Please Blog Responsibly: How Real Should You Be on Your Blog?

by Leah on October 11, 2011 · 12 comments

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I don’t share a lot of personal information (especially recently — when I first started Your Nutritionista, I shared a lot more). In fact, people don’t really seem to like when I lifecast. But lately, I’ve been wondering if it’s dishonest not to share more of myself with readers.

Sometimes, it seems lose-lose: If a blogger shares too much, it’s seen as TMI and can be a turn off. But if a blogger doesn’t share enough, she’s accused of sugarcoating her life — or her blog just becomes boring. So…what’s a blogger to do?

How Real Do You Need to Be on Your Blog?

First, I think it totally depends on what the goal of your blog is.

If your blog chronicles your life, and your goal is that it reflects you, it will obviously become completely uninteresting if you don’t give your audience some juicy details. Think of it as an unscripted reality show. You know you’re not getting the whole story when you watch a show like Real Housewives or Real World (despite the word “real” in the title), but you assume you’re getting some reflection or piece of reality. We want to know when Teresa of RHONJ visits her lawyer to find out the status of her pending lawsuit, but we know we’re not getting all the juicy details (or even all of her actual thoughts about it). Imagine if Healthy Ashley hadn’t let her readers know about her bike accident, or if Rachel hadn’t told her readers she was moving to Texas. It would feel totally dishonest.

So if you intend your blog to reflect your life, we need to get the honest gist of what’s happening in your life (both good and bad). But we definitely don’t need to know the color of your BMs. (Then again, I can think of a few bloggers who could do that hilariously, in a way that totally fits their tone.) Not sharing personal details, however unflattering they may be, can be fuel for the snark fire when people who know you in real life or knew you in college start whispering.

If the goal of your blog is to teach others about a topic and be somewhat aspirational, then sharing details about your day-to-day life becomes less relevant. This kind of blog is more analogous to a talk show like Oprah. Sure, we know some details about Oprah’s life, and she certainly doesn’t hesitate to let her guests know when she can relate to their story. But the show isn’t ABOUT her or her life.

My mom is a therapist, and her rule is that if a personal story is relevant to a client’s experience or will help the client gain perspective/insight, she’ll share however much of it she feels comfortable sharing. I’ve adopted the same guideline for my nutrition consulting business, and in many ways, for my blog as well. My blog isn’t about me or my life at all — it’s about food, nutrition, and fitness. But when I have a personal story that relates to one of those topics, I don’t hesitate to include it in a post.

When Being Real Comes with a Risk

I admit, I like when bloggers get vulnerable and put themselves out there even when it doesn’t put them in the best light. Certain topics, though, require treading more carefully. I think all it takes is being thoughtful/intentional about anything that might be seen as real but controversial. Controversial topics don’t need to be avoided (that can make you come across as fake); they just need to be written about with more care than you’d write a “here’s what I ate for breakfast” post. Bess wrote a great post on how to decide whether to hit the submit button on that post you’re kind of hesitant about, so that’s a great place to start.

Rachel also came up with a list of questions bloggers can ask themselves when deciding whether or not to blog about guys, but I think they can also be applied to a personal or controversial topic.

1. Will I feel like a liar, or like I’m misrepresenting myself, if I don’t write about this? Not everything that happens in your life is the world’s business, but if something is going on in your life and you know that writing about anything else would feel like a lie of omission, then it might be important for you to write it.

2. Is this a story I would feel comfortable saying out loud? This is a really good barometer of whether the post is share-worthy. Could you tell a group of people at a dinner party? If you’re a more ballsy person, than you’d probably be more open at a dinner party than someone else. It’s fine for that same attitude to come through on your blog.

3. Is this news? Announcing that you’re moving across the country for a new job on your blog before you tell your close friends and family is probably not the best idea.

4. Can I tell this story honestly? If you’re always going to try to tell the story in a way that makes you look good, then you shouldn’t be telling it. If you can accept that being real isn’t always pretty, then you should go for it.

5. Is this my story to tell? If other people are involved, you have to make it clear that this is your version of the truth. Focus on your reactions to things and avoid trying to project how other people were feeling in a situation.

