Web Design

When Is A Blog Too Personal?

Last updated Nov 22, 2006.

By Dave Taylor

One of the great ongoing debates in the murky world of blogging is whether your weblog should be personal or professional, whether you should be revealing or private. There are, of course, many different answers and at some level the real answer is "whatever you're comfortable with," but I think it's a topic worth exploration nonetheless.

First off, I think it's useful to differentiate between a personal blog, which is probably serving as a diary or journal, and a professional blog: in the former case, there really isn't much question because you can't really have a personal journal if you're not being personal and writing about your life, your experiences, and your thoughts.

If you're blogging for business, however, it's a different story because your goal is to convey a certain level of expertise, credibility, and, yes, professionalism, and that can be counter to the idea of being too personal.

One solution is to use the "water cooler rule." If a topic isn't something you'd talk about with your supervisor hanging around the water cooler or coffee station at your office, it's probably not appropriate for your professional blog either.

That might work pretty well for you, but I don't think it goes far enough, because I can easily imagine chatting about the latest TV show or sporting event with colleagues and supervisors, but that doesn't mean it's a good fit for my business blog.

What surprises me, however, are people who have what I call a hybrid blog, where it's somehow intermingling personal and professional information. One article might be about the relative merits of a particular new coding standard or software product and the very next is about a big fight that the blogger had with their significant other or an encounter with a hostile street person or similar.

It's not that these experiences aren't legitimate blog fodder, the problem is that it's not focused. Good blogs - at least in my opinion - are those that are focused pretty tightly on a single topic, be it coding standards, real time inventory management, RFID implementation problems, or even international tariff regulations.

Imagine that you were a well-known business author and you had a blog with the intent purposes of promoting your new book, your speaking gigs, and your consulting business. Blogging about your book, about letters you receive, reviews in the media, and even your experience speaking at different events is all perfect content, continually reaffirming your expertise, credibility, and status as an expert.

Now, imagine that in the middle of this, you pop in a note about how you were really disappointed in the latest Star Wars movie, or had a terrible experience at a local ethnic restaurant. Could be interesting reading, but unless you somehow related it to your book and area of expertise, it's just noise, just content that's fighting your other efforts and preventing you from reaching your goal of being widely recognized as a professional in the online world.

I have a friend who is a professional editor and writer who is also in what she calls an "alternative relationship" where she and her husband both date other people. It works for her, but when she blogged about her relationship on her professional blog, I was shocked.

She said that, "I'd rather just 'out' myself and if it turns off potential clients, I probably wouldn't have wanted to work with them anyway." I just don't see it that way. When you buy a burger from the local eatery, do you want to know about the owner’s politics? When you get your car tuned up at the local garage, do you even care about the religious background of the mechanic? When you receive a catalog in the mail, do you want to be confronted with the sexual orientation of the company owners?

Probably not.

So, if that's the case, why would you expose yourself and your personal life to the world at large - and your future customers - by blogging about your life rather than just your professional efforts?

Of course, there are undoubtedly people who will vehemently disagree with me, and that's okay, because if there's one truth about the blogosphere, it's that nothing about blogging is cast in stone. It's all fluid, changing and evolving on a daily basis as different people try different ways to balance the personal and professional online.

Let me end with a question: how do you balance your personal and professional life in the online world? In chat rooms, on blogs, and even perhaps on your own weblog, do you talk about fights you've had with your partner, your religious beliefs, your political views, etc., or do you keep all that offline as best you can?

Me? Well, let's just say that I write a parenting blog, but don't even use the names of my kids. No kidding.