clients/readers.

    1. Absolutely. Didn't think it was necessary to point out that it can be fatal to post date of birth, social security number and so forth online. But it's essential to post your name and picture on your social media profiles, above all on Linkedin.

  6. I agree. The beauty of social media is one’s ability to connect with others and build relationships online. However, it is hard to do so when you cannot put a face to the name. Also, your analogy of buying a product without a logo is spot on. On social media, I never accept or converse with those who do not have a picture because it automatically screams spam or fake accounts to me.

  7. Hi Catarina! I’ve only recently come to realize that there are some people who are truly afraid of the internet and some people who just don’t want to get involved with it for one reason or another. But there are so many opportunities available online and I don’t see how they can pass it up! The identity theft excuse is pretty silly. You might as well not have a job, not see a doctor, and never buy anything except with cash. Nice post!

  8. Many people I’ve come across don’t want to use pictures online. I understand that for personal accounts but not for business. Some of them, solopreneurs or not, do it to avoid racism or sexism. People have to be stronger than that. On Twitter, someone told me he wouldn’t follow anyone without a photo. Once I discovered that people wanted proof I was real, I didn’t hesitate to use my photo.

    1. Glad you agree with me Diedre. Once in a while I get coments from men saying I'm so sexy, or something like that. You just ignore and block them. We can't let that kind of people stop us from benefiting from social media.

  9. Social media is all about making connects and you can't connect with a gravatar that doesn't have a real face. The bad guys have many ways to steal your identity by hacking into your bank accounts, store credit cards, etc. That's a lot more profitable that hacking into your social media account which would be a great annoyance to you but not financially devastating.
    My recent post Does it Make Sense for Your Business to Advertise on Twitter?

  10. I am won over much more easily if the person has a picture of themselves and a name and speaks from their heart. Too much empty rhetoric online and personally I think facebook is on its way down.

  11. This is a great post. I find myself ignoring LinkedIn requests that come from companies (small businesses, usually), where the name of the person requesting the connection is not given. They feel anonymous – and at the very least, not like a genuine connection.
    My recent post Your Work Your Genius

  12. Hello Catarina

    It is such a great post, but I feel sad as I fall in this category but I never try to hide for any dodgy reasons. There are some restrictions that we have to follow that can be from tradition or belief. I feel the women that is with you in profile pic can explain this thing in a better way and she must have told you, I am sure.
    I do not know how to explain this , but for sure if I am into some business then there will be a related picture.
    All the best.

    1. Andleeb, there are lots of Pakistani and Saudi women who display their photographs on social media. And the same goes for women from all other Muslim countries. You can wear a hijab if you want:-)

  13. I agree Catarina. I have one friend who does this and she seems a very nice, authentic person but she doesn’t use a pic of herself. I think it’s everything she’s heard about identity stealing on the web. Some writers do it for branding purposes and maybe if I had a big name as one type of writer it would’ve something to consider but at this time it’s not an issue.

    1. Glad you agree, Pat. Isn't it time for you to get an avatar to display your picture when you comment on blogs? There are dangers online but offline as well. Maybe those who are so scared of social media they don't dare to display their photograph should stop using social media? After all with covert branding what do they gain from it?

  14. You are so right, Catarina. You are not very credible if there is not a picture of a real person there for them to see. And you increase your credibility by using your logo/brand in conjunction with your name and picture. For professional purposes, and to help give the impression that I'm serious about what it is I'm doing, I chose to become an LLC (Limited Liability Company) . If I didn't have my picture or put my name, it would be counter to my intent.
    My recent post The Kitty Catcher: #Story

  15. I don’t know why someone should hide their identity. It is strange but it does happen. Great post with great points

    1. It's quite common actually. Unless they are in witness protection program or something like that I don't understand why they want to use social media if they want to hide their identity?

  16. No I wouldn't do business with a ghost and if you are a businessperson hiding your identity is one of the worst things you can do. Social media offers you the opportunity to humanize your business and that is going to be a compelling reason for your customers to work with you. On the other hand if you are a political dissident in a repressive society you have every reason to disguise your identity.

