Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Blogging and Professionalism

A recent episode involving a popular designer/teacher/blogger and a yarn store owner (with a blog) made me start to think about blogging and professionalism. I've read some about this lately (the anonymous big law firm associate who outed herself only after she got a book deal comes to mind). That lawyer's blog, though, is different from the subject I'm addressing here. There is a difference between a professional venting about a situation at work on an "anonymous" personal blog (which can still be unacceptable in a number of circumstances) and a professional using a blog for mixed personal and work-related purposes venting about the same kind of situation. I'm discussing the latter here.

I'm a late-comer to the blog phenomenon, but I read blogs for awhile before beginning my own, and I still read a number of them daily. Some are purely personal, generally knitting-related with some mentions of family and daily life. Others mix professional and personal lives--I include the knitbloggers with books or other knitting-related internet businesses in this one (the Yarn Harlot, Mason Dixon Knitting, the Knitty blog, Wendyknits, etc.).

These bloggers have special challenges, I think. Each chooses to post a certain amount of personal information on their blogs, yet those blogs are also used for business purposes (promoting books and designs, listing events, selling patterns, etc.). What do you do, then, when personal and business collide? For example, what do you do if you have a problem with your editor or publisher? A yarn store owner cancels your appearance at the last minute, without any warning? Or, alternatively, you have major life issues that could affect your work?


I wrote the above last week and let it marinate for awhile before continuing. I find this a really compelling and thought-provoking topic, even if others are ready to dismiss it as a blogger's "right" to say what she/he pleases. I won't get into the legal existence or non-existence of freedom of speech on the Internet (the Google China site is a good example of the lack of free speech), and I'll assume for purposes of the argument that bloggers do have the right to say whatever they want.

Because a person has the ability and "right" to make a statement does not mean that the statement is wise. For example, suppose your boss is a complete idiot who sends you off on mundane, useless tasks that you despise. Nevertheless (and leaving out all possibility of libel/slander), you would probably not take out an ad in the local newspaper or trade journal to describe what a total wanker your boss is and how he has caused your high blood pressure. It would not be a wise thing to do, assuming you wanted to keep this job or work in the same field or location.

That is the crux of the blog problem--mixing professional and personal information on a blog requires the blogger to make determinations about what is appropriate or not appropriate, given the blogger's readership and profession. Maybe it helps to think about two kinds of readers for an average "mixed" blog. In the knitting world, there are (1) potential customers (which could include yarn store owners, book or pattern buyers, and/or advertisters) who read your blog and (2) casual readers (which could include non-knitting friends or family members). To some degree, your blog is advertising to the first class of readers--new products, appearances, etc. While blogging about your latest health issue or a bad experience you had at a yarn store or with a customer may help you vent your frustration and be great entertainment for casual readers, that information may turn off potential customers. High drama is fun but not professional.

People disagree about what constitutes too much information in the professional world every day, and I'm not saying that blogs should be sanitized to exclude all non-knitting content. I think that would harm some of the bloggers I listed above. However, there has to be some consideration taken by a "professional" blogger as to what information is appropriate or inappropriate under the circumstances. Would you want a potential customer to read about a terrible experience you had with a customer (in which you disparage the customer, fair or not)? If you were in that potential customer's shoes, what would you think? These bloggers are, in many ways, selling their personalities as much as their wares.

Next time, I'll be back with something more interesting!


helen said...

read Annie Modesitt's blog. she recently had trouble with one LYS owner on her teaching schedule. she was very professional and didn't tell us the store or owner name.

i think you really thought this out. i currently have a personal blog (besides my knitting one) which is basically just me talking about myself, my thoughts, and yeah, my job. but my job is just a part-time one at the grocery store. i worry about when i get a 'real' job and how much i can even say about it. this is just a blog that my friends and i all have (from our church youth group) so we can all keep in touch.

Laura said...

Interesting topic. Perhaps one thing that does make blog-reading interesting IS the tendency for bloggers to push on the "professionalism" boundary. They allow the readers to peek into the secrets and mysteries surrounding their profession. Because the readers can learn so much that they couldn't find out any other way, the blogger's readership grows.

However, a blogger should always be aware of how their words will affect them in the future. A big-time professional blogger from my college was recently denied tenure at a big university. Of course, many speculated whether his blogging activity contributed to his misfortune. I think it did and I think he knew that he was taking a risk by writing the blog. But I'm sure he got a great thrill over the fact that people from all over the world read his blog every day and couldn't stop doing it.

Valerie said...

Helen, the Annie Modesitt situation brought up this whole post. I didn't think her behavior was professional, but it goes to show you that people have different standards and those "professional" bloggers have to be aware of that.

I agree about letting people into the professional world, Laura. I think it's fascinating, but there are (of course) grievances that can't be aired in public without risking reputation.

Heck, I'm just glad 2 people actually made it through my rambling post!

Donna said...

I am really sorry about what happened to Annie. It wasn't fair. Annie has crossed the line from little nobody knitting blogger like you and me to well known knitting personality. It has to be a bit overwhelming for someone when they suddenly have the kind of "fame." With the fame comes a certain responsibility and perhaps a certain need to not be as forthcoming as one normally would be. Maybe she should have vented her frustrations in a personal diary rather than on the WWW? My curiosity is aroused, however, as I do go to GA yarn shops and I'd like to avoid one that would teach a visiting instructor (or anyone) so poorly.

I'm really rather worried about the situation, because if a shop owner is nasty enough to do what this one did, she's nasty enough to file a law suit over a blog post. I am aware of one particular owner in GA (not anywhere near the shop Annie dealt with) who threatened legal action against a forum owner because of negative posts (true posts mind you) about that particular owner's shop.

genny said...

Hi Valerie

I linked to you from the "new" KIP thread that you posted on to say, I like your straight talking! And when I saw your blog post - I thought it again!! I whole-heartedly agree with you, after all how personal can blogs be if I am sitting here in NZ getting involved with other folks I don't know who live on the other side of the world! It is very naive for people to think that blogs are "private". Perhaps when the nets were first invented this was the case, but not now. Folks need to adapt to the everchanging environment.

Nuff said - you keep talking straight!