Can Your Personal Blog Hurt Your Career?

If you’re visibly associated with a corporate blog should you also write a personal blog? If you do how far can you push your own opinions, especially when they might differ from the official stance at your company? Could your personal blog come back to hurt the company you work for? Might co-workers find your blog and begin to think less of you? Could any of these things ultimately hurt your career?

These are some of the questions Kristine is wondering about at the moment and which led her to start a thread at Small Business Forum to get some feedback.

Here’s the dilemma. I know (and I can’t emphasize this strongly enough) that I would talk about everything. It’s very unlikely that any subject would be off limits, and I would be honest.

Several of my work friends are very computer literate, read blogs already, and would certainly find the blog. Not to mention customers for our companies, who read the blogs I write for work under my own name, who could also easily find a personal blog if I wrote as myself.

my options, as I see them, are three. 1)Don’t have a personal blog at all, 2)write the personal blog under some sort of penname, or 3) say the heck with it and write it as myself and take the consequences as they come.

The issue isn’t one that really has an answer and definitely not one answer that would apply to all people and companies. In the end this is one of those decisions you have to make for yourself and Kristine will need to evaluate and weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s best for her.

Can you do something to prevent employers from discovering your blog? If you put something online you have to accept that anyone might find it. Writing under a pen name will work only so far, though it can help to hide things to some extent. Another option is adding a noindex meta robots tag or using a robots.txt file to let search engines know not to index your personal blog. You can also make sure not to tell anyone with a connection to your company abut your blog. By making your blog harder to find it becomes less likely someone will find it. Of course if you make it so hard to find why have a blog in the first place?

You could also make it difficult to tell that the same person writing your blog is the same person writing your company blog. The more common your name the easier it is to do, but if you stay away from revealing things that could identify you at both it might not be so hard.

Potential Benefits Of A Personal Blog

It’s probably easier to see the downside here, but writing a personal blog could actually benefit both you and your company. Off the top of my head:

  • Your blog becomes popular directing more traffic and customers to your company
  • Your opinions lead to more transparency and trust in both you and your company
  • Your blog gives you an outlet for writing about topics you can’t on your company blog, which allows you to grow as a writer
  • Your co-workers and employers like your blog leading to a better career path in your current company
  • Your blog leads to greater personal branding leading to a better career path

All of the above are realistic. Sharing your opinions doesn’t have to be bad. It comes down to what opinions you share and how you share those opinions. A few quick searches led me to examples of personal blog success stories.

The first post above is from a number of years ago when Yahoo employee Jeremy Zawodny first started blogging outside the company. If you read the comments you can see that the consensus is his blog only strengthened people’s views of Yahoo. The second post above shares some stories of how a personal blog led to a positive career path.

Clearly a personal blog can be good for both you and your current company

Potential Consequences Of A Personal Blog

Of course there is a potential downside. Again off the top of my head:

  • Your opinions could offend your employers or co-workers
  • Your blog could reflect negatively on your company where company opinion conflicts with personal opinion
  • If your blog is seen as the more honest of the two it could lead to people seeing your company blog as being less transparent
  • Your personal blog might be seen as company spin if you agree with the company line too often

Any of the above could lead to conflict at work. You might be able to resolve the conflict, but you might not. There’s little way to know in advance who might be upset with something you say and how that person will react.

More To Consider

Who owns your personal brand? I think we’d all agree we each own our personal brand. Unless you have a written contract not to write under your own name your company can’t prevent you from having a personal blog. You do need to consider, though, how what you write affects people’s views of your company. If your blogging voice is a visible part of your company’s marketing you do have a responsibility to your company as long as you work there.

Only you can decide how far that responsibility goes and how much loyalty you need to show your employer at the cost of your loyalty and responsibility to yourself. But realize if you have become a company voice your actions do at times represent your company.

While most people will understand that your personal blog is you and your company blog is you at your company, some won’t be able to distinguish between the two. You could add a statement along the lines

The thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are mine and mine alone and in no way represent the thoughts and opinions of company X

You might also add more detailed information on your bio page or dedicate an entire page of your blog to explaining things. You could try a combination with a dedicated page, a detailed section on your bio, and a statement like the one above on every post. Making it clear your blog is your opinion and not your company’s opinion will help, but again there will always be people who will identify both as one and the same.

You should also consider that a personal blog is not the only way employers, co-workers, and prospective customers are going to find you. Chances are you post at forums, leave comments on other blogs, and maintain profiles at one or more social sites. Your opinion is likely out there whether you blog or not. If you’ve handled yourself well expressing yourself through other channels you can probably handle expressing yourself on your blog.

