What’s the appropriate ratio of personal to professional posts?

Some of the positive comments I've received about my blog have to do with showing the “human side” of Microsoft and our recruiting process. And I realize that part of that is because I've blogged on some kind of personal stuff (nothing too crazy, but stuff that's not really work related). I'm having to force myself to become more comfortable with posting personal entries. I'm not going to say that I am shy because the people that know me will just laugh. But in social situations, I have to feel comfortable before I open up. And with blogging, because you don't get to look your reader in the eye, it's hard to establish the same comfort level.

Plus with the personal stuff, it's harder to take random criticism from someone that doesn't know you. I have a pretty thick skin most of the time (ask Gretchen), but bristle a little at throw-away comments made by people that don't know me. I'm not afraid to fight my battles, but am not a fan of them. It's a personal thing but I am getting there.

So when you are a corporate blogger specifically, what is the desired ratio of personal stuff to professional stuff? I hear people complain (I feel a rant about complaining coming on later...I am just warning you...oh, someone help me) about bloggers that focus too much on the personal without providing any substance and I  totally get it (and I differentiate between personal blogging and corporate blogging). But how much of the personal stuff is OK without totally putting people off, when you are a corporate blogger?

Comments (13)

  1. I have to say that the last 2 week since I have found your blog I have enjoyed it. Makes me think outside my developer box so thanks.

    I believe that a blog that is setup for a specific topic should at least attempt to stay on that topic. Now that is just my opinion. Could also cause possibly some lapse in posts because of the blogger not having new ideas or thoughts on the subject. That is fine with me. I keep track of blogs for their intended subject and purpose. A personal post every once in a while is fine. I always enjoy reading about the new gadget or laptop someone bought. That is an extra benefit for recommending stuff that I think should have a place in the Blogsphere. But blog posts about a person’s pets or political views really turn me off. Not that I do not think the blogger has the right to write about off topic subjects just that I keep the their blog for the intended subject.

    So that is my take on the subject. Keep up the good work Heather.

  2. I’ve conciously tried to keep personal stuff out of my ‘blog. Not because I’m uncomfortable with it, but because I don’t think my readers care about it.

    Sometimes stuff leaks in (like my post about my daughter’s first published article) but other than that I tend to keep quiet about my family.

    I can change that, but I figured since my ‘blog is hosted on a technical server it shoudl stay pretty technical.

  3. I’m (obviously) not at Microsoft, but… the personal things that I write about end up ringing true with the folks who read my blog. Developers usually share some characteristics; our personal struggles to overcome those characteristics can help another recognize the same struggle. This similarity extends beyond the technical fields — most people in the same careers share interests at some level.

    I posted once on my blog about Imposter Syndrome (http://www.theimpostersyndrome.com). I immediately noticed it was popular, especially with the technical folks. I made two friends from that article alone as we discussed things. Future articles on stress levels and other problems brought me much needed support from folks I didn’t know existed until I discovered they read my thoughts.

    I guess it depends upon the purpose of your blog, as it almost always does. If you are blogging to help others, meet others, and have entertaining conversation, then personal items help others to get to know you. Friendships based on technical similarities are not the type to last for a long time. Friendships based on common belief systems, common hobbies, common family issues — these seem to be much solider.

    As well all of our lives seem mundane to us. Who are we to judge? My son was playing Tierra Entertainment’s remake of King’s Quest I last night and while he watched the whole introduction with no problem he thought he found one after he exited the castle. He asked me, wide eyed and innocent at six years old, "Daddy, how do you turn the screen?"

    King’s Quest is a 2D adventure game. There is no screen turning, for those who have never played it or seen it. I find that funny, but perhaps by posting it — even though it involves my son, my family, the games I play — someone can use the anecdote. As a funny introduction, as comic relief at lunch, as .. well, anything they need it for — including bashing me, if they so desire. If I considered my life boring and mundane, well, it would never be posted and a few less chuckles might be had.

    By keeping things technical only you hide who you are. This may be the desired result for some (aka Larry Osterman, as he notes) but it doesn’t make you stand out either. Honestly there’s a wealth of information on the Internet and Google is outstanding at finding it. Retaining my curiousity is an unusual feat, and getting to know a person — who they are, not what they know — helps achieve that retainer. By retaining my curiousity you not only gain me as a customer but you gain me as a resource — market research, development problem, financial problem. We both win.

    What I do personally is post about what interests me, what irks me (SCO v. IBM, for instance, or patent abuse in general), what I’ve done, plan to do, or am doing, and what milestones my family has hit. I tend to cover C# and .NET and general thoughts, and every so often I write up a short story and let people tell me how bad I am at writing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jeff Vogel, of SpiderWeb Software (http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com) has the ultimate personal blog – IronyCentral (http://www.ironycentral.com). Before you click on that link, beware. There are no bad pictures, there are no bad sounds, the sight is altogether tastefully well done, but there is a *lot* of bad language. And a lot of awesome humor if you’re a parent. That blog is the reason why I bought every game his company produces — his sense of humor told me I’d almost definitely like the games he made. And I was right.

