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Setting Personal and Professional Boundaries for Your Blog

This gust post is by Sarah Baron of of Anonymous8.

Boundaries in blogging are more important than you can imagine, because they set the tone for your blogs and for your relationships on and off line.

I never considered the concept of setting personal boundaries on a blog until a guest-blogger asked if he should publish a particular article on my site. His fear was that his story could hurt his wife’s feelings. It was our ensuing discussion that clued me in to how many personal boundaries I had set with my own blog.

Want to know why that sounds weird? Because my blog talks a lot about relationships, physical intimacy, and other “taboo” topics. Somehow we have managed to walk a fine line.

Here are some boundaries you may want to consider for your blog, based on those I’ve set for the creation of my blog.

Personal relationships

I rarely speak in a way that refers specifically to my family or to my friends. This protects their identities and protects the integrity of my relationships with them offline. In addition, I can tell you that my family and friends are not going to want their personal experiences shared with the world in a way that identifies them.

Experiences that we share are often discussed and hidden behind third-person tales. Those relationships are sacred, and I don’t want what I do to hurt them. That is my bottom line.

Be careful what you write about your family, including your mother-in-law. Assume that what you say will be read one day. Those little ones will be teens one day and may not appreciate every one of their embarrassing school moments told to their mother’s 15,000 closest friends.

Language

We choose our language carefully. Using curse words seems to be a strong line. Your basic four-letter words set tone. I do not curse on my site. Do you see a lot of curse words on ProBlogger?

I sum it up this way. Do you want to be the New York Times or the National Inquirer? Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of profitable tabloids. However, language sets the character of your blog. One is taken more seriously in some circles, and is avoided in others.

I can tell you that if I used curse words, I would lose my more family-focused followers. So that is a conscious decision for me. Curse words set off alarm bells in certain readers just as they attract others.

Tone

To judge or not to judge? That is the question. Here we are referring to people, mostly, and the things they do. ProBlogger is an incredibly positive and reinforcing site. Even when sites review products, it can be done respectfully or harshly and critically. Both approaches have their pros and cons.

When we speak about taboo topics, it is done in a respectful tone without degrading others, and while being open to lots of different perspectives. This philosophy of tone can be applied to just about any subject.

What if you cross a boundary?

If you cross a boundary, admit it. The most powerful blog posts I’ve seen arise when a blogger admits his or her mistakes. Another approach is to set yourself up for making mistakes from the beginning, by laying out expectations on your site. One place to do this is on the Mission page of your site.

Now, it’s time for you to choose your boundaries. You probably already have subconsciously. Make your own set of rules. Make them on the basis that one day, your blog and its contents could be the center of a large group’s dinner discussion that you are attending. The conversation that follows with friends should be interesting because of your work, but not embarrassing…

Do you have any personal rules or boundaries you have successfully made for your site?

Sarah Baron is the creator and founder of Anonymous8, a site which brings smart discussion to taboo topics. She recently released her first book Getting Lucky with the Wife (yes, THAT kind of lucky). She can be found on Twitter as @a8forwomen.

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Comments

  1. I agree that you need to have some boundaries when blogging and the main one I’ve had has been deciding whether to mix my personal facebook profile with my professional account. The biggest thing I suppose about this post is that family and friends are more important than your blog so anything that you write that you think might affect them in a negative way, think of something else to write about!

    • Ellen Berg says:

      John,

      As a teacher, I have two Facebook pages, one for my students and their families, and one for my family and friends. I keep the two separate, and it allows me to build relationships with my students without revealing my angst over how one of their parents behaved badly in an email. I’ll have a separate page for my blog as well for the same reasons. Different audiences, different pages.

      • Aussie Locust says:

        I did a similar thing, Ellen – using a separate identity (and different name, so I can’t be googled) for personal blogging and Facebook from my professional face. And it used to be a very select few people who knew both sides of me.

        Nowadays, I’ve made so many close friends through my other identity that most people know who I am, to some extent my alter ego has outlived it’s usefulness. Or maybe the real ego has.

      • Sarah Baron says:

        Ellen,
        Great idea, but do you ever get crossover and do you need to worry about that? Just curious.
        Sarah

        • Ellen Berg says:

          I have two people who are on both profiles, and as they are people I’d trust with my life, I don’t worry about it. In any case, it’s not like I’m posting anything wild on my friends and family profile. I just know my students and their families don’t really need to know my political affiliation or see pictures of me as a junior high student. Healthy boundaries are good. Plus I have my personal profile’s privacy settings locked down tight~only my friends can see my stuff, even if I’ve posted on someone else’s page.

