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Oversharing? Undersharing? What Are You Doing?

Awhile back, I was at a blogging conference and went to dinner with a small group of people as usual before heading to the more crowded (and always noisier) evening events.  The dinner party I was fortunate to be a part of included some very prominent bloggers & speakers – most of whom make their livings in the Social Media arena.

I can’t remember the prompt, but someone in the group said something that I responded to with “well, we’re all oversharers, so it’s to be expected.”

That statement was met by shock and denial by one of the women in the group in particular.

“I am most definitely NOT an oversharer!” she said firmly.

I replied with something I had believed, up to that point, to be a truism: “Come on, all bloggers are oversharers by definition.  You kind of have to be in order to want to write about the details of your life for anyone and everyone on the internet to see.”

She shot me a look (one that I have come to understand means ‘you’re out of your mind, but I’m not going to belabor the point’) and maintained her stance that she was anything but an oversharer.

About now, you’re wondering who this was – but I’m just going to call her Jane Doe – because it’s important to where I am going with this post that it not be about Jane specifically, so much as it is about people like Jane.  If she chooses to out herself at some point? Well, that’s her call.

You see, I’ve been thinking about that night and those few moments we shared.  Processing what I said, in light of Jane and what she said, and what I know about Jane.

My statement about oversharing comes from years of both writing and reading blogs.  The average blogger doesn’t start out writing a business blog, but instead s/he writes things of a more personal nature.  We call them lifestyle blogs.  Sometimes they’re about hobbies, or parenting, or technology, or whatever the author is passionate enough about to consistently post on.

However, I realized that my friend Jane? She’s not the typical blogger.  The personal things I know about Jane come from knowing her – not because she writes about them.  Her online presence has always been warm & welcoming, but professional.  If you Googled her history, you’d find that she’s pretty much always blogged on the topic she’s considered an expert in.  You won’t find blogs about her personal life, bad hair days, or relationships.

Realization #1 – I was wrong.  Not everyone at that table was an oversharer.

In fact, pretty much everyone at that table was someone who lives a very public career life, but tends to keep their personal details out of their work-related content.  The range was from “not at all sharing personal details publicly” to “shares some things about personal life on particular social networks, but not on others.”

So where did my logic go wrong?

Well, when I started blogging, I had several ‘personal’ blogs myself.  For years, I wrote about anything and everything that came to mind.  Politics, relationships, beliefs, positions, theories, heck – even random dinner parties.  But I did all of those under pseudonyms.  Having once taught University, I was well aware that one of the first things computer-savvy college students do is Google their instructors.  Everything I wrote back then had to be unfindable by your overly-curious student trying to avoid working on his/her assignment.

Something I learned the first semester I taught – when I found my online resume being copied and pasted “for the good bits” by one of my less-ethical students.

When you are writing ‘anonymously’ – there is a strange sense of security that even though you might have shown your best friend and your cousin your blog – certainly you won’t have to worry about anyone else figuring it out.  It wasn’t until 2002 that the term “dooced” came into common online vernacular thanks to Heather Armstrong losing her job over things she had said on her blog.

But some of us transitioned from “lifestyle blogger” to “blogging as part of our business” without much thought about the transition.  I know of more than one person who simply ditched their old pseudonymous blogs as they chose to become professional bloggers with their content attached to their names and reputations.

Realization #2: Just because I used to overshare doesn’t mean I do now.

Those who criticize platforms like Twitter & Facebook often focus on the usage habits of Socializers when they say ‘I don’t care what you ate for breakfast or that your Farmville chicken is producing eggs.‘   They are often looking for a business case for Social Media not to be found in the habits of Socializers, who use it to keep in touch with their friends and families only.

The comfort threshold is different for everyone as to how much personal information they share online with friends, with family, or with absolute strangers.  But if the recent brouhaha over Facebook’s privacy settings tells us nothing else, it certainly states that most of their users aren’t comfortable with the thought of “everybody on the internet” knowing things about their personal life.

Realization #3:  Bloggers have different levels of comfort with sharing personal details.

When I went back to thinking about the case of Jane, and the other bloggers that were at dinner, I realized that most of the details of their lives that I knew, I knew from private social interaction with them.  Even though I wouldn’t say I’m particularly close friends with most of the people I was at dinner with, our social circles are overlapping.  We are not strangers to each other.

Those at dinner? Were bloggers who tend not to write about the details of their personal lives, so much as they write with a personal voice when they do.

So I started thinking about other prominent bloggers I “knew of” but didn’t really “know” in the sense that we have similar social circles.  Some of them? I can think of details of their lives that I don’t know about my best friend.  Others? I don’t even know if they’re married, have kids, or if there’s anything they are passionate about outside of whatever subject they blog on.

Then I thought about which ones are the blogs I tend to read with frequency…

Realization #4: People have different levels of comfort with reading personal information.

I had a totally different experience at another semi-recent blogging conference – when someone I knew peripherally said “you mean you don’t know about my hysterectomy? Don’t you read my blog?

