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Drawing Boundaries: How to Keep Your Blog from Complicating Your Life

Find the sweet spot for sharing just enough.

Photo via TheOrangeOne

My name is Elizabeth Urello, and as far as I know, I am the only Elizabeth Urello in existence. This is great for branding purposes, but terrible for anonymity: I am highly Googleable. I often think that I would take more risks online if my name were, say, Elizabeth Jones. But it isn’t, so I’m pretty careful about what I choose to share online.

But at the same time, I don’t want to be too careful, either: the internet has been good to me. After all, I make my living working for a blogging platform!

Every blogger has to use their own discretion about what and how much to share online. Share too much and you could get into trouble with your friends or family, or with your job. Share too little and you risk remaining a stranger to your readers, which makes it rather difficult to gain a healthy following. Blogging is personal.

So how much is too much? It’s different for everyone, but here are a few things to consider.

Work

Before I worked for WordPress.com, I never blogged about any of my jobs, except in the most general terms. I never named where I worked on my blog, so that I didn’t risk HR getting angry about something I’d shared publicly. And I assumed that my coworkers and boss had googled me and were reading my blog, so I never wrote anything I wouldn’t want them to see.

Sometimes, however, if there was something really funny that happened at work, I’d obscure it sufficiently that I felt comfortable writing about it. For example, I might tell the same story but set it somewhere other than work, or flip the genders of the people involved, or add or subtract certain details.

That’s me, though! For some people, sharing their work life is the entire point of their blog. They might use their blog for networking or professional development, or they might have a humor site about their industry. But even bloggers who write exclusively about work still think carefully about what they share about it — and you should, too!

Assume that everything you write on your blog will be read by all of your past, current, and future bosses, coworkers, and clients.

Family and Friends

Most of us write about the people in our lives; our blogs would be pretty dull otherwise. But your family and friends didn’t necessarily sign up to have every aspect of their lives exposed online. What to do?

  • Use first names, initials, or pseudonyms. I frequently use first initials for my “civilian” friends (“B. and I got coffee the other day”). Many bloggers use nicknames or pseudonyms; for example: “Things are still progressing with The Boy;” “the Ballerina has adopted yet another dog;” or “the Successful Brother came to visit last weekend.”
  • When it comes to children, err on the side of overly careful. Children are hilarious and adorable and make for great blog fodder. They’re also vulnerable and they can’t always speak up for themselves. When blogging about kids, be sure to always keep in mind their dignity and safety.
  • If in doubt, ask! If your mother tells you a fascinating story about her grad school years, ask her if she’d mind if you shared it with your readers. If your best friend had a horrible blind date, ask him if you can blog about it. On the flip side, if your wife declares “You cannot blog about this!” directly after falling on her face at the grocery store, well, better respect her wishes.

For more on this, see Michelle’s earlier post on writing about family.

Personal Safety

Travel is one of my favorite blog topics and luckily, I get to travel a fair amount. But at some point, it occurred to me that it might not be a great idea for me to announce my travel plans on my blog in advance. For example, maybe don’t tweet this:

Bought a new car & a sweet big screen TV, but they’ll be chillin’ in my empty house for the next 2 wks while I party in Hawaii! #humblebrag

I write about my travels after I get home. Other things to consider:

  • Don’t post your street address. And depending on the type of blog you have, you might not want to post a photo of the front of your house.
  • Consider carefully before posting where your kids go to school, or details about their daily routines.
  • Meeting a blog reader for the first time IRL? Awesome! It’s probably wise to meet somewhere publicly and let a friend or family member know your plans.

For more tips on the technical aspects of managing your online identity, check out Michelle’s post, Separating Blog You from You You.

Overall, approach the web with the idea that anything you write can and will be read by everyone you know. As long as you keep that in mind, you should be able to avoid unnecessary complications!

When it comes to online sharing, are you pretty private, or are you a wide-open book?

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  1. All very sage advice. I blog about the experiences of my family as we adjust to living in America so I am very careful about what I share in order to protect the identity of my children. I do not reveal the specifics of where I live (suburban Philadelphia is as precise as it gets) and while I have stated that my name is Laura I do not share the names of my husband or children (who I identify from each other simply by age). I could also never share my surname as we are the only six people in existence with that surname. So I have found it very possible to blog about the detail of our lives while preserving our anonymity.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. Yes my name is one of those easily findable combinations. Not any other people named Hayden Trenholm in the world. I blog in three separate places about my publishing, my writing and my politics. Here I go a bit farther and talk a lot about my personal life, experiences and observations. I’m pretty open but there are some topics I haven’t tackled yet.