          • Aussie Locust says:

            Unfortunately, as was demonstrated a couple of days ago at an IT Security conference here in Australia, your security settings on Facebook and other social networks don’t provide adequate protection – there are ways of bypassing them.

    • Jonathan says:

      I have absolutely decided against ever adding anyone I do not personally know to my personal Facebook account, with very, very few exceptions. Facebook is a privacy nightmare, and I have seen first hand people I know and care about having their personal data mined from Facebook and used against them.

      It’s bad enough that other people can add photos of you to Facebook and then tag them.

      I do everything I can to ensure than only those I know and trust have access to me via Facebook.

      • Ellen Berg says:

        Jonathan~

        Did you know you can untag pictures of yourself and then no one can retag them? Just did that with a bunch of pictures my mother-in-law posted that I don’t like. My rule is that if I look like a pug dog, the picture must GO. MIL doesn’t get that, so I just untagged them!

        • I recently discovered the ability to untag ugly photos, calendars, and photo trees of me on Facebook and I realize that it works both ways… to be nice to others and put up only flattering photos

    • I also struggled with how to handle Facebook. A lot of blogger friends follow my personal page and then I have a page for my blog. I finally let the two meet and now promote my blog on my personal page as well.

  2. Pankaj Gupta says:

    Good Article. Use of Tone is having more important, according to me. Thanks for sharing. Stumbled this topic !

  3. Ali Jay says:

    Absolutely brilliant article Sarah, I agree with the fact that curse words should not be used, on my review blog I received a couple of guest posts and they had been loaded with words such a s*** and cr**. So I had to refuse them. In my opinion people want to read fluent, positive and clean writing, I know I want to read that, personally if I see a site using bad grammar and bad language, I am never going on that site again.

    Thanks again,
    Ali

  4. George says:

    I think the best advice in this article is “assume everything you write will be read”. I don’t use my full name on my site, but people could figure it out easily. My family, including my MIL, know who’s writing. It all comes down to, “who is your audience?”. Are you writing for yourself?, everyone?, a subgroup?, etc. I’m writing for anyone who cares to read what I have to say, so I keep a civil tone.

    • It’s true, George, we tend to feel we’re in a private room somewhere, as if no one but the one we are addressing and a few loyal readers will see what we write. But it’s an artificial “space’ with no real walls!

  5. Tarrum says:

    To curse, you must really have a good relationship with your readers. I don’t really do that, but I do make a joke from time to time, funny or a little bit dark, heh.

    And when I do/did a mistake at a certain topic I’m covering, I love to add that I made a mistake too at some point. It’s just a +1 for trust and credibility.

    • Kent says:

      I agree. It depends on your target audience as well. I believe the younger crowds really do not mind the cursing and/or dark jokes because most younger entrepreneurs curse until there face turns blue when they make a bad investment.

      I think a curse every once in awhile can help you connect with the reader so they know you’re a real person with real problems like everybody else. Even if you edit the curse word with these !@#$% =]

    • Sarah Baron says:

      Tarrum,
      That’s great about admitting you made a mistake. I love seeing that when I read. It shows that the site has a human face.
      Sarah

  6. barbara says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with this post. Ironically, on the mother-in-law front, the most read post on my blog is a Tribute to My Mother-In-Law. It was a heartfelt reverie that is the all time most searched read on the blog. It’s kind of nice to know there are people searching for ways to write a tribute to their mother -in-law.

  7. Bob says:

    I don’t know that I agree with the first boundary you mention. Mentioning your personal life, if only occasionally, gives you a human touch, and allows people to connect with you.

  8. Aloha says:

    Hi, thanks for this great post. It says exactly what I’ve been mulling over lately. I think your emphasis on setting the boundaries and the tone of what we write is really useful. I used to blog like a diary and after I had begun to write ‘seriously’–meaning actually composing and choosing words and the like, I realized the blog had begun without real focus so I killed it, deleted every single post, and started all over again. I appreciate your concrete example of writing for a tabloid versus a credible source. I think bloggers write because we believe we have something to share. It’s great that you point out that to share in a common space, we have to adhere to a certain decorum to build a positive community. Thanks!

  9. It can be challenging to set boundaries when your blog is essentially about personal topics – mine helps women to age in positive ways for example, so we will talk about (gasp!) the menopause etc.

