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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Email Address Bias

Paul Angileri who write the blog There Is No Chalk just left a comment on my recent post Profile Photos (see also Profile Photo):
I once had someone comment to me on a non-professional email address of mine. They said it seemed to imply something negative. This was the only person ever to have mentioned it to me, and for the life of me I still can't see the person's POV on it. There's certainly no profanity of vulgarity in the email address, yet someone had a mildly negative reaction to it and at the very least seemed to imply that the very structure of the email address would likely preclude that person from communicating with me.
Many of the recent comments really have helped to focus the discussion on the right issues - your brand, your audience and what they perceive. Subquark has convinced me that there are cases where a creative image and likely name make a lot of sense to help promote a creative business. It aligns with the brand. And if someone is not interested in interfacing with someone creative, that's not really the audience anyhow.

As long as we are talking about possible bias when someone encounters you online, let's discuss email addresses. Again, in professional networking, your email address should align with your brand, the perception that you want to convey with your audience and the cultural norms of where you are networking.


It's safest to use your name. It's probably a bit of a risk to use any kind of non-name.

Again, the situation is a quick decision (less than a second) where you look at the person and decide if you will spend more time on this.

What do you get from each of the following?
  • snuggybear83
  • john.mcelhone
  • surferchamp
Again, there are likely cases where more creative names make sense. But make it a conscious decision.

Domain Bias?

The other thing I would suggest is a likely bias out there on domains.

Please help me out on this ... what do you think when you see the following domains?


Anonymous said...

Interesting post Tony. I decided several years back to use dwilkinsnh as my online identity and I've been lucky enough to use just about everywhere - AIM, GMAIL, LinkedIn, Flickr, SlideShare, Facebook, Skype, etc... It's professional, it's close enough to me to be meaningful, and it it's unique and consistent enough that it's like a personal brand.

For a long-time prior to the advent of my "dwilkinsnh" epipihany, I used "thebullofheaven." I thought it was clever, funny, and also "me." The Bull of Heaven is a Sumerian god and tied closely to the story of Gilgamesh, one of the first epics ever written. Cool, right? Yeah, not so much.

Maybe like 1 in 1000 people go the reference. Everyone else thought I was a crazy religious nut. When my network was small, I could explain it. When it grew beyond a certain size, it was impossible.

Hence the switch to "dwilkinsnh" which while workable has a bit less "flavor." I think though when we consider professional networks, we need to rely on the content of our contributions to define us and not clever handles or avatars. You are maybe one of the best examples of this in our space.

As to the domain question:

AOL = clueless
GMAIL = savvy
Your own domain = professional consultant or expert user

IMHO of course... ; )

Doug Cornelius said...

Tony -

There is definitely email bias. A silly username is bad.

As for domains, there is a bias.

AOL - For those who are not sure about the interwebs.

Gmail - used to be cool and savvy. Less so now that anyone can sign up.

Custom domain - the best way to go. It shows that your business is willing to spend the $7 per month to host its own domain.

Angel said...

Hi Tony,

As to answer your question about email domain bias, here's what some people think: Likes email simple and may have been on for a long time, or doesn't want to change. email, more for personal use than professional use. but likes to have more features in their email (sometimes power user). I know of a lot of friends that use this as their professional email if they don't pay for a domain. Also, it ties in with other Google services. Professional. I have some freelance friends that go this route.

Just my thoughts and impressions, but it doesn't mean it's accurate. :-)

Kirsten Reichelt said...

Hi Tony,

that's a very relevant question for my work, as well.

While I use a (paid) GMX account when communicating with existing clients (offers virus scanner and spam filter, SSL encryption, lots of storage space and attachment sizes up to 50 MB), I always use my own domain when first getting into contact with someone professionally.

I agree that this supports the message that you're taking your job seriously.

Zoe said...

Hi Tony,

I distrust any professional who uses yahoo! as their work address - hotmail even more so.

My name is Zoe Frances Rose, but I usually go by Zoe.f.rose, as unfortunately, there are a lot of real (and fake) Zoe Roses out there. One is in adult entertainment - the bane of my online life (luckily she hasn't been working much recently & has a far lower google ranking these days).

