This post originally appeared on InsideFMM.
How personal should bloggers get online? The editors of FMM discuss the dangers of sharing too much.
Here at FMM, our blog is our business. We work hard to bring you intelligent, professional content about the latest in fashion digital marketing trends. In addition to this news-focused blog, we also post the prettiest pictures we can find on Pinterest; dynamic, fashion-focused content on Tumblr; and the latest greatest fashion tech news stories on Twitter.
Sometimes we get personal. These views into our private worlds, however, were carefully curated. We invited the public into the sitting rooms of our lives, not the bedrooms. We believe that this distinction is important. While maintaining transparency about one’s perspective is necessary in the blogging community, there are some topics that bloggers should not comment on if they want to be considered professionals.
Case Study: “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You”
In March, Jess Constable from Make Under My Life took her blog in an extremely personal direction by writing a post called “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You,” which shared several private facts about her as a person. To be fair, personal sharing seems to be integral to her Make Under My Life blog, which coaches readers to get rid of “clutter” in their lives, clutter that can be either emotional or physical in nature. As a facilitator of sorts who asks her personal clients to face their own fears, it makes sense that she would try to build trust by opening up herself, showing the clients that they are in a safe space where they can say anything that they want without fear of rejection or criticism.
The problem is, Ms. Constable was not sharing in a safe and private space. She shared on the internet in a completely public forum, and the ramifications of her post, which is certainly brave, go far beyond what any person thinks about what she said and whether or not she should have said it.
For example, in the post Ms. Constable openly declares a pre-existing medical condition. What happens the next time she applies for medical insurance?
Also, I’m uncomfortable now that I know the number of cocktails she consumes a week. Was her disclosure a cry for help of some kind?
Finally, her vocalization of her credit worries and financial envy of friends concerns us. Considering the widening gap between rich and poor in the United States, I figure everyone who’s not a tech billionaire or born into extreme wealth wants more than they can buy. Knowing that a potential business partner has actual credit problems is tricky, however, because on one hand it is normal but it’s also a red flag.
For better or worse, she put it out there, and the blogosphere reacted with vigor, coming down both in support of her post(almost turning the campaign into a popularity contest) and others raking her over the coals.
The debate is fascinating, and we believe her post is the ideal jumping off point for a discussion about what you should and should not share online. Too much oversharing can actually harm your brand and turn marketers and brands off to working with you.
What should you share on social media?
Even if you’ve got your privacy settings so tight that even your mom can’t find your Facebook page, even if you have a tight circle of less than 100 close friends and relatives, you should still be cautious about what you say on social media. How many times has Facebook changed their user agreement and privacy settings exactly? As the company readies itself for business growth, the asset of your personal information may become too valuable to withhold at some point in the future.
Marketing and social media consultant Jeff Bullas created a list of the “30 Things You Should Not Share on Social Media,” and I think it’s not only inclusive but also practical. It covers things that seem obvious when you read them, as well as subjects that seem like they should be fair game.
Bullas has a golden rule: if something about it makes you uncomfortable, don’t share it. In my opinion, this general rule is wise, because it positions you to err on the side of caution. It also asks you to “trust your gut” and tune into your intuition, which processes information differently than your conscious mind.
How personal should you get?
Once you take away the information that could actually get you in trouble, you are left with the question of how personal you should get. This answer is different for everyone, but most people who blog are social people who want to share something of themselves with others in a public way. That’s why they’re blogging in the first place. They want to share information or life experience or recipies with people online, maybe even create a community of like-minded folks to consult when they have problems. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It’s just important to remember everyone that could be reading: your old boss, your mom, your future boss, customers, loan officers, divorce lawyers, people of different religious and political convictions, people who love pitbulls and people who hate pitbulls.
Meryl K. Evans, a blogger writing for Gigaom, recommends that people use the following four criteria to decide whether or not they should post personal information:
Is this good for your job? Is what you’re about to write something you would want a potential client to know about you?
Is it good for your brand? Some people have made themselves famous by swearing, wearing skimpy clothes and revealing intimate details about their lives. If it works, and your family isn’t too mortified, stick with it.
Does it fit your vision of the future? Think about where your career is going. Does this information fit into that image of your future self? Will it impress a potential employer who sees it in five years?
Could it negatively affect your personal life? Let’s say you post something about updating your husband’s resume and his current employer sees it. Or maybe you post an embarrassing photo of your sister because it’s a really great picture of you. Take a moment and think about how your post could affect your family before you share it with all of your “friends.”
Yes, you want to be yourself. You want to be honest, but if you are using your blog to promote your business—your clothing line or your book or your services as a graphic designer—you don’t want to go out of your way to offend anyone. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, people can be racist or sexist or just disapprove of who others choose to love.
Obviously, there’s no point in treading lightly around judgmental types who will hate you simply based on who you are, but if you make it a point to keep your social media posts to subjects that are either directly related to your business or a topic that you would have no problem discussing in line at the grocery store, then you will probably be fine.
Privacy might be just for old people
Then again, maybe I’m just old-fashioned. People who have been sharing details of their lives online since childhood have different standards of privacy than people who graduated high school before the dotcom boom and the rise of reality shows, according to an article on IT Business Edge.
The fact that they want to share personal information about themselves doesn’t mean that they want anyone to actually listen—not authority figures, that is. There’s a fascinating profile published by SF Gate of a young woman who lived in front of a webcam for several years sharing extremely intimate details of her life, yet she considered the National Security Administration (NSA) tapping her phone to be a violation of privacy.
Even better, the New Yorker’s in-depth article “Say Everything” compares personal internet exhibitionism to rock and roll, saying that the older generation is too inhibited, doesn’t have the guts to put it all out there like the kids do.
Personally, I say if you want to flaunt it, go for it. But if a piece of personal information that you over-shared online comes back to bite you in the butt, I will be tempted to say “I told you so.”
Good fences make good neighbors
In my opinion, this colloquialism creates a really nice mental image of a healthy social media strategy: decide what you want to share and maintain healthy boundaries while online. A fence is a great example of a healthy boundary.
Everything inside the fence is your responsibility, and everything on the other side is other people’s responsibility. Setting a healthy boundary with social media just means taking responsibility for everything you do online, and not blaming someone else when it gets you in trouble.
When you get nailed by the IRS for unreported income because you posted too many pictures of the fancy clothes and cars you’ve bought, don’t blame Google. They didn’t upload the photos. You did.
Outside of questions of legal or illegal activities, sharing personal information online falls into a grey area that’s not good or bad, not right or wrong. Each case is unique. Sometimes it’s okay to share, and sometimes it’s not, but here’s the complicated part about judging whether or not it’s okay to share: it really depends on the audience. You may or may not have control over who reads it, but you do have control over what you post.
How much personal information do you think bloggers should share? Are there there things you don’t want to know?