    Like you, I don’t tell stories about friends and family, or if I do borrow from issues they’ve come up against, I will disguise and adapt. I limit what personal stories I share. For example nothing about my romantic relationships. For personal security reasons I don’t mention if I’m going to be away for the weekend or on holiday, although that’s more of a Facebook concern than on my blog. I never post photos of family and friends on my blog or any other social media, and I have Facebook blocked from displaying photos on my profile that other people have tagged me in.

    Interesting suggestion about setting some of this out on the mission page – I’m going to have a think about that.

  10. Thomas says:

    Sarah,
    Thx for writing this post. I think you answered one of my questions about admitting to a mistake in terms of blogging.
    Thomas

  11. Thomas says:

    Sarah,
    Thx for writing this post. I think you answered one of my questions about admitting to a mistake in terms of blogging.
    Thomas

  12. I completely agree about keeping boundaries. I write a blog which gives advice to parents on how to better connect with their teens. This isn’t a personal blog in which I write about my family, but once in awhile, I do need to mention a past experience to illustrate my point. However, I have never mentioned my sons or my husband by name. I don’t feel that it is fair to them.

    I also wouldn’t even think of using a curse word. I know of many bloggers that curse and post pictures of their kids and doing great, but that isn’t what I want my blog to be known for.

  13. Anabelle says:

    It’s happened to me once… I wasn’t mean or anything, but someone who read my blog let me know that something I said was a bit out of line. I always kind of assumed that no one was reading my stuff… this changed my perspective in quite a deep way.

    I keep two blogs now: one for personal story-telling and the other for more professional stuff. It’s not hard to figure out that I’m writing both, but I don’t lay it all out, either. It’s also a better way to keep myself on topic on my professional blog, otherwise it would be weirdly mixed with all kinds of emotional stuff.

    Great article, really interesting to read everyone’s point of view and experiences on this topic.

  14. Peter Jones says:

    Thanks Sarah,
    Very helpful – always useful to be prompted about this.

    I considered this from a professional – health context – to blog or not to blog….

    http://hodges-model.blogspot.com/2008/09/to-blog-or-not-to-blog-that-is-question.html

    Peter

  15. Sarah,
    I agree that I wouldn’t use any personal tales about friends or family on my blog. Setting boundaries are important with people because everyone needs to know how far they can go.

    • Sarah Baron says:

      Justin,
      One more point. I also find that because I’m really careful about NOT identifying my “sources,” they are willing to let me write with complete frankness about our conversations, which is great, because that is usually the most genuine and juiciest of conversations and it fits perfectly in with our goals and missions.
      Thanks for the comment.
      Sarah

    • I”m with you on that Justin – within respectful boundaries. I don’t write about my husband, but do share stories from my childhood, or unnamed relationships of today.
      We don’t want our friends to be worried about what we’ll say about them on our blog!

  16. Great article and very helpful. I’m a very new personal blogger and these are the kinds of things that I’m contemplating a lot right now. Thanks.

  17. Very interesting post to come across after a week of having to deal with issues arising from an incident where my husband felt I crossed some boundaries when writing about him and our relationship on my blog. It was the language most of all that troubled him –and also the fact I had spoken the truth. But it helped us open up and see places where we could strengthen our marriage and when an incident arose just a few days ago dealing with the very subject of what the crossed boundary had been about, we were both able to respond in more appropriate ways.

    Very thoughtful anaylsis. Great post!

    • Sarah Baron says:

      Courtney,
      That is interesting and what is great is that you were able to turn it into a positive learning experience. I’m not sure that would necessarily happen in all cases.
      Sarah

  18. Ellen Berg says:

    Sarah~love this article and the advice to consider your boundaries and the audience you want to attract before you actually write. It’s that old audience and purpose thing we English teachers try to teach.

    The subject of curse words always is interesting to me. Curse words only have the meaning and the naughty-factor we assign to them. They are, after all, just words, yet we often assume bloggers who use them don’t have better writing tools at their disposal. In some cases, I think that’s true. If someone’s prose is rife with profanity, it doesn’t do much for me because I’m distracted from their point. However, there are times when a well chosen curse word is the exact right word to use, and to dance around it actually weakens your prose.

    Context and audience are far more important factors to consider when deciding when or if to use profanity. It’s the mindless use to which I object, not the words themselves.

