How Much Should You Reveal About Yourself Online?


BoxIt’s easier to admit something to your computer screen than to a person’s face. The anonymous world out there behind the monitor can lead us to reveal much more about ourselves than we should. But how much is too much? As you might have guessed, the answer is “It depends.”

Look at Penelope Trunk. She talks about abortion, sex, divorce, bulimia, mental wards and dating on her blog, even though its primary focus is careers. She also says her blog is about her. “But each of you has a list of things in your life similar to that, it’s just a list you don’t want to talk about. I’m not special — I don’t have more stuff that is difficult to talk about. I just have more difficulty not talking about difficult stuff,” she says.

But she is special. She succeeds in revealing everything about herself because she has a solid brand and career that works for her. For most of us, being open and revealing such stories might not go as well. They could affect future jobs, gigs and relationships.

So how do you know what’s right for you? Review the following things about yourself:

Your job: Are you a freelancer? Are you planning a corporate career? Are you the owner of your business? Are you working for others, even as a independent contractor? If you’re looking for more gigs and clients, then you may need to step back and decide what those potential clients should and should not know about you.

Your brand: Some folks have built a brand for being brazen and can get away with cussing, revealing intimate details about their lives. For example, my brand is conservative, yet casual and personable. The conservative part overrules the casual, which means that cussing in public would be counter-intuitive. On the other hand, Mike “Toilet Paper Entrepreneur” Michalowicz has a potty mouth in his book, which fits his brand.

Your future: Where do you see yourself in one, five and ten years from now? I’m not a fan of this job interview question. But this isn’t a job interview. This simply looks at where you think you and your career will be. The information you post online today will still be around years from now even if you delete it.

Your personal life: What you say could affect your family. What if a college admissions person finds a negative story I tell about my daughter? (Not that I have one to tell, mind you.) I don’t want to impact any of her chances of getting into the right college. If anyone should affect her chances, it’s her. I wouldn’t talk about my husband looking for a job (no, I’m not hinting this either) because his current employer could find my statement and use it against him.

As for me, I talk openly about my being profoundly deaf and my family. However, I avoid mentioning their names, and telling stories of their bad days. It’s not that I’m a private person, but some things don’t belong out there for all to see. One of my kids has a challenge, which I talk about in person and leave it off the Internet.

I share my stories about being deaf to give people insight into what it’s like to lead a life without one of our five senses. It’s my hope it’ll educate them to be understanding when they meet people who are a little different from the norm. No matter what you see, I have the same hopes and wants as you do.

Remember Pandora’s box? It’s up to you to decide how much you want to reveal and what the consequences could be. Nancy Nally says it best in Personal Branding and Self-Censorship Online, “So, what you get from me online is 100 percent me…but you don’t get 100 percent of me.” That’s me, too.

How do you decide what to reveal and what to keep to yourself?

Photo credit: Ekaterina Boym-Medler


Andy Church

I generally post things that I would say out loud in a professional setting, either one on one or in a seminar format. This way, the issue of my privacy is a non-starter.

Give the wild west of how people are lifting content and reposting it, we tell our students to assume anything they post will be made available in some shape or form. If your posts are grass, hurtful and not constructive, they will likely come back and haunt you.

Wee Welshman

For me I try to come across online as I do offline, and that is an open, honest and say it as it is person – regardless if it offends someone, if it’s about my bowel movements or how rude someone else is being.

I don’t turn the truth into something pretty just so not to offend someone, nor do I not say something just to please.

We are all adults and if we cannot accept criticism, sarcasm or foul language then perhaps we are not as adult as we think we are.

Personally, I don’t like the world we are living in today, it’s full of people who are too afraid to say what is on their minds, and to me that doesn’t breed an open, honest society.

Of course I am not saying that we should all go around cussing, being sarcastic or overly critical of others, but we should be willing to say these things openly and honestly in the hope of creating a better society and ultimately a better self.

At least I think that is what I am trying to say … damn I’ve had a hard weeks work, I’m off to relax!

Jeff Wiedner

Appreciate you building out your earlier “it depends.” :-) We’ve been having discussions along these lines at work. Social media has completely blurred the lines between work and personal lives. Folks I meet [volunteers, partners] connect via social media and I use the network for both work and play. This has happened for others and what would normally be an innocuous comment on Facebook has ended up circulating throughout the office and getting more attention because the person is ‘friended’ to not only staff and senior management, but volunteers and partners.

I’ve suggested something similar to Justin’s comment. I tell folks, if you’re connected to the org in any channel [Facebook, twitter, using your personal blog to promote the org] then don’t post anything on it that you wouldn’t want sent out as an “all headquarters” email. It seems to help provide a concrete line.

Meryl K. EVans

Yes, it was hard to expand on the “it depends” in a 140-character message… so you have your 140+ word explanation. :) What you said, Jeff, is the reason why companies need a social media policy.

Justin Goldsborough

Hi, Meryl. How’s it going? Very timely post IMO, especially considering all the questionable tweets and Facebook posts we’re seeing from collegiate and professional athletes lately.

To answer your question, I try to employee the “self test” when deciding whether or not I should post something online. The self test is simple. Works like this: If I were someone else besides me and I read this post coming from me, how would I react? What would my initial perception be? Would I see that post as fitting or clashing with Justin’s personal brand?

Sometime just taking a second to stop and think provides all the perspective necessary to make this call. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Think this is an issue we all need to talk about more often.

Meryl K. EVans

That’s exactly what I do, Justin. I run a self-test and it works well. I think some of us have learned to respond instantly to online content that we forget to take a minute and think it through.

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