When I was younger I pictured this over romanticized version of being a writer. In my head I would live a quiet type of fame, where people knew who I was from my iconic writing (I had fashioned myself as a more upbeat Sylvia Plath; Deep, soul searching concepts without the downer of actually hating my life) but largely left me alone to enjoy my life privately. People knew who Stephen King was, but the paparazzi weren’t camped outside his Hollywood mansion. Writers got to be known without being famous, and that appealed to me.
As I grew older, I realized that fame wasn’t what I sought so much as respect and recognition for work. The star studded lifestyle of J. K. Rowling and its corresponding troubles appealed to me none whatsoever. I felt, and still feel, that as a writer it is your job to present the facts of what you’re talking about as opposed to opinion or reflection of persona. “You” shouldn’t really weigh in unless you’re specifically writing a biased article, and your persona shouldn’t be a factor when people are reading your work.
So, this is where I have troubles with Social Media. In 2015 one of the best ways to build a professional reputation for yourself is to broadcast your work over social media channels, drawing the attention of people who may be interested in paying you money. In a world now devoid of stuffy conference ‘networking’ sessions we must maximize every chance to make an impression, even before a physical opportunity presents itself.
The downside to having those platforms for promotion is that you sacrifice the ability to tailor what an audience views, and with it a portion of your privacy. I’m not picky with the content I write about, and frequently welcome a challenge. That open mindedness has landed me some cool jobs, from a staff writer of a sex blog to covering music conferences day to day, from writing copy for renovation companies to touring with musicians. 70% of the content I write is safe for audiences of all ages, and the remainder sure isn’t.
Does NSFW content scandalize me? Hah, No. I’ve written about things that were so shocking my own hair got curlier (dammit). But is it a big deal to other people? Yes. The best way to avoid pigeon holing yourself is to follow a few simple steps. Feel free to adapt and decline as you please.
- Limit your online personal life. If you have multiple social media accounts, pick which ones to use professionally and which to use personally. Yes, the lines can blur sometimes with certain people and organizations, but this provides the best blueprints for keeping work-life and personal life separate. If you find Twitter reaches more potential professional contacts, maximize your reach that way and keep friend fights and break up quotes to Facebook. (Then, go back and delete the friend fights and break up quotes because you aren’t 17 anymore). By keeping both sides of your life separate, you minimize the chances of looking unprofessional in any manner when those pictures of you doing the keg stand in a tutu finally surface.
- Try to remain as neutral as possible. Unless your job is specifically one sided (think party specific political reporting) don’t share your opinion. You may be limiting yourself professionally when the other side looks to hire someone with your qualifications. It’s also a great way to avoid getting in pointless arguments with people over the internet. I know we all love a good back and forth over an online forum; riding in on our high horses, ready to tell the opposing side it has a stupid face and their mothers dress them funny. But resist the urge to feed the trolls by avoiding the situation altogether. You never know where your next contract might come from, and it could be a lot of money from someone you’ve just told off.
- Do your research. Nothing lowers your credibility than being wrong about something publicly. Find out the corresponding hashtags, look into legitimate sources for background info and if you don’t know something, look into it. This applies for everything, whether it be writing an article on a protest or giving instruction on stripping down furniture. Don’t act like you know something if you don’t actually because it is guaranteed to be pointed out by someone who does. On the flip side, people may look to you for information. By being accurate, you’re working your online presence like retail: giving the customers a reason to return.
- Consider a pseudonym. Don’t try and deny it, you’ve always wanted to use that Ida Fukder alias. Chet Manly. Ben D. R. Rodriquez. Hell, you could be Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock if your heart desires. By being someone else, you can write about whatever you want without having to worry about it being immediately associated with you. I’m not recommending you act ashamed of your work, because it can be shown to like-minded parties for professional purpose just the same as your regular stuff. Writing for a sex blog has landed me work with other delightfully pervacious individuals, but it’s not widely accessible content. The open minded hipster couple who hire you to rewrite their website content don’t care, but for the privately religious clothing designer it could be the deciding factor between you and another candidate.
A good rule of thumb is to consider your parent or grandparents reaction to lascivious content. My mother is as unshakable as a cement column driven into the ground by Thor himself, so I don’t worry too much about her reacting negatively. Other people’s families are not as easy going, and if what you put on social media could embarrass you in their eyes, you may want to consider going the alias route.
Consider the above guidelines the next time you put something on social media, work related or otherwise. Is it going to embarrass you later? Limit or increase your options with work? Are you typing with a cool head and a full stomach? These things matter when making decisions about personal web content.
Jean is an Ottawa based freelancer and Toronto native, the latter of which she keeps under wraps during the hockey season. Her work has been featured on cultural blogs like Apt613, Ottawa Showbox and Herd Magazine, in addition to providing content for local small businesses like Jet Black Salon and UpRise Fit. When she isn’t writing, she occasionally moonlights as a masked superhero. Follow her as she fights crime and writes stories; Twitter as @reddhairing or on her website writingbyjean.ca.