#94 – Should You Use a Fake Persona?

What you will learn

  • The ethical and legal issues involved in using a fake persona
  • How a fake persona can help you relate to your
  • How a fake persona can stunt the growth of your site
  • How being the face of your site can make it difficult to sell
  • How creating a brand can allow you to scale faster
  • How branded sites can borrow authority from experts in the field
  • What we would do if launching a new site today

In this week’s podcast, we have a full house as I am joined by both Gael and Perrin to discuss personas and how our views have evolved on them since we last recorded a persona podcast 18 months ago.

In the past, we have been fans of using fake personas. In fact, we have used them on some of our own sites. However, recently our views have changed on the issue and today we will be discussing whether it is better to start an authority site with a person or build a brand.

What Are Personas and What Are Brands?

Personas

A persona is a person (real or fake) who is the face of a site. It will usually be the editor, owner or something similar.

Persona - Dr. Axe
Persona – Dr. Axe

Some examples would be:

Or even Gael here at Authority Hacker.

Brands

A brand is a little more difficult to explain because it is intangible.

While an owner, the company’s factories, employees and billboards occupy physical space, a brand does not.

Brand - The Balance
Brand – The Balance

In some cases, it can be harder for the audience to trust and connect with a brand as opposed to a persona. It is often said that people buy from people – personas play into this notion.

In some cases, it can be harder for the audience to trust and connect with a brand as opposed to a persona. It is often said that people buy from people – personas play into this notion.

With brands, it requires more advertising, consistent fonts and imagery, logos and clear communication of your brand values through your company’s actions before people begin to understand what the brand stands for.

On the plus side though, brands can be put as asset on your balance sheet. Brands like Nike or Apple are worth billions.

Brands can become so synonymous with their products or services that they can become verbs – think Google or Hoover.

There is also the advantage that a brand cannot quit and go to another company or die. There is continuity with a brand.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Personas

With fake personas, there can be logistical benefits when it comes to outreach. You can outreach as an entire team with a single name to provide a level of continuity.

However, the downside of this is that it can be difficult to form meaningful relationships through outreach. How do you start talking to someone and then turn round and tell them it was a fake persona the whole time?

On an ethical front, you really want to be honest with people as a matter of course. There are exceptions, though, that make it feel acceptable.

For example, many people start working on their authority site as a side project while they still have a job. They may not want to associate their name with the site as it might put their job at risk.

Warning

None of the advice in this podcast constitutes legal advice. If you are unsure about anything we discuss in this podcast, please consult a lawyer.

From a legal perspective, the CAN-SPAM act states that you cannot be misleading.

While claiming to be an expert, you must be careful to respect the laws around claiming to be a doctor or a lawyer or anything that requires official qualifications.

The difficult question with personas and fake personas is where do you draw the line? Is someone using their middle name instead of their first name an issue? Is someone using a drawing as their avatar rather than a photo of themselves an issue.

There are shades of gray. Different people will also have different opinions. There is no answer we can give you there. You just have to make a decision about what you are comfortable with.

There can be reasons to use a fake persona as well.

For some of our sites, we use fake personas to relate with the target audience. Otherwise, it could be difficult for the audience to relate to two 30 year old guys being the face of sites that have a majority female audience.

Also, if you build a site around your own personality it can be difficult to sell. If there is a fake persona, you can sell the site and the new owners can continue to use the same persona.

When it comes to outreach, we find that are open rates are higher when the emails are sent from a woman when compared to when they are sent by a man.

We also find, that as prominent people in the internet marketing community, we attract copycats. We share the details of some of our sites but we cannot do this until they are well established because as soon as it happens 100 copycat sites will spring up.

When you become a stage three authority site, a persona actually starts to get in the way. With Authority Hacker, we do well with webinars but with a fake persona this is difficult. When you combine this with our opinion that having a persona does not make that much of a difference when starting out, the argument for a fake persona becomes harder to make.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Brands

Before we dive in, some good examples of authority sites with brands are:

The advantages of brands is that you can scale faster by having lots of contributing writers. You can also pull in and collaborate with experts in the field, essentially borrowing their authority to establish yourself and your site as an authority.

A point to note is that to do this successfully, you need to have a very tight and controlled editorial process.

In general, brands have the scope to become bigger. For example, GNC is much bigger than Dr. Axe.

It is also much easier to sell a branded website because there is no single person associated with the site.

The drawback of branding is that it is difficult. It’s hard to communicate brand values consistently, it’s hard to do good design and it’s hard to keep everything consistent – especially across multiple contributors.

What If We Were Starting A Site Today (With a $2k budget)

If I was starting a site today I would:

  • Pick a cool name with the .com available
  • Put my own name next to it
  • Write and outreach as myself
  • As it took off, get some other people involved using their own names
  • Wean myself off being the face of it and start focusing on the brand

Whereas, Perrin would:

  • Doesn’t use a persona
  • Choose a simple brand and a cool team
  • Forget about personas because it is one less thing to worry about
  • Find an expert and pay them to help with research and understand the market
  • Grow the brand

The main thing that we have learned is that obviously fake personas are bad, ineffective, make your site untrustworthy to begin with, then hamper you further down the line when it is time to diversify your income streams.

There are more and more people out there using fake personas and that makes you want to stand out by doing something different.

We find that, as we launch more and more sites, we want to make things as clean and simple as possible. In our view, fake personas are adding complexity where there doesn’t need to be any.

If you are interested in finding out how Perrin built a $200k authority site (without a persona), then sign up to our webinar.

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9 Comments

  1. I wish you guys would have gone into pen names or pseudo names. I don’t mind being the face of my websites, but my last name is very hard to pronounce. On one site I have taken to using a pen name with my first name and a shortened version of my last name (which is also a nickname from college).

    This seems like a decent middle-ground, but I know that on Facebook and such they will ban your account if they determine it’s not your real name.

    What do you guys think about this?

    1. That’s a good point. Pen names are absolutely fine if you feel pronunciation is an issue.

      This doesn’t need to negatively affect you on Facebook either. You are correct in that FB doesn’t like you using anything that’s not your real name for your personal account. I’m not sure if they are quite so strict for abbreviated versions.

      Either way though, you should be using FB as a Page for your site. E.g https://www.facebook.com/authorityhackr/

      If you need to interact with people on a personal level on Facebook, for example to discuss a link placement, you can also create a FB page (not profile) for you as an author. Many celebrities do this. For example Martin Garrix (https://www.facebook.com/martin.garrix/) = real name Martijn Garritsen.

      Would that work for you?

  2. Flu shot? Must respectfully disagree. Serious research on vaccines in general you will change your mind. I speak from actual personal experience, having nearly died immediately following a Hep B vaccine.

  3. Hi, if I have to do an email outreach campaign for a client’s site, do you think using a female fake persona is more effective than using my own identity as a male (and unknown in my client’s industry)?

    1. I think that it’s better to outreach as yourself because you can build real relationships with sites. The best links are much easier to get this way. I’d strongly suggest against using a fake persona, unless you have a compelling reason to do so.

  4. I noticed you guys use Helen Sanders for Health Ambition – which seems very clearly to be a stock photo. Is Helen Sanders a persona or a real person?

    1. A while back this wasn’t so much of an issue, however, these days as this type of thing has become more popular we have certainly be called out on it. For newer projects, we’ve hired actual models to be our persona to avoid copycats. That said, wherever possible, we always recommend using your own picture!

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