Actually, no… I had to admit that I only read most blogs when someone puts a link on twitter that I notice, or when someone I’m close to brings a particular post to my attention.  Because the number of people I know with blogs is literally in the thousands., I could read 50 posts a day and still get behind unbelievably fast.

So back to Jane Doe & oversharing…

Jane’s blog is one of the very few that I have an RSS subscription to.  Because every post Jane writes applies to the business I’m passionate about – and if she writes warmly and in a personable voice? She doesn’t add in a bunch of stuff I don’t need.  Jane doesn’t overshare – she shares information that she has that may be useful to others.

It’s something I’m examining for myself.  Do I spend too much time sharing information that is unimportant to the point of a given blog post?  I’m going to go with yes, for now. I mean – I look over this post your reading and think: Well, is it important that I went to dinner? No.  But am I going to cut that out? Um, no.

Apparently I’m still working on my personal information/sharing balance.

What do you think? How much personal detail does a blog that you read regularly ideally have?  Should I have named Jane? Or is she irrelevant to the story except as an example?

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Posted in Geekery, Identity, Social Behavior, Socializers.

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  • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

    You go right ahead and ID me if you want. :)

    So here’s the thing. I’ll tell you exactly what I share and what I don’t. And to your point, “oversharing” is relative, and all about perspective. Something that you’re particularly comfortable with talking about, I might not be. For example, you might be comfortable going online and saying you have a migraine or a tummy ache or pink eye. Personally, individual details about my medical condition are something that are on my “don’t share” list, and that I don’t particularly care to read about others. My taste.

    Exceptions to that rule? I wrote a post recently on my personal blog about my battle with depression. Not because I wanted attention and “look at me” for my struggle, but because I knew it would help someone, and make others feel less alone. It was a greater good thing to me. Same with those who talk about their struggles with cancer, or other major battles like that.

    I don’t share details of my romantic relationships. I don’t talk about personal details of my health, family drama, or friends. I talk about my daughter, but sparingly. When I do choose to share stories, I do so on my personal blog, amongst an audience that’s opted into that kind of information. And even there, I’m telling stories, not so much lifestreaming the details. That’s my personal choice, and where I’m comfortable. And as you said, I’m also comfortable reading the kinds of things that more reflect my personal boundaries. That’s also all about perspective.

    My business blog is just that, and it’s focused on my professional lens. I don’t cross the streams, because that’s my take on what my audience would expect. A post on my professional blog about my weekend trip would seem irrelevant and out of place.

    Lastly, my online presence is a largely professional one, and I’m very conscious of that. What I share and how I conduct myself online reflects on my professional position and my company. I know that, and filter according to what I think balances that well. I’m sure I don’t always get it perfect, but I’m always aware of it.

    Anyway. Some interesting points you raise here, especially those about personal *details* vs. a personal *voice*. I think that’s a distinction that’s important to explore.

    • http://thesocialjoint.com Lucretia Pruitt

      Next time I ask you in advance, Jane ;)

      That said – you made me think. One of those things you do a lot more than you realize. I’ve been exploring my own boundaries of late and this post is one that has been sitting in the back of my mind crystallizing since you made me question my tossed-off words.

      I thought it was somewhat ironic that I went to your post today to read it was all about beliefs! You are always one step ahead lady! :)

      Thanks for your input & insights!

  • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

    You go right ahead and ID me if you want. :)

    So here’s the thing. I’ll tell you exactly what I share and what I don’t. And to your point, “oversharing” is relative, and all about perspective. Something that you’re particularly comfortable with talking about, I might not be. For example, you might be comfortable going online and saying you have a migraine or a tummy ache or pink eye. Personally, individual details about my medical condition are something that are on my “don’t share” list, and that I don’t particularly care to read about others. My taste.

    Exceptions to that rule? I wrote a post recently on my personal blog about my battle with depression. Not because I wanted attention and “look at me” for my struggle, but because I knew it would help someone, and make others feel less alone. It was a greater good thing to me. Same with those who talk about their struggles with cancer, or other major battles like that.

    I don’t share details of my romantic relationships. I don’t talk about personal details of my health, family drama, or friends. I talk about my daughter, but sparingly. When I do choose to share stories, I do so on my personal blog, amongst an audience that’s opted into that kind of information. And even there, I’m telling stories, not so much lifestreaming the details. That’s my personal choice, and where I’m comfortable. And as you said, I’m also comfortable reading the kinds of things that more reflect my personal boundaries. That’s also all about perspective.

    My business blog is just that, and it’s focused on my professional lens. I don’t cross the streams, because that’s my take on what my audience would expect. A post on my professional blog about my weekend trip would seem irrelevant and out of place.

    Lastly, my online presence is a largely professional one, and I’m very conscious of that. What I share and how I conduct myself online reflects on my professional position and my company. I know that, and filter according to what I think balances that well. I’m sure I don’t always get it perfect, but I’m always aware of it.

    Anyway. Some interesting points you raise here, especially those about personal *details* vs. a personal *voice*. I think that’s a distinction that’s important to explore.

    • http://thesocialjoint.com Lucretia Pruitt

      Next time I ask you in advance, Jane ;)

      That said – you made me think. One of those things you do a lot more than you realize. I’ve been exploring my own boundaries of late and this post is one that has been sitting in the back of my mind crystallizing since you made me question my tossed-off words.

