Real Name vs. Anonymous: 6-Point Strategic Guide for Effective Community Management

Commune Community Lab Report #5

To go named or anonymous…

Deciding whether to go with a real name or anonymous system is crucial as it determines how members are identified upon entry into the community. Therefore, it’s essential to make this decision before the community begins.

Imagining a community that doesn’t yet exist can be quite challenging, yet it’s a significant decision that will impact the entire community moving forward. In fact, it’s a common topic that arises when discussing communities.

The choice between real name and anonymous systems affects various aspects, including tool selection, such as whether to use a Facebook group with real names, and the design of rules, culture, and communication methods, all of which become entirely different.

We want to make the decision about “named or anonymous?” a bit simpler. That’s the intention behind this study.

In this research, we’ll compare real name and anonymous systems. The table below provides an overview of this comparison. We’ll thoroughly explain it within the article.

Differentiating between real name and anonymous communities

Firstly, let’s explore where real name and anonymous systems are commonly adopted within communities. It’s worth noting that some communities may utilize a hybrid approach of both real names and anonymity, and the actual choice can often depend on individual circumstances rather than strict rules.

Communities more likely to adopt real name systems

Real name systems are often favored in contexts where real-life interactions occur, collaboration is essential, and tangible practical outcomes are emphasized.

  • Communities focused on career advancement or networking
  • Communities dealing with topics where trust and credibility are paramount, such as healthcare or law
  • Communities associated with educational or research institutions
  • Communities deeply rooted in local or regional connections

Communities more likely to adopt anonymous systems

Conversely, anonymous systems are commonly adopted in environments where casual conversations about hobbies, personal struggles, or free-flowing communication are valued.

  • Communities addressing sensitive topics like insecurities or mental health
  • Bulletin board-style communities emphasizing open and free opinion exchange
  • Communities centered around writing reviews or sharing anonymous feedback
  • Communities where members share creative endeavors or hobbies

Now that we’ve grasped the distinction, we can see some general trends. Let’s delve into the specific features of real name and anonymous systems by comparing their pros and cons.

The merits of real name systems often align with the drawbacks of anonymous systems, and vice versa. In many cases, these pros and cons represent a challenging trade-off where one cannot exist without compromising the other.

We’ll explore 6 trade-offs:

  1. Trustworthiness vs. Freedom
  2. Relationship vs. Diversity
  3. Retention vs. Fluidity
  4. Safety vs. Privacy
  5. Skill matching vs. Idea generation
  6. Reputation vs. Challenges

1. Considering Trustworthiness and Freedom

1-1. Pros and cons of real name systems

One advantage of real name systems is the increased trustworthiness of information due to the transparency of the poster’s identity, which helps restrain false information and malicious posts. Additionally, having accountability for one’s statements fosters constructive discussions and makes it easier to assert one’s opinions clearly. It also facilitates showcasing one’s expertise and skills.

On the flip side, a disadvantage is that the cautiousness in speech may limit free exchange of opinions. There’s also the potential for facing opposition or criticism, leading to a significant psychological burden associated with speaking out. Some individuals might feel restricted in their self-expression or develop resistance to participating in the community due to the heightened awareness of others’ evaluations.

1-2. Pros and cons of anonymous systems

The anonymity of users in anonymous systems fosters easier exchange of opinions, as individuals feel less psychological burden in expressing their views. It also encourages diverse opinions and experiences by enabling individuals to speak out without fear of criticism or denial. Moreover, it allows individuals to express their personality and interests candidly without worrying about external judgments.

However, a downside is the potential decrease in the trustworthiness of information. Difficulty in identifying the source of information can make the system vulnerable to irresponsible posts or trolling.

1-3. Addressing drawbacks from both systems

To mitigate the psychological barriers to speech and the reduced freedom associated with real name systems, community managers can facilitate discussions or carefully onboard new members (previous research available) to cover these aspects.

Similarly, to counteract the decreased trustworthiness of information in anonymous systems, community managers can select themes where trustworthiness is less critical or implement effective measures to deal with trolling (such as establishing rules or control systems).

The 3 layers of motivation

2. Considering Relationship and Diversity

2-1. Pros and cons of real name systems

One advantage of real name systems is the ability to operate the community by targeting specific demographics, as members’ attributes are clear. This can lead to active engagement from members and facilitate offline meetings and relationship-building, potentially fostering genuine friendships.

However, a disadvantage is the potential for uneven member demographics, limiting exposure to diverse opinions and values. Members may be inclined to conform to group norms, and in some cases, conflicts may spill over into real-life relationships.

2-2. Pros and cons of anonymous systems

Anonymous systems facilitate participation from individuals with diverse backgrounds, allowing exposure to a wide range of opinions and values. This ease of participation encourages engagement from a diverse set of members and facilitates the formation of extensive networks. Additionally, the lack of real-life connections allows for casual interactions.

However, a drawback is the difficulty in managing the community due to unclear member attributes. This can lead to variations in members’ goals and engagement levels, hindering the establishment of deep relationships and making offline interactions less likely.