6. Is this going to get me in trouble? And is it worth it? If you use a fake ID to binge drink five nights a week, blogging about it might cost you your internship at the prestigious law firm. If your story could cost you your job or your scholarship, it’s understandable that you’d want to skip it. On the other hand, if your readers might kinda want to know about your illegal activities before they look to you as an icon of healthy living and good choices. If you do have a habit like that and you feel like you want to write about it (or feel fake for not writing about it), then you have to give it more thought.

My blog isn’t supposed to be a reflection of my life. It’s a resource for people looking for a different perspective on food/nutrition. If you want your blog to be an honest representation of your life, it’s important for you to set the tone and then be consistent. The easy answer to the question posed in the title of this post is, “As real as you want to be,” but that might not really be the most responsible way to blog.

What do you guys think?

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Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans October 11, 2011 at 3:40 pm

In my opinion I think that if a blogger is willing to post the good and the great then she/he should also be willing to post the not-so-great. That doesn’t mean you have to share everything (I definitely don’t) but its about striking a balance and coming across as real and relatable. I won’t read a “I’m so perfect” blog because I know that details are being left off that contradict that notion and frankly, perfect (however inaccurate) is b-o-r-i-n-g!!!

I too like bloggers that can be humble and admit mistakes/setbacks etc. Its life and it happens to everyone!! Bonus points to those that turn them into something we can all laugh out loud about.

And I completely agree that consistency is key. Readers respect knowing what to expect, at least as far as I can see it.
Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans´s last post ..How to Lose Followers and Alienate Readers

Abby October 11, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I think it’s completely individual, and like you said, it depends on the focus of your blog. While I might regret posting certain things because I feel self-conscious or like it was a slight sub-par effort, I never write anything I wouldn’t want others to know about me or that I feel don’t represent my authentic self–for better or for worse.

With that said, I keep a lot of my more personal issues to myself, as those aren’t things I need Susie from HR reading about. While I acknowledge them in certain ways and will occasionally talk about them in a certain context, my health–mental and physical–really is no one’s business but my own. I don’t think keeping that to myself is dishonest, but rather simply my decision. However, for people writing an eating disorder recovery blog and still engaging in those behaviors (as an example,) that’s where I have an issue and feel cheated.

For me, it’s a mix of my personality and my privacy, my take on life with bits of my own life thrown in (okay, a lot of my neurotic life thrown in.) For you, it might be something else. The key is sticking to your decision and not feeling influenced to write for a few others demanding something else. I’m rambling. Good post.
Abby´s last post ..Trick-or-Tofu Treats

Laura October 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm

These days, I feel like it can be hard to know what’s okay to post and what’s not. I’m kind of a healthy living blogger, but I also balance that with going out and drinking and eating at restaurants and doing all kinds of things that “pure” healthy living bloggers wouldn’t do. I try to reflect that in my blog and write what really goes on. But where do you draw the line, especially when it comes to drinking? I am over 21 and I don’t do stupid things when I drink… but after I posted a tipsy cooking video last week, a friend pointed out that while it was all totally appropriate and cute and funny, someone could easily cut the clips together and make something inappropriate out of it. Not good! I ended up taking it down and just writing about how I made it – but not linking to the video. I’m still on the fence about that one…
Laura´s last post ..Best. Weekend. Ever.

Tanya October 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Err on the side of not over-sharing. Period. Having more readers who want to see the good & the bad isn’t going to pay your bills (for the most part) – but that potential employer who searches for your name (or email address) and finds your blog with your late night drinking/ drunk escapades which might indicate that you won’t show up to work on time, or ready to give 100% – is more important.

Don’t think about the now. Think about the future … that potential boss who searches for your email address and finds your rants on GOMI or wherever else.
Tanya´s last post ..Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for The First Time

Debbie October 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I try to take my husband’s feelings into account before I post personal information. I know that he is a lot more sensitive to people knowing certain aspects of our lives, and I respect that. But I will write about things if I think it is important. When I told the story of my colonoscopy, my husband thought that it was too much information, I think in part because just saying colonoscopy tends to bring childish giggles to some people. But I knew that some readers really want to know what’s going to happen before, during, and after the procedure, and that I could tell the story in a (relatively) tasteful way. But I won’t talk about fights, money issues, and other things my husband doesn’t want publicized.
Debbie´s last post ..Vegan MoFo: Lunch from TJs

Deva at Deva by Definition October 11, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I err on the side of extreme caution, often at the detriment of good content. I am working on being more open, as I have realized that there are some details I can share about my life without people knowing my exact address, or my employer, and those details might show my personality! I don’t blog anything that I would be ashamed to have my grandmother read, or anything that would reflect poorly on me in a google search.
Deva at Deva by Definition´s last post ..Pacing with an App?