      I thought it was somewhat ironic that I went to your post today to read it was all about beliefs! You are always one step ahead lady! :)

      Thanks for your input & insights!

  • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

    Well actually, that post is from my new co-author and blog collaborator in crime, Tamsen McMahon. But she and I share a lot of philosophies and belief systems, and we question a lot of the same things. So I can say that her post resonates with me as well. ;)

    There’s no right answer to any of this. The communities that surround you will let you know their tolerances, and like minds will gather together most often. It’s just human nature.

    • http://thesocialjoint.com Lucretia Pruitt

      byline… remember to read the byline… forgot momentarily that your new endeavor is dual-authored :) d’oh!

  • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

    Well actually, that post is from my new co-author and blog collaborator in crime, Tamsen McMahon. But she and I share a lot of philosophies and belief systems, and we question a lot of the same things. So I can say that her post resonates with me as well. ;)

    There’s no right answer to any of this. The communities that surround you will let you know their tolerances, and like minds will gather together most often. It’s just human nature.

    • http://thesocialjoint.com Lucretia Pruitt

      byline… remember to read the byline… forgot momentarily that your new endeavor is dual-authored :) d’oh!

  • http://twitter.com/bluececrew Daniel Honigman

    I remember encountering this same dilemma when I was in the news business; but BECAUSE I was in the news business, I was hyper-aware of the risks of oversharing. (That, and my girlfriend would always yell at me for sharing too much! )

  • http://twitter.com/bluececrew Daniel Honigman

    I remember encountering this same dilemma when I was in the news business; but BECAUSE I was in the news business, I was hyper-aware of the risks of oversharing. (That, and my girlfriend would always yell at me for sharing too much! )

  • http://www.redheadranting.com/ Jen

    I share way too much or at least it seems that way. I do have boundaries but my blog is by no means a professional blog, it is a humor blog and I can’t tell the story without sharing something about myself.

    “There’s no right answer to any of this. The communities that surround you will let you know their tolerances, and like minds will gather together most often. It’s just human nature.”

    Jane stated it wisely. Know your audience and keep just a smidgen of distance.

  • http://www.redheadranting.com/ Jen

    I share way too much or at least it seems that way. I do have boundaries but my blog is by no means a professional blog, it is a humor blog and I can’t tell the story without sharing something about myself.

    “There’s no right answer to any of this. The communities that surround you will let you know their tolerances, and like minds will gather together most often. It’s just human nature.”

    Jane stated it wisely. Know your audience and keep just a smidgen of distance.

  • http://mommyknows.com kim @ mommyknows

    I probably do share too much for the average person. Then again, I never share deep dark secrets. I try to keep it real, with a wee bit of humor.

    I’d probably like to share more, but funnily enough it’s the people I know in ‘real life’ that keeps me from divulging it all, not the internets that I’ve never met.

  • http://mommyknows.com kim @ mommyknows

    I probably do share too much for the average person. Then again, I never share deep dark secrets. I try to keep it real, with a wee bit of humor.

    I’d probably like to share more, but funnily enough it’s the people I know in ‘real life’ that keeps me from divulging it all, not the internets that I’ve never met.

  • http://www.wyndsongwrites.com Christine

    I think I’m all over the map really. I share too much some times and not enough others. LOL! I agree with Kim @ MommyKnows, most of what I don’t share is because of my RL family and friends rather than the internet.

  • http://www.wyndsongwrites.com Christine

    I think I’m all over the map really. I share too much some times and not enough others. LOL! I agree with Kim @ MommyKnows, most of what I don’t share is because of my RL family and friends rather than the internet.

  • http://www.amymiyamoto.com Amy Miyamoto (@LotusAmy)

    This is a really interesting exploration of the details vs. voice issue. For me two things stand out in my mind. 1) Where you fall on the over share vs. under share continuum can have much to do with the larger purpose and nature of the blog itself. A humor blog vs. a business focused blog each suggest varied positions on that continuum. 2) The blogs I am most drawn to (reading more regularly) that may include more personal details are because they are crafters of impactful stories that usually have some kind of universal message, lesson, or question raised and the details of the story are what give it its humanity. (Kind of like this post Lucretia. ;) ) So the details create a power of connection rather than details for details sake.
    Thank you for bringing this topic into the conversation!

  • http://www.amymiyamoto.com Amy Miyamoto (@LotusAmy)

    This is a really interesting exploration of the details vs. voice issue. For me two things stand out in my mind. 1) Where you fall on the over share vs. under share continuum can have much to do with the larger purpose and nature of the blog itself. A humor blog vs. a business focused blog each suggest varied positions on that continuum. 2) The blogs I am most drawn to (reading more regularly) that may include more personal details are because they are crafters of impactful stories that usually have some kind of universal message, lesson, or question raised and the details of the story are what give it its humanity. (Kind of like this post Lucretia. ;) ) So the details create a power of connection rather than details for details sake.
    Thank you for bringing this topic into the conversation!