  17. Catarina- I have experience identity theft so for a long time I did not want to put up my picture. I have locked up my credit information so at this point no one can get the information.It took me a long time before I was able to put up my real picture. It will always be in the back of mind. Last week someone hacked into my site and it is costing my to the tune of $8000.00 to lock everything down which was already in place. I have firewalls, etc on the site and someone still got in. Now I have to add intrusion alerts, so yes the internet does pose issues.
    My recent post Why Departmental Branding within Your Brand is Helpful to Customers

  18. I am immediately suspicious of anyone that does not post a real name or photo. There is too much fraud going on, in terms of people not being who they say they are and in my mind, this speaks to their intentions. If your intentions are honorable and truthful, so should you b, right?

  19. I agree that the image is important but we all do want to appear at our best when meeting new people and that’s what we do through our blogs and social media sites. The picture of me is an older one but it is one that reflects the real me – it just leaves out the wrinkles. Anyway, great post.

      1. That’s funny Catarina – I love most animals but cats are not on the list and that’s the one you picked. Anyway, you are right – I hope when people see my picture they can respond to me and like me and better yet, trust me.

  20. Excellent posts Catarina. I would say also, using the same photo across each platform, or at least photos that appear to be consistent in age or hair length/style or looks in some way, adds to your credibility. One year I had the opportunity to meet a high profile blogger in person. They had gained about 50 pounds and their hair was grey – not at all like their profile photos everywhere. Guess what that did for me?

    1. Yep, I forgot to mention using the same photograph everywhere, Pat. Have however done that since I started using social media in 2005. But the main issue here is that you cannot call yourself Julius Caesar and use a picture of a cat and presume that people will take you seriously, By the way if you gain 50 pounds it may be a good idea to change photograph. If it's just the face it doesn't need be too unattractive:-). There's always photoshop…

  21. This is such a common issue Catarina. I'm often bewildered when I talk to someone who refuses to disclose who they are online. It is such a lost opportunity to build both your brand and top-of-mind awareness.

    My cousin is an amazing foster mother who has a real story to tell. She's adopted many children and she and her husband have given them fresh starts in life. She authored a book and it's on Kindle. Now, people in her state know who she is. Photos have been published in newspapers. So, why (I asked her) did she choose to author her book under a pen name? Why doesn't she want us to hear her story?

    Not only is her identity hidden, she doesn't have the "time" to be active on social media. It's no wonder that she isn't achieving the success she had hoped with her book. Very few people know it's out there. (As you can guess, I gave her the advice she asked for but she didn't follow it.)

    Great post and (as always) you have the conversation going!
    My recent post Did You Know Google Panda 4.1 Rewards Quality Content? #FridayFinds

  22. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Catarina. I’d thought about writing about how people hide who they are and am glad that you’ve done it for me! One thing that particularly annoys me is when someone endorses me on Linkedin and their lovely blank image is shown. It’s just not professional.

    1. Thanks Beth, not surprised you agree with me. Do note that I wrote the article 3,5 years ago – and people have still not woken up to the fact that covert branding works against them:-)

  23. You are right, Catarina. If you don't use your name, you can't build your business. Which is why some of my clients, despite the suggestion of 007 tactics, can't really use social media much. In one particular case, it is a therapist working in a particular environment for the government. If she leaves and goes completely to private practice, she can make more use of social media. Teachers have had problems with using real names on social media as well, even if just talking about vacations. But the people you are are speaking of are problem just lazy and not too intelligent.
    My recent post Category Pages – Organizing, Listing, Displaying

  24. I couldn't have said it any better, Catarina! Unfortunately, the Internet has made it possible for people to accuse and make claims about people and companies left and right without having them reveal who they are. It brings to mind my favorite quote from Spiderman: With great power, comes great responsibility. Every one is enjoying the great power to express themselves and their opinions online. But sadly, not everyone is willing to grasp the responsibility part.
    My recent post An Intimate Affair with Spanish Wine at the ASEAN Merchants Launch

  25. Maybe Dan. But a blog is slightly different from social media. Only some bloggers hide their identity while a multitude do on social media. And what's worse, they expect to get a job and do more business by hiding their identity.

