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How Much Should You Share Online?


The leak of the NSA’s Prism program has everyone thinking about online privacy. In addition to wondering whether your emails to your grandmother are being monitored by the government, you need to think about how much is safe to share on social media networks. The New York Times rule (“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want published on the front page of The New York Times.”) can apply to social media: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of The New York Times. But let’s say you mostly post pictures of your dog, your kids, and your family vacations. Should you have a separate Facebook profile for close friends and a business page for fans? Should you post pictures of your family on your blog? What about Twitter? Should you share personal information with your followers? Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules. But here are a few things to consider:


1. People Want to Connect with People, Not Bots

People want to know the real you, not just the professional you. However, that doesn’t mean you have to share photos of your children with them. You can give them glimpses into your life without giving out too much personal information. Remember the literary agent who was attacked by an author she had rejected? That happened because she was using FourSquare to let the world know where she was at any given time, which happened to be on her way to her daughter’s school that day. Be smart about what you share and avoid sharing your location.


2. The Professional Facebook Page Has Its Pros and Cons

The advantage of having separate personal and professional Facebook pages is that with a professional page you can have more than 5000 “likes.” You can also protect your privacy by keeping your friends and “fans” separate. You can friend only people you know and trust on your personal page, where you’ll post photos of your family and vacations, while keeping the posts to your professional page less personal. The disadvantage of this strategy is that you divide your audience. Not all of your friends will “like” your professional page, so when you have something important to share, you’ll have to double post it, which may annoy those friends who subscribe to both. (My feeling is that if it’s important (like a book release), go ahead and double post. And promote those posts to make sure everyone sees them. Your friends will understand. Also, profiles now have a “subscriber” option for people who want to share posts with more than 5000 fans without creating a professional page.) Another disadvantage of having separate pages is that people–whether they are fans or friends–want to hear about your personal life. I have one author friend who friends all her fans and shares photos of her children with them. That can create a deeper bond with your readers, who will cheer you on when your son graduates from high school. It also increases the number of comments, shares, and likes you’ll get on each post, by which your “social media influence” is measured. It’s not something I feel comfortable with myself, but for some people, it’s the right decision.


3. Share Something Personal, but not TOO Personal, on Twitter

When I see a Twitter account that is riddled with links, I don’t follow it. I want to follow a human, not a computer, so I look for personal posts sprinkled throughout a feed. But again, that doesn’t mean you have to divulge every personal detail. You can share how many words you wrote today, what book you’re reading, or what reading you’ll be attending this month, without getting overly personal.


4. Blog at Your Own Risk

Whether you choose to share personal posts on your blog is entirely up to you. Some really wonderful bloggers write and post pictures about their families and dogs and vacations. Others (like me) prefer to kept their private lives mostly private, including a personal post every now and then. This isn’t a matter of privacy so much as blog strategy. Your blog needs a focus, and you have to decide whether that focus is you or some other topic. For more info about blog strategy, I’ll be teaching Blogging for Beginners this August at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.


What about you? Do you prefer to keep your professional and private identities separate or integrated on social media networks? How much personal information do you feel comfortable sharing? Has the NSA leak changed the way you share personal information online? 



26 comments to How Much Should You Share Online?

  • Sierra Godfrey

    I've always been a fan of keeping a Facebook account for my close friends and family, and then a "fan" page for public interaction. It's all about my kids, really. I don't want people I don't trust having access to their pics. I'm also, not surprisingly, very selective about who I friend on Facebook with my private, personal account. As it stands, I have 4 fan pages for 4 separate interests, and several groups in addition to my personal account. I've always segmented, ad this just works well for me.

    I agree with you about the double posting — and shoot, if I'm promoting something, I'm pretty much promoting and posting everywhere anyway.

    I've always been a fairly paranoid sort and while I don't post pictures of my children online publicly, or mention their names, I do have to tell myself that really, I'm accessible — as everyone is, you've seen those sites that tell you everything for a fee. And that's okay– if I'm going to play in an online space and make online contacts, then I need to give a little. (A little!)