    I don’t think anyone out there would say that John Steinbeck is a poor writer, yet his prose is littered with profanity. Deliberate, meaningful, thoughtful profanity.

    Thanks for pushing my thinking this morning!

    • Sarah Baron says:

      Interesting thoughts about curse words. As a writer, I can see your perspective about how words have the meanings we assign to them. And whether or not it is wrong to curse, it is distracting. Maybe we should be like my mom, who rarely ever cursed. When she did, it was with a smile and boy did she make a point.

      One other thing. Some curse words (the “f” one in particular) are complete comment spam magnets.

      Sarah

    • I’m with you on the profanity issue – it is distracting if nothing else!
      Lori

  19. Dewan Gibson says:

    I agree with Sarah’s post in some instances, but tone and type of language depend on the purpose of your blog. I run a humor blog, so my standards are obviously different than someone with a more “professional” blog. However, it’s still important to have some sort of personal touch, or for that matter “personality” on a blog. Too much worry about offending others and attempting to write in a way that’s not you can really turn readers off.

    • Sarah Baron says:

      Dewan,
      You point out perfectly when this approach does not work, as in humor. Yes, and if you are not careful, you can erase a lot of the personality behind the blog. I worry about worrying just for the reason you pointed out. ;)

      Sarah

  20. Glynis Jolly says:

    One of the first things I have done on any site I’ve produced is to have a disclosure of some sort. Not only does it tell the visit where I stand but it also re-enforces for me boundaries I don’t want to cross over. I you, Sarah, I discuss people I know sometimes. I give them different names and change the situation slightly. I still get my point across but without hurting people I’m close to.

  21. Chris says:

    This is great info – I love to tell stories but struggle with how identify people. I’ve fallen into the DH, DS sort of notation, but anyone who knows me knows who my husband or son is. I may have to rethink this a bit -
    Thanks!

    • Sarah Baron says:

      The way I handle this is that I say that I have a friend who’s husband is… Often, it is a friend, but that way, I protect whoever it is. I’ve learned to become extraordinarily vague when identifying people. Could be an occupational hazard.

      Sarah

  22. Thanks Sarah,

    For the advice, for the ‘time out’ to rethink the article (yes, that was mine) and for posting the story on Anonymous8.com, “The Trouble With Bridges” as it appeared in the end in respect to some long thoughtful conversation and most of the points above. LINK HERE: http://wp.me/p1l5Wz-V

    In the end, there is sometimes something greater to be said for keeping your work authentic and saying what you want to say as a writer…and I encourage writers and artists to continue do just that. The key in this medium is in harnessing the urge to press ‘publish’ everytime an idea pops into your head and accross your keyad. There is a place and a time for everything and my advice is this; if there is a doubt in your mind…follow it.

    That said, I write with complete disregard to anything but my own inspiration. Tempered, yes, anonymous, sometimes, but true, always.

    Here’s a test: If you’ve never written a story or blog post and NOT published it try writing something more challenging, maybe out of character, break some rules, knowing it and when you finish click the PRIVATE key. (My original story is still there as a reminder BTW.) Then, challenge the editor in yourself to re-write the story until it fits.

    Cheers
    Taylor Jamieson

  23. PsychicJim says:

    I like this post on boundaries. For me blogging is about YOU and this includes boundaries as well.

  24. Thanks Sarah for your insights. At the end of the day, life is about relationships and experiences and blogging hits at the heart of it all. The readers want to connect with the writer and their feelings, emotions and experiences and if they connect with them then they come back again and again. Sharing without crossing the line is not only important to those you have relationships with but also to your readers so they know that your word can be trusted.

    Connect and create relationships. If you do it well you will give them a great experience.

  25. Susan,
    Great post here. This is a topic that many of us HAVE thought about, while many more of us SHOULD be thinking about it! I have young adult kids so I am careful what I include about them. I share quite a bit on my blog about myself as I talk about some mental health and transparency and authencity, but I still try to be careful of what I say. I hope to move forward with my work one day and don’t want everything I wrote to come back to haunt me!
    Thanks for sharing and congrats for being on ProBlogger!
    Bernice
    Have you outgrown your pot?

  26. Interesting topic and not talked about nearly enough! Everyone has to decide for themselves what their blog boundaries are, of course, but for me, I try to only post uplifting, positive information. I know it’s good reading to be controversial but I think you have to be careful on that one. Who wants to polarize people? And bad language? Who needs it? I pride myself with being authentic, giving great content and delivering it in a way that promotes comments but doesn’t offend. Thanks for covering a sensitive subject!