  26. Catarina, I agree with you. People like to do business with people who they like and trust. I think that's one of the reasons that Google Authorship is becoming so popular. I search for a lot of answers online. When the search results are presented and I scan the page, I am much more apt to click on a link when I recognize the author by their profile pic. I already know that I can trust that person to provide valuable content. I believe that people who aren't branding themselves online are missing opportunities.
    My recent post What Google Authorship Means for SEO

    1. Glad you agree with me Peter. Private individuals are the worst offenders when it comes to covert branding. Why would anyone want to do business or hire a rose with a nick name?

      1. I do not know the answer to that one. Then again, I did minor in marketing in college, but at the same time I'm more inclined to see this one as common sense more than any benefit of a formal education. The whole point of marketing is to get your brand out there, get your name out there, make yourself and/or company appear to be important — whether you/it is or not.

        Marketing to a man is much like the courting of a single woman. One must convey confidence that he is the best man for the job – again, whether true or not – he just has to convince her of that in order to get her. In marketing, the only difference is that the pretty lady is the customer, client, etc.

        Two other notes of interest:

        1. I really admire the diligence with which you monitor and reply to your blog comments. Admittedly, there is absolutely no way I could do that with all of the sites and blogs I publish to. My hat's off to you both for your writing and your engagement skills.

        2. Bryan P. Hollis referred me here from BlogInteract. Just thought you should know where at least this visitor came from. 😉

  27. Along those lines, I find myself frustrated by the recent update to the Twitter iPhone and iPad app. The user's profile no longer shows when you go to their profile page. It only shows when using a computer. I will hesitate to follow someone if their picture is not a photo of themselves, but the real deal breaker for me now hinges on the information provided in the brief Twitter biography. Cute and quirky just don't cut it, nor does mysterious…
    My recent post Book Review: Embryo by J. A. Schneider

  28. I agree with you. You become and are more credible if they see a picture of a really person. If you have a logo/brand, using that logo in conjunction with your name and picture only makes it that much more powerful. I chose to become an LLC (Limited Liability Company) for professional purposes and it has helped me give the impression that I'm serious about what it is I'm doing. So, not sharing my name and picture would seem counter to my intent, don't you think?
    My recent post Rutherford Hill Merlot 2006: Wine

    1. Glad we agree. Have you noticed how many members of Linkedin that hide not to only their face but then on top of it use a nickname. Who would want to do busines or hire such a person?

  29. I agree with you, Catarina. I think it's important to clearly identify who you are and what you stand for, online and in person.

    It really turns me off when someone with that egghead default images follows me on Twitter. I rarely follow them back.
    My recent post travel writing tips

  30. One of the worst things to be online with is that default avatar. Seriously, would anyone take you seriously at a business in-person event if you showed up with a bag over your head or no clothes on? Oh yeah! They'd take you seriously in another regard.
    My recent post How to Get a Deeper Voice for Public Speaking by Guest Blogger Lewis Walsall

  31. Catarina,
    I think the tradition of anonymous posting started with personal blogs and similar means of personal online expression where some wanted the opportunity to share their feelings and perhaps get some feedback on their thoughts from others without necessarily jeopardizing career or other traditional social connections by revealing their true identities. Obviously, use of blogging and social media for business is a very different matter and must be handled accordingly for the reasons you've outlined. Great post!
    My recent post Bing Tagging Can Make Your Website It!

    1. Shawn, glad you agree with me that it's different when it comes to business – or career for that matter. Have you noticed how many members of Linkedin hide their identity? What can they possibly get out of that on a business network?

  32. As you know I use the Geek Girl persona. My LinkedIn profile has my real headshot and my blog has Geek Girl. Twitter also has Geek Girl. Facebook has a profile for both. I am not hiding from anyone. I use Geek Girl as my branding. I totally support the point you are making. I just think there are exceptions to every rule. 🙂

  33. good point! i like to think that my site has a touch of my identity to it, but i don't have any pictures up. will have to consider updating pics and bios of me and my writers.

