Wednesday, January 2, 2008

To Bare or Not to Bare: What Should You Reveal in Your Blog?

The holiday season has come and gone, and with it I've seen a few holiday-themed posts. While most weren't religious, every so often one wanders into church. In the midst of all this religiosity, I went onto JCME's blog a while ago and found a thought-provoking post on neutral language and how much of your own beliefs to reveal on your blog.

The quandary is this: revealing personal info is often a good move on a blog. It humanizes you and lets your audience relate to you. Reveal too much, however--or reveal the wrong things--and it could backfire. Here are my thoughts on how to get personal on a business blog.

Religious references: Few and far between. Talking about your religion on your blog is a tricky issue. Many religious people feel that their religion is so much a part of who they are, they can't not talk about it. And if your audience shares your religious beliefs, it can be a good way to show them you're one of their own.

However, on a business-related blog, religious talk can do more harm than good. It limits your audience; for every person it appeals to, there's sure to be someone who feels repelled. Most non-religious people I talk to who read business blogs say that an occasional religious reference won't always drive them away from a blog they like, but if it happens too often or it's too obviously preachy, it might. Unless your blog is aimed specifically at a religion-in-business niche, it's usually best to stay away from the topic.

Politics: Avoid like the plague. Religion can be an excluding topic, but politics can be even worse. Especially in America at this point in history, politics is increasingly polarized--more and more people identify with the extremes on either side, and neither side is talking rationally to the other. It's easy to fall into the habit of seeing those with opposing views as "the other" and assuming that your readers, being sensible people, share your views. But that's a dangerous assumption.

Make a blanket statement against a certain political topic, and you risk offending a lot of people--that's obvious. But even subtle jabs at certain political situations can be more incendiary than you'd think. Unless your blogging persona is provocative and you're writing to a political niche, it's best to stay away from all mention of politics.

Personal interests: Keep 'em relevant. I have plenty of interests outside business writing, but my audience isn't coming here to read about those. Still, I think mentioning your outside interests can humanize you--and advertise your niche knowledge to potential clients. That's why I link to my other blogs and don't make them a state secret. Still, I know the audience for this blog doesn't necessarily share my outside interests--and I don't write about those things here.

But you can talk about outside interests on your business blog. The key is to make the post relate to your regular topic in a creative way. There are a couple of great examples of this at Copyblogger: posts on what improvisational acting and jazz can teach us about blogging. These types of posts allow you to write about your outside passions in a way that keeps your business-blog audience interested.

Details of your personal life: Don't give away the farm. There are a few bloggers I've really come to "know" since I came on the scene, and I don't mind if occasionally they mention their personal lives on their blogs. But some writers take it a little far. I started reading SEO blogs a while back for a client project, and some of those folks talk incessantly about their personal lives. I had no idea so many SEO's were so into their cats.

My feeling is this: yes, talking about personal details can allow your readers to identify with you. If you occasionally talk about your kids, your spouse, your pets, or other things going on in your life, you'll seem more human and less like a business-talking robot. And some blogs, like Freelance Parent, are specifically aimed at a niche that spans business and personal life.

But this can be tricky, because some personal details can make you look less hireable. If you're going through a messy divorce or a difficult home purchase, for example, potential clients might assume you have too many distractions going on to focus on their projects. Talk about how much rum-spiked egg nog you drank at the Christmas party or how much you can't stand your brother in law, and you'll probably wind up hurting your professional reputation. And you always take the risk of boring your readers instead of intriguing them. Not everyone finds your cat, your two-year-old, or your irritable-bowel syndrome as fascinating as you do. If your blog isn't aimed at a niche that includes these topics, it's best to talk about these issues sparingly.

Bloggers walk a fine line when it comes to revealing personal information. And the position of the line can change depending on your niche, your persona, and your audience. Of course you want to be yourself on your blog, but to be successful you need to consider what your readers want to read about--not just what you want to write about.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Jen.

