The Online Writing Persona You Didn’t Know You Had

What’s on the iPod: Anna by Will Butler

It’s been a good week so far. I’ve had a conference call with a new client, have worked on a project for a newer client, finished a project for an existing client, and have had time to relax a little. And paint. There’s one more bedroom to paint. While I’m not looking forward to it, I’m thrilled it’s not another bathroom. The bathroom took me eight hours — too many corners and high, unreachable spots.

During a recent Facebook break, I was reading the daily informative/vacation-related/diatribe posts that litter the site. I will say I doubt anything anyone has posted on Facebook that’s littered with hate and blame has ever changed another person’s mind. Yet there you are — tons of it.

Because I don’t connect with clients on Facebook, I figure what these friends say is their business. However, some of the people in my professional network are on FB, and what they’re posting is leaving a really bad impression.

I won’t point fingers because my opinion is just that — mine. You may find their posts right on target. Still, in one case, I felt chastised for simply showing up and reading.

It’s happening everywhere, not just on Facebook. Business professionals are letting their professional guard down online. It’s more than words, too. Some photos I’ve seen not only do not belong on a professional website, but probably don’t belong online at all.

We’ve lost our ability to filter.

Maybe we need a reminder of just how long the Internet memory can be. Know that rant you posted five years ago on a blog? It’s still there, even if the blog isn’t. How about that time you bitched about your neighbor openly on a forum? Archived. Did you really post that photo of you holding a gun to your husband’s head? Even if it was a toy gun, that might not go over well with your nonviolent clients. And your no-makeup-bad-hair-squinty-eyed look you think is a good casual shot could be making you look a little like a loose cannon who can’t get herself together.

So let’s examine our online impressions. Here are some areas to consider:

Photos. Unless you truly don’t have your clients as friends on Facebook (and you’ve taken the extra step to hide your page), don’t post provocative, suggestive, or unflattering pictures of yourself. That goes for your website, as well. Surely you want to be seen as a pro, not a wanna-be. Think about what your photo says about you to people you don’t know.

Politics. I say politics don’t belong connected to your professional image. Not long ago, the president of Starbucks sent around an email encouraging customers to vote a certain way in the upcoming presidential election. Even though I was voting that way anyway, his message, in my opinion, wasn’t appropriate. Plus he ran the risk of alienating a huge portion of his customer base. To me, politics and career should be separate (unless politics is your specialty).

Religion. That’s another biggie to me. If you’re a religious/spiritual writer, fine. If not, I really don’t think your customers want to be sent Bible quotes or see your so-called “Christian” diatribes on how we must all repent. It’s not up to you, despite your church’s teachings, to evangelize when you’re conducting business. There’s a time and place.

Hate messages. While we’re on religion, I would like to remind those who consider themselves religious to stop reminding us just how un-religious you are as you litter Facebook and Twitter with hate-filled posts that have nothing to do with reality. That’s for anyone who feels the need to lecture the rest of us or point the finger as if to say “A-HA! Told you so!” You’re achieving the wrong goal because now, no one is listening.

Client bashing. Not every client is a winner. Even if that client treated you horribly, keep it offline. Vent in a safe place — your house, your friend’s email, your password-protected writers forum. I remember referring a writer to a client only to see her blog post bashing by name the client. Disagreements happen. Scream to the four walls, then move on.

Stretched facts. Yes, you did. You said you worked for that magazine, yet your name isn’t anywhere to be found. You sent out a tweet that was filled with your own, made-up statistics based on hearsay. You’re a writer. Even if you’re not trained in journalism, it’s your job to make sure what you put out there, even casually, is as factually accurate as possible. If you can’t verify it, don’t post it. Otherwise, you might see your credibility hit bottom when someone who does know the facts comes along.

Writers, in what ways are you seeing professionals ruin their professional image?

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  • Meryl K. Evans July 30, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    When I post in social media, I do a test by asking: "Do I want Mom or future client/boss to see it?" Even if I don't connect with clients on Facebook, I have to assume every entry will become public regardless if I limit the audience.

  • Paula July 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    That's a good one, Meryl! Several times I've lost respect for a friend or acquaintance after seeing some of their social media posts. (One even wonders why I won't follow her.)

    I unfollowed one business contact because she was posting way-too personal photos. Sorry, but seeing someone gleefully jumping off a diving board, spread eagle in a bikini, doesn't belong in a social media feed filled with your business contacts.

  • Meryl K. Evans July 30, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Several long-time clients have become friends. I enjoy seeing their personal updates.

    I also have a Facebook list called "limited profile" — whenever I post something I don't want them to see (it's still safe, nonetheless), I set the post to show all friends except those on the limited profile list.

  • Cathy Miller July 30, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    I'm with Meryl. Just a simple mom/client test should do the trick. I am blown away by what people post.

    I guess I somewhat understand how it can happen on FB as you let your guard down because many use the platform for personal sharing. But it stuns me how many use similar tactics on a professional networking site like LinkedIn.

  • Lori Widmer July 30, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Meryl, great test! And great idea on the limited profile. I forget to use that.

    Cathy, that does seem to be the case. I've not seen it on LinkedIn yet, but maybe I'm just not paying attention. It's a bit scary to think someone is putting out the same type of propaganda that's all over Facebook.

    Paula, my eyes! Ack! That's clearly where the line should be drawn. Ew. Just. Ew.

    I had a networking contact who'd once sent out an issue of his e-newsletter dedicated to his political diatribe and appeal for everyone to vote Republican in the presidential election. Needless to say I forgot his name immediately and unsubscribed. Republican or Democrat or otherwise, it's inappropriate. You're appealing to customers. Half of them are about to be offended. Is that really what you want to be doing for your business?

  • Paula July 30, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    There are some things you cannot un-see, Lori.

    She had her Instagram and Twitter accounts linked (don't know about Facebook, since I'm not on it), but thankfully she had the sense not to share it on her LinkedIn feed.

  • Lori Widmer July 31, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    Oh gawd. That's just wrong, isn't it?