In the end you have to make this decision for yourself by weighing the pros an cons and deciding if you can live with the potential consequences. Those consequences will probably have more to do with individual posts than with your blog as a whole and more often than not you won’t even realize which posts might be the one that offends.

I think most bloggers can successfully navigate writing a personal blog that freely expresses opinion without having it reflect poorly on their company. There might be some topics you would need to shy away from, specifically topics where your company is in the middle of the debate. But for the most part as long as you respectfully point out where your opinion differs from your employers, express why your opinion differs, and offer the company line as a balance you should be ok most of the time.

The people you work with might not know everything about you, but chances are they know quite a bit. They likely already know how you think about many issues. Sure there’s a potential for misunderstanding and conflict, but do you want to work at a company that won’t let you express yourself? Do you want to work at a company where you’re only allowed to hold the opinion of the company? How valuable is an employee who agrees with everything your company says or does?

Many of you will know Kristine as a regular reader and commenter here. What do you think she should do? What do you think about the larger issue of expressing your honest opinions on a personal blog where those opinions might differ from the company line? Would you worry about the consequences? Would you try to hide your blog from employers and co-workers? Would you write what you want and let the the chips fall where they may?

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12 comments

  1. Thanks so much for doing this. I’m still on the fence with this issue, and hopefully will get some good advice from your readers.

    I guess the thing that has struck me the most about all of this is the fact that I never considered the consequences of becoming so visible with our companies when I started this job. To be fair, I didn’t realize I would become quite as visible as I have, but I never once considered what I would do if such a thing did happen. I guess the problem is that I’m not sure what another alternative would have been. Writing the company blogs under a pen name kind of defeats the transparency aspect of having a company blog, so that really isn’t an option.

    I guess what I’m trying to figure out is where the line is drawn, and what I owe the people who sign my paycheck and what I owe myself. I’m really leaning toward the idea that my name is my name, and I should be able to write what I want under it. To protect myself, I will probably institute some kind of disclaimer as you suggested.

    Unless someone can suggest a better idea or an angle I haven’t considered. I’m hoping someone can.

  2. Having quit my job to sit at home and blog I wouldn’t be the best person to say having a personal blog is not a matter of big concern..but here’s my two cents

    the matter to consider first is what you are going to write about..
    lets say you plan to write on the same industry that you working.. in that case just put a disclaimer right on top – “these are my personal views on the subject and in no way reflects upon the larger judgment of my company” .. or something of tht sort..

    if you are blogging about your work-life ..then things get a bit more complex, because bitching about it wouldn’t be in your best interest, on the other hand it can also be a good alternative to get your voice heard.. handling your blog in terms of how you write what you want to becomes paramount here.. be courteous, and be forthright.. also maintain some confidentiality if you feel a certain post will drastically affect your firms brand.. but on second thoughts if they r doing such stuff why work in such a place :)

    i don’t support anonymous blogging at all.. it displaces trust and trust for a blogger is very important.. be open to your colleagues about it..in fact involve them in making your blog better..

    just relate it to your life.. you will have people who know where you work and are business associates.. and you will have friends outside your work.. treat the blog the same way… :)

  3. Glad to help Kristine. I only wish the post was generating more comments for you.

    It’s hard to know a lot in advance. I think of all the things in my life where if I’d have known then what I know now. My guess is I still would have screwed up just as much. At least I would have known it was coming. I think you owe yourself more than the people who sign your check, but I do think you owe them something. How much is hard to know and I suspect only you can really answer that question.

    That’s kind of how I feel too Maneesh. Since I’m working for myself it’s easy for me to say go ahead with the personal blog and not worry about it. I agree that it will come down to what you write about. Staying away from topics about where you work is probably a good idea, but there are so many issues where you can say something to offend, especially when you’re expressing yourself from the comfort of your own home.

    I agree too about staying away from anonymous blogging. It defeats a lot of the reasons behind blogging in the first place.

  4. To me, the decision to have a personal blog boiled down to different factors than most (I wanted to learn WordPress so that I could use it for clients as they required it…and they have).

    But…the decision to publish content that some might deem to be a tad bit controversial came down to a simple philosophy for me: I don’t really want to deal with anyone who doesn’t want to deal with me as I am. My clients know me and understand me very well, and respect who I am. The really bizarre thing I found is that a lot of my clients actually liked the controversial content because it made me even more human in their eyes (that, and since I was dealing with their spam in a creative manner, it meant they didn’t need to bother.)

    If you’re that worried that a company will fire you or you’ll lose a client just because you do something that has nothing to do with them but that they perceive to be a bad thing on your personal blog, then you’re not on firm enough ground with that client or company to begin with and chances are that something else will come along to knock you off your perch anyway.

