Personal Branding and Self-Censorship Online

Personal branding, as Pamela wrote earlier this week, is somewhat inescapable in the days of social media and working online. It really is just a fancy “Web 2.0″ term for being aware of, shaping and monitoring your online reputation. And for us web workers, whether we like it or not, our online reputations are often crucial to our abilities to do business and advance our careers.

The thing I personally wrestle with the most about my own personal branding is finding the balance between being transparent and yet protecting my professional reputation and marketability.

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I believe wholeheartedly in being myself in social media. But could being myself hurt me? There is no way to make everyone happy when you discuss divisive topics like politics and religion. You inevitably are going to disagree with someone, and leave behind a negative impression of you in a space where there is no separation of your business and personal life. So I do self-censor when it comes to my online presence. Why invite the downside of expressing my views, when I don’t see an upside that outweighs it?

Here’s how I balance being real, and being marketable.

What I Share

I do share a lot of myself in social media, mostly via Twitter and Facebook. I talk about the tech in my life, of course. I post about my favorite TV shows. NASCAR commentary and Disney trips also show up often in my Twitter stream. I share the trials and tribulations (and joys) of life raising an autistic 6-year-old daughter. Above all else, anyone who follows my Twitter stream sees a good bit of my wry, sarcastic (and sometimes goofy) sense of humor.

What I Don’t Share

Despite all I share, there are some things I keep to myself. During the U.S. election last year, I never discussed party politics or revealed who I voted for. I also give religion a wide berth. I do have strong opinions on those topics, but there’s no need to discuss them through social media and risk offending someone. Another thing you won’t find in my online presence is obscenities. Although anyone who’s ever been a passenger while I was driving knows that I do swear, I keep it clean online. Since it is possible someone might be offended, I just err on the side of caution and stick to clean, non-offensive language.

So, what you get from me online is 100 percent me…but you don’t get 100 percent of me.

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This may not be the right method for everyone. Some people may not need to be completely non-offensive. Being controversial can even be a personal brand.  It is something of a sliding spectrum. Depending on your career and your reasons for being online, your needs to censor your image may vary. It’s probably never smart to put up pictures of drunk partying on Facebook, but for people who are online for purely social reasons, talking about their political or religious beliefs may never cause them an issue other than maybe costing them a few online friends.

Whatever our online brand, all of us should be aware of the effect of anything that we put out there about ourselves, and consider the potential cost to our brand. Being transparent doesn’t necessarily have to mean letting it all hang out.

Where do you fall on the personal branding spectrum? Do you limit what you reveal online?

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