How do I write a blog that's professional and personal?
January 8, 2013 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I work in communications and would like to start a blog that I could link to from Twitter and LinkedIn. But I'd also like to write about my personal life. How do I thread this needle?

I'm a mid-level communications professional for a major national nonprofit. I also organize a regular get-together for fellow professionals with an email list of 900+ members. I consider myself a writer so I would like to write more and start a blog to show off my writing skills and (barf) build my personal brand.

I'd like to write about work, including writing, social media, communications, as well as work life, like networking and dealing with colleagues. However, I don't just want to write about work life. I'd like to write about things that interest me, events I attend, organizations I volunteer for, activities in which I participate. I'd even like to write about friends, family and my generally boring life.

I'm lousy at self promotion but I pride myself on being genuine, perhaps painfully so. I would like to motivate, encourage and inspire and I think a good way to do that is to write about things with which I have struggled. But I don't want to be in a position where I am applying for a job, someone reads my blog and thinks, this person is crazy. I do enough to self-sabotage :)

Do I need to start two blogs - one under a fake or non-name and another under my name? Do I need to approach everything I post from the perspective of, if a potential future employer saw this, would they freak out? I realize that to some extent, I don't want to work for people who would freak out if they knew some personal things about me but I worry that if I self-censor all the time, I won't have anything to write about.

Not having things to write about is another concern of mine. I frequently sit down to write and nothing happens. Do I have to update on a schedule or is it better to focus on quality writing occasionally than half-hearted writing regularly? Are there places I can look for writing prompts that would be helpful?

I've heard bloggers say and I've encouraged others to just write and see what happens, that the things you write about are the things you write about and therefore what you blog about. I'm concerned that I might be writing a blog about doing yoga badly and weak communications advice.

If I wanted to blog specifically about work or link to work, is that something I should talk to a manager about to cover my butt? When do you start promoting your blog? I would like to use the blog as an opportunity to discuss that which can't be covered in 140 characters on Twitter, so I'd like to be able to tweet blog updates but I don't want to do that right now because there are so few posts and the ones that are there are about doing yoga badly and weak communications advice. I do not want my personal brand to be that of a person who does yoga badly and offers weak communications advice.

I also feel frustrated with the idea of blogging because I worry that I don't have much that is truly unique to add to the conversation. But I still think it's a good idea because, well, who really does? Also, there is that line in The King's Speech where Geoffrey Rush asks why anyone should listen to Colin Firth and he exclaims, "Because I have a voice!" But I would watch Colin Firth read the phone book so maybe that's not the best idea.

TL; DR - I'd like to start a blog but I worry that what I'm starting with isn't very good. I don't want people to read mediocre stuff I've written and judge me based on it. What do I do (besides become a better writer)?
posted by kat518 to Work & Money (8 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I would pick one of the options you mentioned -- either two blogs, one of which you never tell work people about, or always putting your posts through the filter of having a future employer read it. Yes, we are moving into more Internet-literate times, in which people are more and more comfortable with more exposure, but we're not there yet, and wishing won't make it so.

Given your uncertainties about whether you have stuff to say, maybe start with a personal blog where you can write whatever comes to mind, keep it free of your employer's name or other things that would link it to work (musings are fine), and see how you like the whole deal. Then you can always start a second blog and make it more public (linking from professional profile, say), or see whether your first one passes the filter test.

There are a lot of blogs, so you certainly shouldn't start one just to "pad your resume" with online presence. However, blogging can be a pleasant creative outlet and a way to vent spleen about frustrating world or personal issues, so you shouldn't be dissuaded by uncertainty about your ability to generate content. See what happens, slowly, and maybe you'll find that you're "adding to the conversation" after all.
posted by acm at 1:58 PM on January 8, 2013

First: write two blogs. A professional one that's classy (but not without humor), and a personal-life-and-hobbies one that is quirkier, and less directly linked to your name and work.

Second, as to "being interesting," don't sweat it. You can work on posts for several days, you can save drafts, you can re-read. It's not a stage performance.

Third, if you're writing about your workplace, be wary. I believe that it is much more classy (see above) to write about "work processes according to you," "background thoughts," "funny daily routine things that nobody'd ever guessed," than about "guess what happened at the office today."
I would not link to work, I would not even put myself in a position where I would be unsure as to whether I should talk to the manager about it.

Finally, interesting content almost never forms in your mind in advance and in theory. Writing (writing anything, really) means: organizing your thoughts while writing. You will judge yourself by the outcome, not by the threshold height on the way in.
posted by Namlit at 2:03 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Never put anything on the internet you wouldn't want someone to see, it's really that simple. That someone may be a future boss, or your current boss, or your mother, or whatever. Once it's on the internet, it's always there. A simple idea, but I'm surprised at how often people forget this.

If you feel the need to write something which you wouldn't want someone to associate with you, than you use a fake name and write it somewhere other than your personal blog. So, if you want to complain about work, or bad mouth a client, or talk about personal issues, etc., you don't put it on your main page. A struggle with overcoming a bipolar manic depressive overeating molestation alcoholic disorder may be something which inspires people to change their lives for the better, but unless your career path is leading you towards self help books and working with people to change their lives, you don't want your name associated with it.

So, write your blog and include as much as you'd like, but always give yourself a few days between writing and publishing, and before you submit anything, make damn sure that there's nothing there you would regret including later on.

