The other day, I was at an event where the speaker was advising attendees about the power of authenticity. During the Q&A, one of the audience members raised her hand and asked about how much authenticity the speaker advised. As the audience member explained, she was just beginning a career as a freelance copywriter, but had been blogging about her struggles with anxiety for some time. She wanted to know if she should continue writing about her anxiety in her work-related blog.
To my great surprise, the speaker did advise that, urging the audience member to put her entire self out there and to be as authentic as possible. If anxiety was a major part of her life, the speaker advised, she should proudly display it.
I’m going to be very, very blunt here: I completely disagree with this advice. I do not think it is ever appropriate to combine personal struggles with a professional online presence. Personal struggles might come up once in a while if they are relevant – but they should definitely not be a main focus of your online presence – no matter how integral they are to your life.
When you prominently display your personal issues in your online presence, you risk potential clients concluding that your personal issues will affect your ability to do work for them in a professional manner! And if you’re just starting out and trying to build a client base (or get a job) – it will be 10x harder to build your business if clients disqualify you before they’ve even seen your work.
Afterwards, I spoke with the audience member who had raised this question and challenged her: “Is your anxiety part of what your potential clients get when they hire you?”
She replied, “No, but it’s a big part of who I am and other people are really helped by what I write about my struggles.”
“Oh,” I countered. “So you’re intending to make your living writing about anxiety?”
“No,” she confirmed. “I’m really interested in working as a marketing copywriter.”
Then I asked, “Then how is your blogging about anxiety helping to get you where you want?”
She considered a bit, and then told me that she was using the blog as a way to display her writing skills to potential clients.
Bingo! That is a perfectly legitimate connection between non-marketing content and a professional presence for someone who is seeking work as a social media copywriter.
So if she was planning on using the articles she was writing on anxiety to display her social media writing skills, this is what I would advise.
First, she needs to separate her blog on anxiety from her professional brand. Different urls if possible, but at least make them into separate blogs on her main website. And don’t prominently display links on her professional presence.
Then, she needs to comb through her articles to select the ones that she felt best represented her writing abilities. As most writers know, not every piece a writer creates is their top-notch work – and it’s important only to use the best articles to promote her personal brand.
While she is sorting through her posts, she also needs to spend time considering how each piece represents her personal brand. If an article is written excellently, but gives the impression that anxiety is controlling her life and making it too hard for her to fulfill her professional obligations – it shouldn’t be part of her personal brand.
Finally, she needs to also write some other blog posts for other blogs in a range of subjects. Potential clients will want to see her range and ability to write about their subject. They need to know that she can write in different styles and about different things. And a side benefit will be that if she has many posts about different subjects, her posts about anxiety will be more likely to be viewed as examples of her writing skills. If the only writing examples she has on her professional presence are about her anxiety, potential clients will probably think that her anxiety is the most important part of her life.
Look, I agree that authenticity is important in your personal brand. But it’s all about choosing the appropriate channel to be authentic in. Just as I don’t advise blathering on about your cats on a first date, I also don’t advise spending significant amount of time talking about personal problems in a work-related channel of your personal brand. Both the cats and the personal problems might be a huge part of who you are – but if you bring them up at the wrong time, you risk scaring away someone who might be interested in learning more about you.
Katie Konrath blogs about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped” at www.getfreshminds.com. She works for leading innovation company, Ideas To Go.