  27. I solved this problem by creating a pen name for my new blogs, and both a gmail and Facebook account under the same pen name. Friends who are connected with my pen name account know it is me, but that way I can write about issues that I could not write about under my own name.

  28. Élan says:

    I’m currently in the process of starting a blog about love and travel and I’m really struggling with boundaries. My fiancé helps me brainstorm ideas, reads everything I write and even encourages me to use our personal stories in posts. Even with him reading everything I write, I worry that being so open about our relationship might harm it in the long run. Also, we’ve told friends and family about the site, but I’m still not sure if I should use a pseudonym or not! Since I have not blogged much before, I’m not sure what I am comfortable with. I worry that once I realize what kind of boundaries I prefer, it will be too late to alter them.

    Thank you for the post… it gives me even more to think about!

  29. I’m so glad to get my self in the right direction to get more clients in my traffic.Therfore i doing my best
    as much as i can to generate more jobs in my traffic there is still more to discover and get more friends
    in my blog further, my blog intererst is about the effects of smoking and steps of how to quit smoking ,and improving health levels to live better life and how to build your own custom to quit smoking.

  30. I agree that there should be boundary between business and personal blogs. I have noticed that some blogger have other blogs solely dedicated to their personal lives and treating it as an online diary and it has never intervened with their “business” blog. I have seen a lot of this types in Tumblr and other social networking sites.

    I think this is a good way to balance life on and off the field. I don’t think that your avid readers would want to read something personal in your blog that is filled with information about the latest gadget or trend in the industry that you are working for.

    The point is, privacy is something that should be cherished and it need not to be published to the whole world. Unless you get paid by writing about your personal life, then by all means — continue! (lol)

  31. Hey Sarah,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your post and the many great comments (following many of the commenters to their blogs to see what else they have to say!)

    My blog is 6 1/2 months old. It took me a while to find my voice and in the earliest days my coach said to me, “Don’t you want to put a little of yourself out there?!” So I did and I appreciate that people follow people, not concepts no matter how well-written they are.

    Blogging is like walking a fine line. To that end, we developed a mission statement to guide us. What a great ride!

    Thanks for your point on handling mistakes. Good to know ;-)
    Lori

  32. George Tee says:

    I absolutely agree that there must be limitations on what you should post on your blog. Personal relationship should be kept in a private profile. Language has an important aspect in a blog if the business needs a lot of professionalism. Admitting your mistake makes you responsible of your actions.

  33. I Am Husband says:

    This is all great advice. I’ve been blogging at iamhusband.com for three years now and I made the choice at the very beginning to be completely anonymous. No one outside of my wife and two *very* close friends even know this site exists in my circle of relationships. That’s been kind of hard because I know many people who would enjoy reading it and I like the things I write to be read. But because of the nature of the site, I’ve just had to draw that line. And even though it is all anonymous, I still refer to most everything in a third person sense unless it has to do with myself.

  34. Hi Sarah,

    what a post, i don’t have words to explain how much i like your post, all the points you mention in this post are must to follow while blogging, i agree with your opinion.

    Thanks for sharing post
    John

  35. All good points and I try to abide by these rules as well. I don’t currently write about personal stuff but I do plan on building and writing a blog on the things I love.

  36. Archan Mehta says:

    Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing this guest post. Your article resonated with me. The timing was right as well.

    I do not maintain a blog yet. However, I tend to read the blogs of other people due to my insatiable curiosity. I tend to gain a lot of knowledge from reading such blogs. There are some fine minds there.

    However, sometimes what happens is that people start to make personal attacks against writers. Conversely, writers may also start to make personal attacks against those who leave comments. I wonder what would be your position on that matter–and related matters.

    What about maintaining decency and decorum on a blog? Do we really need to curse and shout? Don’t you think that defeats the very purpose of a blog? Surely, we can maintain a civil tone and “agree to disagree” in a way that does not offend any party? I think this is one of those grey areas of discussion, but just thought I would mention it. Best wishes on your blogging sojourns. Have a nice day. Cheerio.

  37. WisdomSeeker says:

    Thank you, Sarah, for such wise advice. As a “newborn blogger” (NBB) [Have I coined a new term?] I’m “thirsty” for all the wisdom-filled information I can find. Your insights definitely qualify! : )
    WisdomSeeker