Although marketing departments have been touting the benefits of profession-oriented blogging for several years, the Powers That Be have been much slower in warming up to blogging at all This is partially attributable to blogging be a relatively new-ish form of marketing***, but also due to the fact that blogging is rife with opportunity to make a blogger, and her employer, look very very bad. Dooce and PittGirl are cautionary tales for the keyboard getting the best of you.
The balance of deciding what to post and how to post it is easy if your blog is industry-themed, or is themed on an innocuous topic (like food blogging, etc). This balance gets considerably trickier when your blog contains content about your personal life.
I would like to keep blogging and keep working. To do this, I follow one rule:
Blog like everyone is watching.
Although my name and my workplace are found nowhere on this site, if you know me in the real world, you could easily connect this blog to me. It is is a very likely possibility that my bosses will see this blog one day. So with every entry I post, I ask: Is this entry an appropriate representation of me? Can I stand by the substance of this post? The rule has many components, but I can generally address them all by asking myself those two questions.
Blogging like everyone is watching means:
- Post no information about clients. Ever. Post no information about the substance of pending matters. Ever. These are such basic concepts that I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say them, but I’ve read a couple articles about attorneys blogging about their clients and facing disciplinary action as a result, so it was worth a mention.
- Don’t disparage your workplace or your boss. Again, a basic concept, but people often forget, or just don’t get it. Yes, there are certain legal protections about public discussion of working conditions. I’m not an employment attorney, that’s not my wheelhouse. A good way to avoid getting into hot water about your blog with your workplace is to not blog about your workplace.
- Be mindful of differing viewpoints. While certain professions, (college professors, for example,) are expected and encouraged to express strong opinions on contentious topics, expressing those opinions can be less-than-helpful if you’re an attorney or other professional in an industry that depends on attracting and retaining clients. Your client may very well discover and read your blog, on his/her own (or you may even use the blog as a marketing tool). Strong opinions on contentious issues may very well alienate clients and potential clients. However, it may also attract potential clients, so this is not to say that you should not avoid contentious issues, but rather to say that you should think carefully about how you want to approach contentious issues and whether taking sides is beneficial or detrimental to your own business. I personally avoid discussing contentious issues on my blog, because I feel that a lawyer should be able to represent clients with very similar viewpoints to her own, and also skillfully represent clients with very different viewpoints.
- Remember personal boundaries. It’s perfectly fine to discuss your personal life (I read an article about how discussing personal anecdotes builds trust but cannot find the article for the life of me)…but oversharing is unwise. If it’s a personal anecdote that I’d feel comfortable sharing with someone I just met, I’ll share it on the blog. If it’s the kind of story I’d just share with friends, it doesn’t belong on a public blog.
- Proofreading doesn’t hurt. Everyone struggles with typo’s, and after spending a day writing and proofing, the last thing I want to do is waste more time proofreading something I’ve written for fun. Still, typo’s tarnish a well-written entry. It’s worth a check.
- Be positive. I’m not positive in every post, but an entire blog of complaining becomes tiresome. Sometimes when I’m feeling miserable, blogging helps me fight my bad mood by getting me to think about how my tone and attitude come across. I remember being a sassy, sarcastic teenager, and an exasperated family friend asking me “Why are you so negative all the time?” I was devastated, because I thought I was just clever, and didn’t realize that others thought I was so negative. Stress and anger are so easy to express, that it’s easy to let your blog devolve into constant complaining. Focusing on positive topics and ideas (or at least not complaining incessantly) helps turn the creative wheels, and is much more pleasant to read.
***Yes, I know that for the world at large blogs are not even remotely new, but law firms are very very very slow to adapt to change, so many law firms are still barely comfortable with the idea of blogging.