  5. Some good comments here. I totally agree with the point about anonymous blogging. To me it feels a bit dishonest. Besides I stand by my opinions and thoughts and am not ashamed of either, so why shouldn’t I put my name on what I write. Plus, from the standpoint of getting recognition, having my name out there makes it much easier.

    I also agree with what SEFL says. My concern is not so much that I’ll be fired, as that consequence I can accept. I also wouldn’t want to work for any entity that would fire me because of what I said on my personal blog.

    My concern is more how do I balance my obligations to the company for which I work, and for which I am (at least for one) a primary contact and spokesperson. I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out. How much could what I write personally impact what I write professionally, and how much should that matter to me.

    Of course, this presupposes that the two worlds will collide, which they may never do. Still, I wanted to think about all the possible consequences before making the jump.

  6. This is a really interesting and timely subject. I live in Orange County, CA and ran across an article this morning in the Orange County Register regarding officials in Santa Ana who write for a political blog. The city is considering setting up a code of conduct as a guide. Apparently, the City Council has warned some of their own several times for criticizing Santa Ana officials in their blog writings…See http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/homepage/abox/article_1878479.php.

  7. Adam I guess I’m in a similar situation as you in that my blogging doesn’t affect a job I hold, though I’m different in that I don’t consider this a personal blog and it’s in part done to help promote my business. I have a hard time seeing you watering down anything you say just because you’re worried about how someone might take it. That’s a great quality too. You must have some strange clients though.

    Glad you’re finding the comments helpful Kristine. I know this isn’t an easy decision for you. I feel the same about anonymous blogging. It seems to defeat the point to me. If you have to hide behind anonymity then it taints what you say for me.

    It’s not an easy decision to balance what you owe to yourself and your obligation to the people signing your paycheck. If you stay away from blogging about things that should remain inside the company, business secrets of personal information about the employees you really should be fine. You don’t owe it to your company to hold your opinion on topics they may not agree with, but you do owe them the respect of not saying anything they don’t make publicly available.

    Thanks for the article Laura. I think it’s probably a little much for the state to tell employees what they can blog about, but I suppose when you take a government job you end up owing a little more to your employer whether you like it or not.

    One of the reasons I never wanted a government job.

    I guess it’s more a code of ethics that the county suggests you should follow than anything they’ll be enforcing. In that case it’s probably ok as it doesn’t require anyone to do anything, but rather asks them to follow certain guidelines.

  8. I have a possible solution for you. I use drupal as my system. With drupal I can manage users and groups. From there I can then grant/deny access to content based on groups and users.

    I used to have a personal blog and a professional/portfolio blog. My personal blog was private to friends and family only by login, while the pro blog was available to anyone. Once I figured out what I could do in Drupal, I merged the blogs into 1. So now after I write a post, I change the access to either anonymous (anyone can view it) or to a specific group like friends or family.

    So with drupal I control which posts are for family only, which are for friends only, and which are for everyone. All on one website with no worries. This access granting also works on static page content, forums, and calendar events in Drupal as well.

  9. That’s interesting Matt. I know you can set up different levels of users on WordPress, though I’m not sure if you can grant access to some and not others. I think mixing the access on the posts is a great solution for many.

    I think Kristine would like all of her blog posts to be read beyond friends and family, but maybe not. This could be a way for her to keep some posts within a select group and avoid some of the potential problems.

    Thanks for the suggestion. What do you think of Drupal in general as a content management system? I’ve mostly heard good things about it.

  10. I like Drupal a lot. I switched to it back before WordPress got big with plugins and such. I find that everything is layed out in Drupal in a simple fashion. Drupal is about content. Blog posts, forum posts, static pages, calendar events… are all content. When you want to create one, you click on Create Content and choose which type you want to create. I find this to be easy for my clients and friends to pick up on when I start new websites for them.

    Adding, editing, and moving around of blocks (small, content outputs from modules, like a most recent comments block) on the sidebars are pretty straightforward as well; you can do this from the admin interface instead of needing to edit the theme’s code to move them.

    You can also restrict which blocks are seen based on users and groups.

  11. Thanks Matt. I’ve had Drupal recommended to me in the past, though I’ve been slow to take a look. I do have the latest versions downloaded and need to install it to take a look. You make it sound pretty easy to use.

    I know there is a developer community around it, but how large is that community? Have you ever gone into the code to make changes? I’m wondering how easy or hard it would be to make modifications. I suppose I just need to install it and see for myself.

    Thanks again for the info.

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