    Speaking of retainer, I need to stop visiting here. You make me THINK and POST and then I have a small novel. ;P

  4. I know you dont’ consider me a corporate blogger (I’m not, I dont’ write from an internal position), but I’m also not a personal blogger. I’m a topical blogger which, ultimately, puts me in with corporate bloggers.

    Early on I found myself rarely saying anything personal. But, when I did, the response was always great. So, I do it whenever something comes up. New car, new baby on the way, major announcement…

    And you know what? People care.

    My readers read my blog (in my opinion) because of me. They can go to lots of other places to find business stuff. They can go to loads more for IT stuff. They can only come to my blog for me, and as such they get a dose of me mixed in.

    That said, I have had users complain about how much personal stuff I post (not a lot, but definitely on occasion). So, I temper it. I try not to post too much at once. But, still, readers care.

  5. John Dowdell says:

    I’d echo Jeremy’s "people care" observation… there’s value in getting a sense of the person behind the words. It’s a way to evaluate what you’re reading. Some exposure is very useful for readers.

    Of course, there’s a risk that what they will learn is "why should I waste my time reading this bozo any longer…?" ๐Ÿ˜‰

    At Macromedia, about the most formal I’ve seen recommendations get was "don’t blog about your breakfast", but I haven’t seen anything more concrete.

    It would likely vary with the particular blog, but for personal efforts that are seen in some type of association with the company, then making it easy, productive and fun for the reader seems like a strong goal. Does it reward the reader’s time? We can reach different answers, but that seems to be the best question to ask, true…?


  6. William Luu says:

    I think the correct ratio is up to your personal discretion. Basically, how much you want to give to your readership.

    I’ve kept a personal blog for years, so my mistake at times is to over personalise some of my blog posts on my new blog. If anyway does read my blog, you’ll probably notice a lot of my posts on topics have my own personal spin on it (not that it’s hard to tell). But you know, you gotta have that human element on blogs.

    Just look at Scoble, he posts about meets he does (like the geek dinner, the meet with the church guy, other blogs he reads, blog posts he finds interesting, and so on). A blog definately needs that personal touch, otherwise why blog?

    I’d get bored of a blog if it was rather bland and no personal touch to it. It’ll be just like picking up a magazine to read the articles. Doesn’t really give you the view that there may actually be an individual there writing up the posts.

    But of course, you don’t want to go overboard with it. And you also don’t want to be posting entries about topics you shouldn’t be ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Heather says:

    Sounds like consensus is that personal posts-enough to make your reader feel like they know you-are appropriate. I guess we all need to keep in mind though that nobody finds us as fascinating as we find ourselves ; ) Or as funny, evidently…

    There are certain personal areas that I don’t feel comfortable going into (politics, for example) that I know others do. So I guess subject matter—and the extent to which you’ll get personal—varies by blogger.

  8. Anonymous says:

    OK, but you would send me a god cheesecake recipe if you had one right? Mmm, cheesecake ; ) Agree with your comments on politics and religion. It’s not something I would feel comfortable blogging on either.

  9. Of course I would. Cream cheesecake in fact with a graham cracker crust ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. John Dowdell says:

    Re: politics… it’s one thing to reveal the person you are, but quite another to consciously introduce topics which you know will be divisive.

    Political blogs per se are great, especially when they listen to each other rather than call each other names, but in this type of work we’re trying to draw people together rather than drive them apart.

  11. Heather says:

    John-I was recently taken to task by another blogger for recommending that people don’t blog on things that are "super controversial" (ooops, I said I wasn’t going to use that term anymore), but it’s nice to see that I’m not alone.

    Some people think "why would I want to work for a company that wouldn’t let me say these things", but I see 2 additional issues:

    first-the issue you raise. You really have to know the purpose of your blog and if it’s to build community, some personal topics can be devisive and therefore destructive to your purpose.

    second- and I wished I had piped in with this one before- is that some people are just not that open about their opinions. I have very strong political and religious opinions that I really share with a very few people. I guess I feel like I "could" air those things more publicly, but I don’t want to and it has nothing to do with fearing for my job. It’s just not who I am.

    Frankly, there are a lot of things that I think I could get away with doing at Microsoft that I am not comfortable with. At the end of the day, I am responsible for staying close to the purpose of my blog and true to my personal comfort level.

    Thanks for the reminder ; )

  12. John Dowdell says:

    Agreed. One of the difficulties in any online conversation, though (not just via blogs) is that some do feel the need to "educate the world" on what is proper to believe. If they’re propounding a view that you suspect may be destructive to others, then it’s a tough choice of figuring out what the right thing to do actually is…. ๐Ÿ™

  13. From MarketingProfs.com, Susan Solomon writes about blogs that bore her. I agree with some of her points,…

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