I have a post about the problem of human names as unique identifiers here:

My other name (in twitter etc.) is coelacanthro, a combination of 'coelacanth' (the dinosaur fish still living happily in Southern Africa) and 'anthro' for person. (Like dwilkinsnh, it's hard to guess!) It's excellent because it's never taken, but - wish I'd thought of this earlier - hard to guess the spelling of in spoken communication. That's something to think about too, but moreso when registering domain names.

Paul Angileri said...

I concur as well: There is a domain bias, especially with regard to Yahoo!, AOL, or Hotmail. These services have been abused enough in the mind of the Internet-using public that many sites in which you must create a login to use their services will not let you use a Yahoo! or Hotmail address. With Gmail I haven't noticed a negative bias; maybe others have, but a lot of professionals I know in an array of different industries have Gmail accounts they use for professional work.

As for your examples snuggybear83, john.mcelhone, and surferchamp, I could see a hiring manager discounting someone with the first, and paying attention to people with the 2nd and 3rd. The third could prove a problem, however if I were a hiring manager it implies someone who has a very adventurous lifestyle, or is very active. It's interesting how snuggybear83, while harmless, has a negative connotation for me, while surferchamp not only generates more positive implications, but allows me to draw at least some small amount of insight into the applicant's lifestyle or personality. john.mcelhone compared to the other two is straight down the middle and doesn't test boundaries.

Now to step into the spotlight myself: does my professional email address,, imply anything negative to anyone here? Would "fotomash" raise questions for you? Good ones? Bad ones? Full disclosure now, no holding back! =)

Robert Kennedy said...

This is interesting Tony. I would say that I am definitely "guilty" of discounting the seriousness of someone who uses "snuggybear" or "candygirl16" as their professional email. I suppose it depends on what you goals are though. With regard to the domains, this is quite a conundrum for me. I use a gmail address in the early stages of my professional relationships simply because I am online a lot, I post on blogs, I sign up for professional websites, I connect with a lot of people online. That also leaves me open to a lot of spam and other traffic. Now, while I do have my own domain, I never use that email for communication in forums, blogs, etc. But yet, those are places where a lot of my professional relationships begin, especially as a freelancer. So, while I have my thoughts about hotmail, I personally use a couple of gmail addresses for a lot of my online communications. While working on contracts, for invoicing, billing, specific communications, I use my domain address. Does that make me complicated? :-)

V Yonkers said...

I am surprised no one has brought up the filtering software that can put your email automatically into spam. Our university tends to put hotmail emails into the spam folder.

On the other hand, my daughter's school sent an important message to my email and because I didn't recognize the name (and there was nothing in the email address or subject line to indicate it was coming from the school), I deleted it. There has been too many times where emails have had viruses attached. I don't open up emails I don't know the source of, nor do I open email attachments from those I do know unless they have let me know ahead of time (usually by phone) that it is coming.

Finally, I tell my students to keep their personal and professional emails separate. Dumbblonde23 (yes, this was one of the email addresses and there were 22 out there before her as she kept putting in the name until it was accepted) and profanities within the email addresses are not uncommon when I get emails from my students.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I agree that AOL and Hotmail seem out of touch. Gmail seems more tech-savvy and Yahoo! is somewhere in the middle. (Of course, my bias is that I use Gmail.) A custom domain is the most branded and professional option.

It astounds me how frequently that potential vendors use none of the above options, and instead email from someone else's email address! My internal reaction is, If you don't have your own computer, or even your own email address, or you don't have the technical skills to log out of your friend or husband's email account and into your own, there's no way I'm doing business with you. Please be aware that people do see where emails are coming from on the receiving end.

RNStudent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Angileri said...

V Yonkers and Judy Unrein make more good points. I didn't even think about the email filter possibility. Your poinr about the other 22+ Dumbblondes was funny as well. I know several people that keep typing in numbers till they get whatever address they feel the must have.

Judy, I think your point is well taken too, and I think it applies a lot if say, someone is looking for a software or web development job. I think if you are such a person and your email address is from a common free service, it might raise a couple questions in the receiver's mind as to how much knowledge you have if you don't have your own domain name. I have a friend that works for Microsoft as a software programmer, and he uses Gmail for personal stuff and his own domain address for professional communications.

I admit that my own professional email uses a domain I once set aside for my photography hobby, but I do not have any indication that I may be getting filtered out. I get a lot of solicitations for positions, and have communicated with many hiring managers and HR personnel with no indication of being filtered out. It's still something to be wary of though.