  34. I appreciate all the points of view.
    I had to talk my web master into designing a really cleaver way to accomplish "the best of both worlds" for my portrait shot on my facebook.
    He did my professional photo -and when you pass the cursor across the photo my avatar appears~!
    Satisfying that I am a professional with a sense of humor.
    But I agree with the idea that the "face" we present to the public is a personal choice.
    And like hats we can have more than one~!

  35. I agree with you entirely. For me, a site that does not provide a picture and name of a specific person or persons lacks credibility. I wouldn't invest a penny in anything sold from that site. I also like what Michele Welch said about the Twitter egg logo. If you're really serious about marketing yourself and want to gain people's trust, you gotta show a little bit of yourself to do it!
    My recent post SPAM Ba-Bam!

  36. Great post. I always like to know potential contacts on social networking sites and if there is no real information (including a photo) it turns me away. That goes for researching products, such as authors of reports or company founders. If a website doesn't have any information on who is behind the idea, company or product, it makes me nervous. I end up picturing the guy in a current TV ad, who answers the customer service line as Peggy, with a thick foreign accent, and unable to help the customer at all and obviously working for a company that doesn't care.
    My recent post How to Survive a Robbery

  37. I love your supermarket analogy. I think I may use that next time I get asked "why a logo?". I can see self-conscious people hiding behind a picture of a sunset to avoid the feeling of being exposed, but you're right, it makes you look dodgy. being transparent is the only way to be to be successful in social media. Great post.

  38. Catarina:

    If someone is hiding their identity I am much less likely to connect with them. If someone follows me on Twitter I do not follow them back when they have no tweets.

    The analogy about the labels on products in the store is a great one.

    Social Media is here and needs to be embraced not scorned.

    My recent post Product Development- 9 Critical Lessons Learned

    1. Rob, I'm glad you like my analogy about labels on products in stores and that social media is here and to be embraced. Transparency is essential, or they end up like products without labels.

  39. This is really good advice. I consider FB & tweets like a cocktail party and I am getting to meet & greet new friends everyday. Love it! Thanks for such an informative article & I look forward to seeing more of your articles & coming back often.

  40. Catarina,

    LinkedIn is a networking site where I share my comments and opinions with other business professionals. What I look like has absolutely no bearing in this instance, my words speak for me in this forum. I am not selling a thing here, I need not attract anyone with my looks, and if someone does not agree with what I say, they are free to argue their points with me. I keep my picture private so I don't attract unwanted attention AWAY from my conversation points Yes, there are those of us who have had issues with others seeing our picture online and deciding to take things in an inappropriate direction. As for Facebook, I don't advertise there, nor do I contact clients on social networks, that is for friends only, and they know what I look like and I post pictures as I see fit. I'll stick to advertising (which I have twenty years experience with, having owned an agency) in classy methods, and not by pulling clients into my office with my looks.

    1. Hi Beth,
      It is a rare instance that this approach is successful. While I disagree with it in general and for me personally, I can only say that if it is not adversely effecting your network quality, then I consider you lucky, so all the best to your technique,

  41. Another good posting on branding oneself, Catarina. As you say – one should distinguish between professional and private personas on the web (as in life) and ensure that your professional persona (e.g on LinkedIn) is depicted in this way at all times.

    And, as your previous posts have described, this goes well beyond just the photo…

  42. Catarina, I am delighted to have met you online. I greatly enjoy reading your articles.
    This article has made me realize that I look much like… a ghost on my Linkedin photo.
    But after all, I am indeed a ghost of the SAP world; one whose work was left unfinished, that is, making the SAP world a better place. 🙂

    My recent post Leo Apotheker – What makes me- me

  43. You raise an excellent point Catarina. About 95% of the people I know research products and companies on the interent before making their choice as a consumer. Seeing a logo establishes "trust" while seeing a smiling face establishes "likability". Both help to create a business relationship. It applies to companies who collaborate as well. You mention professionalism. LinkedIN is an easy place for this and I suspect Twitter is too. Facebook raises the question of which page to use when conducting business. Facebook Pages are meant for business but some social media experts are suggesting that this perspective is less "likable" than using a personal page. I guess this would be more of a concern for the smaller companies.

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