Every blogger, whether they've been blogging for a few days or multiple years, has concerns about remaining authentic and expressing their true voice through their posts. As a relatively new blogger I am especially concerned with establishing boundaries regarding how much personal information to share, and how far I should go, in order to engage my readers while being authentic. I suppose that's why I was so excited to attend the Authenticity Panel during the Texas Style Council Conference this weekend in Austin.
Moderated by Kristina of Pretty Shiny Sparkly, the panel featured three bloggers whom I have always admired for their ability to be consistently authenticity through their blogs: Indiana of Adored Austin, Jen of Jen Loves Kev, and James of Bleubird Vintage. Discussion began with comments on why authenticity is so valuable when blogging. Jen stated that authenticity makes you approachable and real. Humor, self-deprecation, humility, honesty, and openness engage readers and make then genuinely interested and loyal towards your blog.
How does one express authenticity when blogging? According to Indiana, the best techniques are those relating to how you write your posts. She strongly suggested that we write as we speak. While an impressive vocabulary will get you far in the business world, blog readers are much more likely to want to know you if you write spontaneously and off-the-cuff. Indiana recommended we write as if we're speaking to a friend, looking at your posts as a shared conversation between you and your readers. Writing about a subject you're well-familiar with and interested in also keeps your posts vibrant and authentic.
One concern most bloggers have is determining boundaries when sharing personal information. While we all want our readers to get a glimpse into who we are beyond outfit photos, it can be challenging to determine just how much to share. Indiana strongly suggested bloggers avoid airing dirty laundry. This includes details regarding fights between you and your friends or husband, using inappropriate language, and sharing personal information such as your phone number and home address. In addition, when her blog was just beginning, Indiana avoided using real names in her posts in order to protect the identity of friends and acquaintances.
However, James believes that sharing personal information is a useful tool for engaging readers. For example, she shared her birth story on her blog, and regularly features photographs of her adorable baby girl and details regarding her growth and development. James believes that drawing a blog audience can be much more effectively accomplished through the inclusion of personal photos and day-in-the-life conversation than simply through outfit pics and brief discussion regarding what she wears.
The panelists all agreed that it is ultimately up to the blog author to determine what to share and what their comfort level is regarding post content. Jen recommended that bloggers be safe regarding personal information, but not overly concerned. It's far more important to share your life story and develop a sense of community by using your authentic voice, than be stifled with anxiety about over-sharing. For example, Indiana's blog includes a memorial video of her dog, which recently passed away, and she was comforted by the overwhelming outpouring of support from her blog readers.
The panelists also cautioned against feeling the need to share everything in order to prove your authenticity. Having a focus on one or two elements, and expounding on them, will make your blog more communicable. Indiana mentioned that readers will be more eager to dialogue with you if you have a clearly defined focus.
The panelists agreed that sharing your struggles also ensures the authenticity of your blog. Readers are less likely to remain loyal and engaged if they feel the blog author is more concerned with crafting an image of perfection than remaining real. As blogging becomes increasingly popular as a social media tool, it's crucial for authors to be unique in order to differentiate themselves from one another. Readers love discovering what makes you who you are, and that includes details regarding personal struggles in addition to positive experiences. In addition, asking your readers questions and requesting their input is another way to ensure authenticity in blog posts.
The panelists addressed the fact that there are downsides to expressing authenticity in blogging. James mentioned that she has received judgment from readers regarding her behavior a a new mom. Jen Lula mentioned that occasionally readers feel they have the right to give their opinions, and negatively judge you for what you write. Many of us have received nasty or even blatantly hostile comments on our blogs. It's an unfortunate side affect of being authentic. The panelists agreed that it's crucial for bloggers to develop a thick skin in regards to negative comments. Fortunately, the positive rewards for blogging far outweigh the negatives.
Most of the panelists agreed that negative comments can often lead to positive discussion. Respectfully responding to these comments often leads to constructive dialogue. While the panelists strongly recommended blog authors approve all comments before posting them, Indiana mentioned that she occasionally leaves negative comments in her blog as an opportunity to respond to and engage her readers.
The authenticity panel helped me understand why it's crucial for bloggers to remain true to their own voice. Being unique, establishing boundaries, staying true to my individuality, and including personal struggles are what differentiates my blog from others. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the Texas Style Council Conference and learned so much from all the speakers, including Kristina, Jen, Indiana and James.
If you would like to learn more about the panels at the Texas Style Council Conference in a real-time format, please look for my #TxSCC twitter feed at @dresscourage.