Now, this is all assuming that your number one concern is having a clean internet persona for future job prospects. I know many people who write things on the internet which would make their mothers weep, but they don't care about whether or not they turn someone off with their blog/facebook/etc. Their goal is to get their personality across as accurately as possible, even if it means closing some doors in their future. This is another totally valid way to go about it, but it doesn't sound like you want to go there.
posted by markblasco at 3:16 PM on January 8, 2013

Two blogs, definitely. You want future employers to see that you can keep your "personal brand" separate from their business' brand.
posted by bswinburn at 4:22 PM on January 8, 2013

I think you can make a single blog work, but only if you're okay having both your personal and professional contacts read everything you write on it, AND if you make an effort to have your entries appeal to both audiences. If you want to post a zillion pictures of your pet or write in-depth articles on professional topics, those things do not belong on the same space. But if it's going to be more, "Here's something interesting that happened to me," or "Here are my thoughts on issue X," I personally think that combining the personal and professional makes you seem more accessible and human.

One other thing about blogging -- it takes some sustained effort over time. So I would encourage you to pick one thing, whether it's the combined blog or just the personal or the professional angle, and stick with it for at least a month or two before starting something else. I'd also encourage you to write a few week's worth of posts and save them as drafts before launching the blog, so you won't have two posts and then abandon it.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:06 PM on January 8, 2013

I'm an academic with a blog that's been running for over a decade. Its focus is almost entirely professional--I write about my scholarship, matters related to teaching and the profession, and so forth. I determined early on that most of my personal life wouldn't wind up there, especially once I deanonymized the blog; if your blog isn't anonymous/pseudonymous, you'll have to think long and hard about the effects your posts will have on colleagues &c. (My own rules: no complaining about colleagues or administration; any negatives about students have to be infrequent and totally depersonalized.) Even if you're pseudonymous, you have to assume that somebody out there will recognize some odd story or suchlike, so markblasco's advice is spot-on. In my case, there have been cat photos (along with deer and the occasional duckling), but the cats & other personal information have pretty much entirely migrated to my locked-down Facebook account. However, I do write silly satirical pieces with some frequency (academic D&D spells, Star Trek-meets-grading, that sort of thing), which aren't "professional" but also aren't in the realm of TMI, either. These have never caused me any trouble, and a couple of them have gone on to a higher plane of academic existence, as it were. Depending on your line of work, you can write about your field in ways that are highly personalized, but tone will be an issue (I can get away with exasperated snarking about terrible Victorian religious fiction--my readers tend to love those posts--but there are other topics I wouldn't touch with the proverbial pole).

Promotion: I link back to the blog from my Twitter feed, and occasionally from my Facebook account.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:11 PM on January 8, 2013

As counterpoint, I had a blog that was popular in its niche technical area, that was about 50% technical and 50% personal. The personal posts were relatively tame, but not corporate-safe--I wrote about other hobbies & activities, bands I saw, parties I went to, sometimes with NSFW imagery or pics of me drinking at Santacon, etc. It helped me to meet lots of interesting people and opened professional doors in at least a small way, helped me build some professional notoriety/reputation, and it felt great to write in a way that was true to myself.

I did keep in mind that the entire world could see anything I wrote, though, and I didn't treat it as a diary. I usually tried to be thoughtful and respectful (the only posts I'm embarrassed about are the ones where I didn't succeed at that goal).

I tried to be reasonable about writing about work. I didn't violate any employment guidelines, but I wasn't subject to any guidelines that I thought were dumb, either. One time an employer asked me to edit a post because it revealed they had developed a product for another company and that knowledge wasn't public (I had mistakenly thought it was).

Writing a mixed blog is a risk, but the risks can be worthwhile, and in my case I got a lot of benefit from it, both personally and professionally.
posted by jjwiseman at 6:43 PM on January 8, 2013

I think you have to be an excellent and very astute writer to pull a mixed blog off and frankly 99 out of 100 bloggers just aren't at that level.

I read food blogs pretty constantly and they're an interesting mix between the personal (usually family life) and the professional (the recipe I'm there to read). Through TasteSpotting, I have been to hundreds and hundreds of blog entries over the past few years; once and only once did I think the personal and professional mixed well and that was Smitten Kitchen. If you can write as well as Smitten Kitchen (and keep in mind, Deb's got a book deal, thousands of loyal readers, and a healthy sense of self-promotion), then go ahead. If you're not sure? Don't even try.

As a reader, I can say I'd rather hunt up the links for and follow two great blogs from the same person than one mediocre mixed one.

Keep in mind, too, that it's pretty freaking hard to find content to write about sometimes (so my advice is contemplate what you really want to write about--do you really want to write about your professional life or do you feel you should? reverse that and think about your family life--and start one blog focusing on that).

Then, crucially, is the professionalism issue: I had a work-related blog when I was at the intern stage of my career and I thought I'd keep it up (content certainly didn't decrease!) as I started working professionally. That didn't happen because I became more wary about criticizing my institution, even inadvertently, as I grew into my role there (a concern I would expect you to face as well). You should absolutely expect that a future (or current) employer will be scrutinizing your words very carefully. Keep things grandma-level innocuous or shock-jock outrageous but amazingly insightful and industry transforming (again, 99 out of 100 people would find this one hard).

Finally, decide whether your blog will be a monologue or a dialogue. If it's a monologue, it's both less interesting and less promotable. If it's a dialogue, then that's more work in some respects (hunting up people to dialogue with, promoting yourself to these people, etc.) but less in others (you can write responses to other bloggers and hunt up other people to gin up content ideas, etc.).
posted by librarylis at 8:12 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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