I'll add a few other sensitive topics to your post, Jen: Sex (we all do it; there's no need to advertise it), drugs (business and pleasure don't mix) and the military (many cultures aren't the gun-slinging kind, folks).

I also had to cheer about the cats. I'm so sick of people talking about their cats that it isn't funny. (My business partner Harry is exempt from my irritation.) I like horses, but I don't constantly blog about Hanovarian Warmbloods or stunning thoroughbreds like they were part of my family. Enough with the cats, people. It's kitty overkill.

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Harry said...

@Jen: It's true, the bottom line is keeping what you give away relevant to the topic at hand.
@James: Thanks for disclaimer. The same could be said about kids.

Unless the anecdote is going to help support the point of the topic, leave it out.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Yeah, I think in general it's easy to think that your child, cat, pony, poodle, or whatever is easily the most fascinating example of its kind on the planet. And to you it is. That doesn't mean everyone wants to read about it.

Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

I try to limit mention of all these topics. The one time I talked about my religious beliefs in a post, I immediately got some backlash. I've never been one to mix my personal and professional lives, but on occasion there are some non-work-related topics that I feel just deserve a Screw You!

Anonymous said...

Well said Jennifer! But what's wrong with talking about your cat all the livelong day?

I like when bloggers reveal a tiny bit of their personality, and agree with you that it makes them more human - but overkill is a huge turn off! Since niche focus is so important in blogging, folks who want to chat about their religion, politics, or cat on their business blog should just start a separate blog for those other topics.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

Melissa Donovan
Writing Forward

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Amen! Unless it's a personal blog where readers expect this kind of reveals, TMI is not appropriate for a professional blog. Kristen King over at Inkthinker posted on a similar topic today, too (yours was first, though):

Lillie Ammann said...

I'm guilty of just about everything you say not to do - except talking about cats. :-)

However, I'm blogging for fun and to share some of the things I've learned, not to build a business. I usually have a waiting list of clients, and I am very selective in the kind of work I do. I will not edit any document that conflicts with my deeply held religious beliefs. I would rather a potential client read my blog and realize I'm not the editor for him than to turn that person down if he approached me.

Certainly I agree if your target market is the general public, you should not share any information that would offend anyone. On the other hand, if, like me, your target market is Christian writers, then I believe it's appropriate to share information about faith. I don't limit my work to overtly religious topics, but I do limit it to topics that do not conflict with my religious beliefs.

I realize my blog will not appeal to many people, but my goals are to have fun, make friends, and enjoy conversations, NOT to attract business. My content reflects my goals; a business blog's content should be different.

Jennifer Williamson said...

You're right, it really does depend on your niche. My problem with religion in business blogs comes up when I see a general business-related blog (which may be aimed at a niche market, but not a religious one) that randomly brings in religious references.

With a blog that's clearly aimed at a religious audience, readers know what to expect from the first page and there are no surprises. And if you're aimed at a Christian writing niche, there's no reason it can't work for you as a business blog--some clients are looking specifically for Christian writers.

Jesse Hines said...

Especially as a freelancer, with so many different clients/editors and story subjects you may have to work with, now or in the future, I think it's wise to minimize, and perhaps exclude any personal stuff--if you're running a professional site on any level.

I sometimes wonder about writers who blog about their current clients and projects--you never know how someone will take it. If in doubt at all, probably better to leave it unsaid. I generally try to focus on blogging about the technical aspects of writing and publishing and speak in the vaguest terms about any current work I'm doing.

Some of us are way too cavalier about the personal information we divulge--there was a story in the New York Times last week about professionals getting fired from their jobs over seemingly innocuous postings on their personal life. I don't have the link handy, but you can get to it from my site. I put a link to the story in my latest post.


Jennifer Williamson said...

That's a really good point. I didn't include "information on current clients," but I definitely should have. I occasionally refer to projects I'm working on or have worked on in the past, but only as vaguely as possible. I know some of my clients come to this blog sometimes, so I wouldn't want to post anything they might see themselves in--whether negatively or not. You're right, you never know how someone will take what you write.