2-3. Addressing drawbacks from both systems

The lack of diversity in real name systems isn’t necessarily negative. Communities with low diversity but high uniformity can create strong cultures and facilitate smooth communication due to a shared language. However, if diversity is desired, focusing on recruiting members with missing attributes or collaborating with communities with different member demographics for events or projects can be effective.

To counteract the difficulty in building relationships in anonymous systems, holding regular real name events or providing mechanisms for 1-on-1 interactions among members where communication occurs using real names can be considered.

3. Considering Retention and Fluidity

3-1. Pros and cons of real name systems

Real name systems enable community management based on trust and responsibility among members, leading to higher retention rates and suitability for long-term activities.

However, a drawback is the reduced turnover of members, making it harder to introduce new perspectives and ideas, potentially leading to stagnation.

3-2. Pros and cons of anonymous systems

The low barrier to entry in anonymous systems allows for the gathering of new members with different characteristics from existing ones, potentially leading to increased community activity.

However, a downside is the lower retention rate of members. With weaker senses of belonging and reduced willingness to contribute, the continuity of the community may become uncertain.

3-3. Addressing drawbacks from both systems

To mitigate the stagnation caused by the fixation of members in real name systems, community management that prioritizes new members can be employed. Particularly valuing members likely to bring new ideas and perspectives can shake up the community.

Additionally, to tackle the decreased retention rates in anonymous systems, refining the onboarding process can be effective.

4. Considering Safety and Privacy

4-1. Pros and cons of real name systems

The clear identification of members in real name systems contributes to a safe environment where inappropriate behavior is easily prevented. Clear accountability in case of issues aids in maintaining order within the community, and the mutual trust among members further enhances a sense of security.

However, managing personal information may be necessary, raising privacy concerns and potentially causing members to hesitate in their participation. This could hinder free exchange of opinions.

4-2. Pros and cons of anonymous systems

The anonymity in these systems provides a safeguard for privacy, reducing the risk of personal information leakage. Members can speak freely without worrying about privacy concerns.

However, a downside is the difficulty in preventing impersonation or trolling, potentially threatening the safety within the community.

4-3. Addressing drawbacks from both systems

For the challenge of privacy protection in real name systems, employing common privacy measures should be enough. Utilizing management tools equipped with measures against unauthorized access is also crucial.

Furthermore, to address the safety concerns in anonymous systems, using management tools capable of early detection of trolling and establishing clear rules regarding behavior can be effective.

5. Considering Skill matching and Idea generation

5-1. Pros and cons of real name systems

One advantage of participating under real names is the environment that encourages members to actively offer their skills in their respective fields. This fosters the potential for new projects to emerge.

However, a downside is that members may hesitate to propose groundbreaking ideas due to concerns about existing evaluations or positions. Moreover, the influence of authoritative members may inhibit discussions from diverse perspectives.

5-2. Pros and cons of anonymous systems

Anonymous systems foster free thinking, making it easier for innovative ideas to surface. Members, unrestricted by predefined frameworks due to anonymity, can freely explore their thoughts, resulting in an environment leading to idea generation.

However, a drawback is the difficulty in pooling skills and realizing those ideas in practice. Because anonymity conceals members’ expertise and experiences, collaboration becomes challenging.

5-3. Addressing drawbacks from both systems

The challenge in real name systems, where innovative ideas may be less likely to emerge, can be mitigated by facilitators who support open discussions. Designing communication through workshops that facilitate idea generation can also be effective.

Moreover, addressing the difficulty in skill matching in anonymous systems can be achieved by listing each member’s skills and expertise publicly. Implementing mechanisms that facilitate connections among members can also improve mutual recognition like “that member possesses those skills.”

6. Considering Reputation and Challenges

6-1. Pros and cons of real name systems

One advantage of real name systems is the positive impact on individuals’ reputations by publicly disclosing their real names. Activities under real names may contribute to personal career development.

However, a downside is that negative reputation can tarnish an individual’s image, which could hinder their willingness to take on challenges.

6-2. Pros and cons of anonymous systems

Anonymity in anonymous systems reduces direct influence on individual reputations, allowing for free experimentation and the ability to take on challenges without fear of failure.

However, a drawback is that activities within the community may not significantly contribute to individual reputations. Anonymity makes individual contributions less visible.

6-3. Addressing drawbacks from both systems

To counteract the tendency to fear failure in real name systems, active support from community admins would be effective. Additionally, establishing systems within the community where members can recruit allies or collaborators and support each other would make it easier to take on challenges.

Furthermore, to address the drawback in anonymous systems where individual contributions within the community do not affect personal reputation, providing opportunities for individuals to contribute under their real names through articles or event presentations with their permission would be effective.

How to leverage these research findings

We’ve organized the characteristics of real name and anonymous communities from various perspectives. By considering measures to boost the merits of each while mitigating their drawbacks, valuable insights for community management can be obtained.

For members of communities, understanding the characteristics of the community and tuning their behavior accordingly could be valuable.

I hope the findings of this research can assist those seeking to navigate their involvement in communities tailored to their characteristics!

For those seeking to enhance their community management processes, Commune’s strategic consulting service has successfully supported over 300 communities, from startups to established enterprises, in launching and managing their community initiatives. To learn more about how we can collaborate to enrich your community experience, book a demo today.