Cynthia (It All Changes) October 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I always have to err on the side of caution. I’ll let my readers know when I’m struggling but not necessarily the struggle if it’s too personal or if it involves others or a situation that’s not appropriate to have out in the internet.

When blogging I don’t want to look back at something later and regret having blogged about it. My blogging style lends itself well to this. I don’t blog about things until after they’ve happened so I can reflect and write something true to what I want to share but not sugar coating or TMI.
Cynthia (It All Changes)´s last post ..Kuhn Rikon Squeezable Decorating Kit

Hannah October 11, 2011 at 6:29 pm

This is such a touchy issue. While I don’t drink and party and therefore don’t have that as a possible hindrance for future job applications, I still never know quite how much to share. I think I do share a lot, but I might try and scale back a bit. It’s hard because I like sharing my history with eating disorders with people to help them and give advice when I can, but also I wonder if a boss saw that would he or she get upset? Then again, it’s part of who I am, and it’s something I’m not ashamed of. People who blog for a living obviously have more leeway because if they just freelance, they don’t have to worry as much about losing their job. It’s such a tricky thing-especially with thousands of people blogging and tumblring these days….
Hannah´s last post ..Harold Kelley’s Covariation Theory

Becca October 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm

My blog is 100% about my life and my thoughts on things that I’ve read or seen, so occasionally a TMI situation might present. I did a finance post, which I later removed because I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted it “out there”. I guess that was where I identified the line between writing for myself and writing in public. It was really good to have the feedback I had while it was published, though.
Becca´s last post ..Birth Story

Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine October 11, 2011 at 11:24 pm

This is a really interesting post, and a subject I’ve given a LOT of thought to recently. I used to do a lifecasting format, but started to get wary of it when I realized just how many people from my real life were reading. I don’t mind sharing my pictures from the weekend with my regular blog readers and friends, but do I really need my parents’ friends, boyfriend’s parents and former teachers seeing all this personal stuff? It’s not even that I was posting pictures or information that was innapropriate or scandalous, I just realized that I was essentially giving everyone on the internet a view of stuff I don’t even make accessible to Facebook friends. Kind of weirded me out.

Another issue I encountered was the fact that my blog is on my resume. I’m hoping to have a career in food writing/social media one day, so I share my URL with potential employers. Though I don’t mind sharing my opinions on things, I’m not really comfortable with a future boss knowing things about my personal life. There’s a reason some people don’t friend co-workers on Facebook, you know? Same kind of thing.

That said, I really admire people who DO have the balls to put it all on the internet. Takes some confidence!
Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine´s last post ..What Up, (Food) Doc?

Becki October 12, 2011 at 11:09 am

I use the rule “Would I comfortable talking about this in a dinner party?” a lot, especially recently.

Events over the summer has meant that a lot of my life was trying to stay healthy and focused for my family, and that has been interesting to blog about. I try to go for “aspirational”, and I’ve put up a few strategies that worked for me and might help someone else, and discussed this on my blog. But I never use my blog to garner sympathy, so that will stop me pressing Publish on a “Had a hard day” post, no matter how hard the day has actually been.

So I guess I could be accused of hiding the nitty gritty from my readers, and just giving them the side that is helpful to them. Staying positive like that is ultimately helpful to me as well, though, so I feel this is a win-win.
Becki´s last post ..A Winning Stategy

Kari October 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I have been wondering about this topic lately-I think my blog is mostly for my own sanity as I try to change my lifestyle. It is for me to share my thoughts and opinions about healthy living in general. Granted, there will always be someone that doesn’t share the same opinion but that is everywhere. I am honest about my life but I also know how much would be over sharing. I agree with Becki’s comment above – if I am comfortable talking about it to people in a social situation, then I can certainly share it in a blog. I do get personal of course but that is just how I am. :)
Kari´s last post ..Easy fix or drastic measures?

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