    • meghancward


      You have a lot of FB fan pages! I'm also very private about my kids. I do post pix and info about them on FB but only to friends. I have a separate FB profile for that. Those authors who share personal posts with their fans are braver than I am!

      • I don't believe that a public blog should contain any personal info about where you live who you're family is…etc. However, in this day and age anybody can pretty much piece this info together from various sources on the web.

  • annerallen

    Facebook gets to be more of a minefield all the time. The trouble with an author page is only a handful of people see it unless you pay extra. Plus you can't interact in FB groups with only a 'like" page. But if you have both, and use "networked blogs" then people report you for spam for the automatic blog notices that go up on both sites. I find FB useful mostly for posting book promos in the various book promo sites.

    I'm very wary of posting personal stuff. I'm one of those people who mostly Tweets links. They're to articles and posts on the publishing business, tech and writing craft, and I think people find value in them, since I bring the latest news. The personal stuff I post is related to writing, too.

    I hardly ever mention anything personal in my blog. Maybe that my mom is celebrating her 92nd birthday, but that's because I'm promoting her books. I'm not sure anybody cares about what I'm up to in my personal life. Maybe that's because my life is so boring. 🙂

    On the other hand, I don't delude myself about corporations having a huge amount of personal info on me. They know what size bra I wear and who I hang out with. They know if I'm shopping for a new refrigerator and what I like to eat for lunch. They claim it's so they can bring me useful advertising. And I suppose it does. But at what cost?

    • meghancward


      What are "networked blogs"? In order to have a professional page, you have to have a personal profile first, so you could always use that to interact in groups. And the same goes for your personal Facebook profile – you have to pay to get more than (an average of) 16% of your "friends" to see your posts. I'm sure FB is making a fortune on promoted posts. And I'm with you on posting personal stuff. I have a separate FB profile for that, but I don't most personal posts on Twitter (or very few.) But some people do and really build an audience based on sharing their lives with their followers. I'd rather keep mine quiet.

      • annerallen

        "Networked blogs" is a Facebook app that will automatically post notices of your new blogposts on your FB page(s). Seemed like a good idea, but somebody thinks putting a notice on both pages is "spamming" and keeps reporting me. So I'm not allowed to post on other pages–like in groups–because I'm a "spammer." Very annoying.

  • I've been thinking about this issue a lot, especially as more of the older generation gets online. Not just onto Facebook, but also Linked In — relatives, friends of the family. Who knows, Twitter next? It used to be that you could have different personas for different circles, but all of that is collapsing now.

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  • Kristan

    The NSA stuff hasn't impacted me at all. (And honestly I feel it directly impacts very few people. The media is blowing things out of proportion, trying to scare us. Doesn't mean we shouldn't be aware of what's happening — we definitely should — but people who think Obama is reading their emails to their lover? Get over yourself.)

    But the larger question of how much to share online is often in my mind, especially as I get older and friends and family (and eventually myself) have children, and I have to wonder about how to protect them. A couple years ago I decided to make a separate professional FB page so that I could keep my personal account for people I know in real life, and I think that's worked out fine. But like you said, there are pros and cons to that method, and everyone will have to work out what suits them best.

  • claraann

    it doesn't matter how much you share online. information is out there – whether you intentionally share it or not. true – online posting and emailing leaves a bigger footprint. but even average citizens can dig deep into people's pasts. tools like make it so easy for me to snoop. criminal records, background checks.

    your info is not safe. my info is not safe. no one's info is safe.

    the NSA is better at it. and those who post online are more exposed. but if you're alive and breathing – there's stuff out there for everyone to see – whether u posted it or not.

    • meghancward

      claraann, the link doesn't seem to work, but I'm familiar with sites like (I'm also thankful for them because they've helped me find long lost friends!) I once started getting prank calls on my cell phone. My brother pointed out that my cell phone number was all over the Internet, connected to my name. And we can find people's addresses, look at photos of their homes on Google Maps, look up the price of their homes on Zillow, and the list goes on. Still, bloggers need to think about how much personal information they want to share because *most* people don't go digging too deep to find info about you. They read/see what you share.

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