    I get my biggest responses when I am very open emotionally or somewhat controversial or both. Nobody is interested in my favorite recipes or my travelogues it seems.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. I blog with my name only, partly because I use it as a screen name, and partly because I feel like my name is the only one relevant to the content. I write about my daughter’s journey to kindergarten and there is a TEAM of people who have helped (and are helping) to get us there. I could very well OUT everyone…LOL…but for these purposes I use pseudonyms for everyone. Since they all have a hand in the kettle I choose to keep them all at bay so no one person gets overly exposed.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. *furiously reading and editing posts my coworkers/boss might read*

    My blog used to be anonymous but I like it so much more now that it’s not. But it is quite difficult to be personable and transparent to your readers without offending anyone you know IRL. Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 8 people

  5. After I retired in December, I wrote a pretty ranty post about “why I had to retire.” it become a popular post, reblogged, guest posted, etc. BUT, my former manager read it and of course took it personally by telling me through facebook messenger. As I start my consulting business, I know to keep my personal blog separate from my consulting website blog. It’s a very fine line. Thanks for a great post and the advice!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. I have a very common name so I’m not easily “Google-able”. Plus the domain was already gone so I just use the name of my blog for social media and tell others my first name in the description.

    When I first started blogging I wasn’t sure how to go about identifying people in my posts. There are some older posts that use names but I have started using initials instead. I am now considering moving to pseudonyms since family and friends are beginning to find my blog and will know the initials I use.

    I work for a school district so I have to be very careful about blogging about work. Right now I just name the city I live in but luckily we have many school districts so no one can tell which one I work for specifically. I never EVER write about the kids or my bosses either, I only write generally about whether it will be a busy week or not.

    I do write about my significant other a lot but she knows I am blogging and doesn’t seem to mind, I think I will ask her how she feels about me using her name though, just to be sure.

    Thanks for the tips 🙂

    Like

  7. My blog is about introducing indie authors to my visitors and followers, so I use a literate ape as my blog persona and reveal very little about myself in interviews on other blogs.
    The mystery blogger aspect has not hurt the blog in the least and actually seems to have enhanced it’s spread and popularity (folks seem to love going along with the primate part lol)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have my blog with my pen name. Only a couple close friends know about it. Most people I know, don’t know that I even keep a blog. I also only use the first letter of people’s name if I’m writing about someone other then me. That being said, I know that if certain people were to happen on my blog, they might know it’s me because I talk about my living situation and such, so I am still careful about some of the details I share. Devin

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Do you mean my blog or other things I’ve written? Or something else? As far as my blog, I only go by the tags I enter. A few of my friends know about it but very few and as far as I know, they don’t read it anyway. As far as other things I’ve written go, I haven’t shared many in the past publicly. There are a couple poems I’ve written on my blog but mostly my other stuff, I haven’t shared much of. I did use to be in a couple writing groups where I shared stuff but haven’t done much of that since then. Hopefully I’ve answered your question, but if not, feel free to ask more questions.
        Devin

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m as vague as I can possibly be without killing the story. Since I share my posts on social media, I never use real names and try to add a thing or two also.

    Oh and my name will probably pull out a hundred search results (I’m on the first page though).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. All useful info. It is interesting what people want to share: I’m just amazed that bloggers post photos of their house/home. Seriously?

    My personal blog is not a place to rant about work or work out specific job problems. It is to share with close friends.

    There is why I posted once about my partner is 2-fold:
    a) For some guys, it’s just easier to be commenter and not be misunderstood if they know I have partner. It is amazing, but I have no idea if their partner would misread stuff when searching the ‘Net.

    b) I have a partner who blogs…..if something should happen, he is my 2nd set of eyes and administrator. He has also delegated the same for his blogs.

    I realize posts on personal relationship conflicts can draw more blog traffic and discussion but that’s not the purpose of my personal blog. It is not to work out my family relationships with a bunch of strangers who can be sympathetic but not know the whole story to help me properly.

    Persona blog is for me, to express the best that I’ve seen, experienced and imagined. I must be totally comfortable if my blog hangs around long after I’m gone. And give as memento to my family and closest friends.

