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Professionally Speaking: Why Anonymity in Social Media is a Necessity

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Anonymity in social media. It's not surprising there are arguments for and against it.

Indeed, trying to figure out what's best for the masses: nearly impossible. One approach to tackling this massive issue is to break it down into more manageable chunks. Looking solely at the professional community, for example, anonymous engagement with colleagues within a profession can be one of the greatest innovations of recent years.

According to Pew poll, 86 percent of Internet users have taken steps online to remove their digital footprint--ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email, from avoiding using their name to using virtual networks that mask their internet protocol (IP) address. One recent poll found that, among more than 10,000 people who were polled across nine countries, more than 75 percent said they are concerned about their privacy online. A 2013 study by economists at the University of Colorado Boulder indicated the average smartphone user is willing to pay up to $5 extra for each app purchased in order not have that app monitor their locations, contact lists and other personal information. Simply stated, people are looking for greater protection online.

While the notion of offering increased anonymity for the general public can have some disturbing implications, though, for professionals, it's quite the opposite. Licensed professionals have the need, if not the duty, to engage discreetly when discussing matters that concern their clients or patients. For professionals, the ability to have private, preferably anonymous, interactions with their peers is powerful.

Why Professionals Need Anonymity, Now.

Licensed professionals are held to heightened standards of conduct as compared to the general public. They have ethics and privacy requirements to contend with every day that work as filters on everything they do and say. For this reason, professionals need a social media experience that offers a heightened degree of discretion.

Today, licensed professionals across industries whether it's law or medicine are facing two major challenges: they are simply too exposed and are experiencing massive shifts in their industries forcing them to work more efficiently. Tapping into and exchanging the powerful knowledge of their trusted peers can be a time saver and a career saver. But how can they do this efficiently? Privately? Anonymously? In today's digital age, professionals work remotely more than ever now and need the ability to engage effectively online. Lack of anonymity in mainstream social media is crippling professionals' desire and ability to fully engage with each other online. We've evolved culturally to accept and use social media in our daily lives and now we need more. We need more relevance, privacy, and discretion.

We work and live in an online world and licensed professionals, especially those in the service sector, deserve the option to control their identity. Anonymity for professionals - when exercised responsibly - is liberating. It gives professionals the freedom to speak up, exchange ideas, and share what they know. Anonymity in social media gives professionals benefits such as:

· Active honest commentary
· Protection for meaningful engagement
· Empowering people to speak up who might otherwise not
· More fruitful exchanges of ideas and information
· Greater control over personal/professional image

Just consider: a new accountant can ask a tax question without feeling inadequate, a doctor can seek advice on a medical case among a larger pool of peers, or an in-house counsel can explore a potential career change without fear of consequence. Do these scenarios sound dream-like? Pretty much. Anonymity is just getting started. But, in time, my prediction is the ability to engage with each other anonymously will become the norm for licensed professionals everywhere.

What's the solution?

We need to create a framework where professionals have the confidence to use the web and social media to its fullest. However, we must proceed carefully and under an honor system that infuses credibility. That time is now. Done correctly, anonymity is a valuable tool that will fundamentally change the social media experience for all professionals.

To licensed professionals everywhere: embrace anonymity and engage more with each other. We have much to gain.