Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Line Between Being Yourself and Being Professional

by R.C. Lewis

There's no doubt social media has changed the world in a number of ways. A particular difference that's struck me lately is the blur between the personal and the professional.

If you're on Twitter, you probably follow some industry professionals. Sprinkled amongst the #pubtip and #askagent info, you'll see tweets about this agent's cat, that agent's kids, and everybody's shoes. In some ways, it's nice to see that personal side. It makes the pros more real, and when querying agents, those little things can give us some clues about whether they're someone we'd want to work with.

Then again, I know I've unfollowed a few who went too heavy on the non-business side, particularly when those personal posts consist largely of rants and general negativity.

We can learn from this as writers. Should we keep our tweets (and other social media content) to all business, all the time? No way. There are approximately a gazillion-and-one of us out there. If we only talk writing, we'll likely blend into the background noise.

Personality is a good thing. It helps us stand out, create an impression, be memorable. Industry pros and readers alike can get to know us as people.

Where's the line between enough personality and too much? There may not be a hard-and-fast rule, but maybe we can come up with some general guidelines.

Sharing something quirky that happened to you today—Good Idea.

Sharing anything that prompts a "TMI" reaction—Bad Idea. (Mindy McGinnis manages to bend this one occasionally, but she's a professional. Don't try this at home.)

Discussing personal opinions—Good Idea ... within reason.

Discussing why every published book in your genre is terrible—BAD IDEA!

You can see I didn't get very far before I stumbled into the fuzzy gray area.

Maybe there is one rule we could follow, or at least a question we can ask ourselves. If an industry professional looked at our Twitter stream, what impression would they walk away with? Is it an impression that (1) reflects who we are, and (2) could lead them to want to work with us?

What falls on your own Do/Don't-Do list for social media? How do you show some personality and stand out without becoming unprofessional?

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her (hopefully behaving herself) at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).


Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice RC! I've definitely unfollowed some folks who are Me! Me! Me! all the time, and others who go into rants. I try to never say anything online I wouldn't want my kids or my students reading :)

RSMellette said...

More and more this advice applies to the general public as well. Most employment websites have places to enter your Twitter, FaceBook and Linked In addresses.

Makes one wonder, where can we go to let our hair down and have fun?

Misha Gericke said...

So true. There's very little I'm not willing to write about, but I try to approach it in a way that stays readable/professionally acceptable.

I never name names unless it's for a good thing. And I try not to join in free-for-alls against specific people except within some very specific circumstances. And even then, I try not to rant.

Of course, some rants slip through, because I'm human.


Stephsco said...

I think twitter has a certain anonymity that facebook doesn't have; you can have a fake name and pic on your twitter -- I suppose you can on facebook too but it's more often linked with a person and lots of pictures -- and that anonymous facade can make us think we can get away with more. It doesn't have to be cruelly intentional, but saying a smarmy remark about someone, there's a safety to twitter that the person you dissed won't see it. Maybe if you snark on a Kardashian she won't ever see it, but snark on an author or a personal dig on a reviewer or an agent, that gets around.

I think the gossip rule applies. Gossip is fun but it gets us in trouble. If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't say it in social media. If you are brave enough to say snarky things to someone's face, realize it still may be unprofessional to "tell it like it is" everywhere on social media.

E.B. Black said...

I used to be scared to write anything personal, but realized after awhile that no one could relate to me because I was talking like a robot. Now, I try to stick by the rule to always end on a positive note or at least a humble one. If you're ranting, don't let bitterness spill into the post. And really think about what you're ranting about and if you want people that disagree with you to be turned away. For instance, I'll never discuss what I think about any President because I honestly don't care what my readers believe about the President and don't want only certain people with certain political beliefs following me. I'd rather reach a larger variety. At the same time, though, I make it obvious that I support gay rights. Why? Because I've come up with gay characters in my books who are eventually going to make it to at least one of my stories, so maybe it's not such a good idea for people who hate anything LGBT related to be reading what I write.