    My most precious human relationships are with my family and close face to face friends. They are not blog commenters whom I’ve never met and have only friendly superficial relationships.

    This is goal in terms of personal blog content standard that I aim for.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thanks for the good advice!

    I guess I am a fairly private person when it comes to blogging. Even though my real name is very generic and brings up a lot of search engine results, I choose to blog using a pen name. My real name is something that I don’t feel comfortable sharing at this point. I blog primarily to improve my writing and better express myself in written format,so very few of my friends and family know of or read my blog. However, when I write I still keep them in mind.

    When it comes to boundaries for posting, I normally do one of two things. If I feel concerned about a post I am working on, I put it down for a few days. After the break, I pick it back up and reread. If it still feels like I am putting too much information out there, I will not post. Or, I will ask my best friend for their input. This method has worked so far.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Love the idea of writing pseudonyms, it covers up but also makes the writing more interesting as it seems like a great opportunity for the reader to make a snap judgement about the person. “The successful brother” conjures up an image straight away.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’m pretty private- sometimes, I worry that I’m too private! I’m still new to this, but I’m learning that while some things- like you said, travel plans are best kept to yourself in many cases, some things are ok to be open about. Im working on finding my personal balance.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I often write about grief. I have many friends who have lost children. I NEVER share anything they say or write to me without asking permission. Even then I change names or a few details to protect them. Same with my kids.

    Respect the privacy of others, always!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I blog under a pseudonym and use false names punning on the real names of the towns and villages I spend time in, and one initial only for the people- sometimes the wrong initial. I explore my psyche as a way into self-acceptance, so speak very candidly about myself; the story I felt bad about in retrospect was repeating someone’s witty story I heard at a party, two ways of telling a story, one of which withheld crucial information and made it sound a lot better than it was. It was his story, not mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My blog began as a way to keep in touch with friends and family at home but morphed a little. My intention was to keep the area where my home was kind of “cloudy” to the public. In other words I live in this “area” but with no town. And I used pseudonyms for my spouse, friends and family (I still try to).

    Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your viewpoint) as the blog progressed, I had readers and other Panama bloggers wondering where I lived. I had posted pictures as our work setting up the house progressed and it is easily recognizable in our small town. I’ve had people walk or drive around and find me. (We were really irritated by the people that showed up at our door one evening after drinking all day. That’s where the polite Canadian in me uncharacteristically wanted to punch someone in the face.)

    I guess my point is that once you go down that road of sharing or sometimes over-sharing it’s difficult to take it back. I love hearing from readers that the information about our journey has helped them but I’ve found that sometimes I become irritated by the expectation that I want to meet everyone that rolls through town. I guess that is where this post about living in Panama came from as a blanket answer to frequent questions: https://indacampo.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/we-live-here/

    I’m also well aware that there are likely people from my past that I don’t necessarily want to know what is going on with our lives now who could probably find me on Google. I did wonder about taking my blog private but I decided the benefits of interacting with readers and other bloggers outweighed my need for privacy.

    Thanks for this post it gave me a couple more tips I can use. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Though I write very personal things, no one knows me in the blogging world personally. I never post my real name, address, email, work, social or any crucial information that will lead readers to my real life and who I really am. They may know my thoughts, preferences, feelings and dreams in general but as a person I will remain a (familiar) stranger to them all.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. thank you for the advice. I rarely mention names. I am writing about the experience my family had with epilepsy. I’m wanting to let people know how we overcame the situation and are stronger.

    Like

  19. I have the good fortune of a generic name that isn’t even clearly male or female. Still, I’m very guarded about how much I say on my blog. I often change names of real people, or use generic terms like “a guy I used to work with…”. When I discuss travel plans or anything that could be a security risk, I always bring it up after the fact: “a few weeks ago on a trip to Hawaii…”. The nature of my blog is such that I don’t have a reason to reveal a lot of personally identifiable details about myself, so it’s easier for me be (mostly) anonymous and still have something to talk about.

    Liked by 4 people

  20. This is good advice, and I follow the same general rules on my blog. I keep my work information pretty general, and if I refer to people in my life, I leave out their names.

    I feel like lately I’ve gotten more personal on my blog, but more so with my life events. I still keep most information private.

    Liked by 2 people