How Much Personal Information Should Be Shared Online?

When a blog is used for professional marketing and networking, one of the big questions is always how much of the blogger’s personal views to include and how much of his or her personal life to reference.

Great question, and there’s no consensus. For example, some of my online PR and social media colleagues openly weave personal events from their lives into their blog posts, frequently to illustrate some point, but sometimes just to share with readers and others in the profession. But another colleague has a policy not to mention anything personal, whether in online or offline conversations, unless it’s on a superficial and inconsequential “small talk” level. These are, of course, vastly different approaches.

I’ve often wondered what the right balance is, given that blogging and other social media, is, well, social in nature. When readers who are perhaps not very familiar with the culture of social media, as well as readers from traditional corporate environments (where the belief in message control still exists and is desperately hung on to), come across a post that’s more personal in nature, how will they respond? Will they assume the blogger is not “being professional” in that instance?

I’ve been thinking about this more in the past few days after the conversations I had with several of the session leaders and attendees at BlogOrlando. Those immersed in blogging and social media were more comfortable with the inevitable intertwining of the “purely” professional (although I’d argue that there is no such thing) with the personal, while those individuals who came from more traditional and corporate environments were still wary about it all.

The fact is, however, that even the most closely guarded people leave impressions behind, if not in their actual blog posts, then in such public venues as the comments on other blogs, in podcasts, on MySpace and other similar sites, in Flickr pictures (those they upload, those they appear in and the manner in which they appear, and those they choose as favorites), on message boards or business review sites.

Since individuals inevitably reveal more about ourselves than they usually realize, perhaps the answer is in being authentic (yeah, “authenticity” is one of those words that’s been horribly overused lately) instead of posed, plastic or uni-dimensional. This does not mean letting it all hang out. But it does mean not trying to uphold some artificial appearance.

Perhaps it also means being less judgmental about certain things (see Scott Baradell’s post about the attacks on public figures who show human fallibility); recognizing the richness, as Lee Hopkins described, that online communications, despite their limitations and risks, provide us — and our responsibility in this process; and the need to try to make amends when we’ve made mistakes or wronged someone (see Gary Goldhammer’s humorously-written, but with a serious message, Yom Kippur: A Post of AtonementL’shanah Tova, Gary).

 


Speaking at BlogOrlando: Legal Issues Session

BlogOrlando’s Legal Issues session will give us an opportunity to cover some important areas, such as whether bloggers are considered journalists and if so, what legal protections they may have; libel & slander (and the role of satire); how to protect against liability regarding blog comments left by other people, and so on. And if there is time, I’ll also talk about what conflict management approaches, short of using cease and desist letters or initiating other legal action, may be open to bloggers.

In other words, this session will provide basic information that ultimately will help bloggers avoid some mine fields and allow them to focus on what they really enjoy doing — communicating and interacting with our readers and others in the community.

Here’s a brief list of some helpful sites to know about:

And these lists of blogs, compiled by 3L Epiphany, are also good information sources and commentary to keep on hand: