Personal Opinions And Social Media

Monday, October 22, 2012
You know what they say about fools rushing in, right? But I still decided I’d tread into the subject of social media and sharing opinions.

My writer friends on the web range from freelancers to essayists to novelists to poets. I love that they share advice, contests, quotes, articles, books and websites. But blasting personal opinions on every aspect of our culture? Not so much.

It’s not that I have a problem with opinions unlike my own. I may not always agree with your opinion, but I’ll defend your right to share it.

But an opinion once shared can’t be unshared. If I read a vitriolic attack, snide comment, or hurtful diatribe, I can’t unread it. The words are stuck in my head. And words have a power all their own, don’t they?

Say you’re a writer using social media for promotion, and to build your audience. You may have a ton of “friends” who find you through your work. You may constantly add people to your network, people who love what you’ve written, who really enjoy being a part of your professional world. After all, it’s exciting to know a writer whose byline is in a favorite magazine, or get tips from an author whose books you’ve seen in the library.

Except… these are “friends” of the writer you. They don’t really know you, the person. Until they begin to read a plethora of personal opinions. Then they begin to see what makes you, the writer, tick. How you feel about music, family, religion, politics, or pudding. And though a “friend” might not get too emotional about whether you like bread pudding served warm rather than cold, that same “friend” may get very emotional when you head into more contentious topics. Topics that can start out as an objective statement and end up in objectionable name-calling.

Now, it’s quite possible that a writer’s personal opinions will draw like-minded people in, build stronger relationships. But it’s also possible that a writer will alienate another faction of his or her audience with the very same opinion. And that’s a factor that could affect a writer’s bottom line in the market place.

So I suppose my bottom line is that I think it’s smart for writers to keep it professional out there in the wide world of the web. And honestly, I don’t think people mind hearing about Scruffy’s occasional hijinks or Junior’s latest brilliant award. It’s nice to get a peek at the human side of you, the writer.

But I’d save the strong personal and cultural opinions for the real friends, the ones who know and love you. Or consider adopting two personas, the public, professional writer you and the private, opinionated personal you.

Seems like good business to me. But then again, that’s my personal opinion. I’d really love to hear yours.

Image courtesy of smarnad/


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--I am the only human left on this planet who is NOT on Facebook. The pathetic thing is I tried at one time, thought I got on, but apparently not.

The idea of keeping it "businesslike" makes sense. I hear too much about the inane things people post, so keeping it non-personal would--for me--solve that problem.

Perhaps you've nudged me closer to that gaping maw called Facebook? (Others have tried, but failed...)

Thanks, Cathy, for giving me more food for thought.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm not on Facebook either, Sioux - no worries! :)

I agree everyone is entitled to their opinions and I think there's a time and a place and an audience for sharing them - I'm not going to talk politics on my writing/reading blog. (Heck, I don't talk politics in the "real" world!) :)

Anonymous said...

I recently removed a couple blogs from my blog list for this very reason. As you stated, it's fine to have opinions, but if your blog is a part of your platform, it may not be the wisest option. Like it or not platforms are marketing tools and are part of selling yourself.

Ally (Allena Tapia) said...

An exception would be writers who are positioning themselves for work specifically in the political/cultural/social commentary arena- or who are already firmly ensconced in it.

Debra Mayhew said...

This is a very timely post for me. I've been seriously considering getting off facebook because, quite frankly, the more I'm on it, the less I like people. I don't think that's quite the way it's supposed to work. :) Your advice is a good compromise, so I'll stick around for a while because every once in a while I see I new picture of my niece or find a link to a great blog and that makes it all worth while.

Great post, Cathy!

Stephanie Carroll said...

When I started my blog for platform purposes, a lot of things I read encouraged something opinionated and controversial, but that's just not me and to me that seems like something that could scare off a lot of potential readers. Still, there are blogs out there like that which work. It's the forum for such opinions.

But, I'm always amazed what I see posted on Facebook, especially when people post things they don't even talk about in public, like politics and religion. Suddenly on Facebook it's ok to publicly call out your neighbor for doing something even though you won't go next door and say something directly to them.

I think people not only can lose business that way, but friends as well.

Love this blog!

Stephanie Carroll

Angela Mackintosh said...

I'm so glad I'm not alone in my feelings about Facebook! LOL I have the worst time trying to separate my personal and business self. After using it for a little while, I honestly gave up. It felt like too much of a parade and I don't want to be a parade float. But we have a GREAT article written by Darcy Pattison in the next issue of WOW! about using Facebook as a writer. It's great for beginners because it walks you through all the basics. Sioux & Madeline, it just may help you out!

Cathy, I agree with you about people sharing their strong opinions. It doesn't bother me if I know them really, really well. Like my dad bombarding me with right wing propaganda on a daily basis through his email list I can't remove myself from! LOL I can just ignore them and say, Oh that's just the way they are. But I think as a writer/author we need to be very careful about using our public platform for personal opinions. We suddenly have a responsibility to our audience--even if it's on Facebook! It may feel like a casual platform, but it sticks around forever.

Linda O'Connell said...

I am cautious about what I write on my blog and wouldn't dare post what some people do on FB. An air of professionalism is absolutely what a writer needs to adhere to.

Marcia Peterson said...

Great post, Cathy! And Angela, I agree with much of what you said, and had to laugh too because I have the same kind of dad!

Mel Kinnel (@TizMellyMel) said...

I really have been contemplating setting up a "writer" only Twitter account because the one I have now was started just as a personal outlet. Eventually, I started following a lot of the writer community and vice versa. My Facebook has always been personal so I recently started a Facebook fan page just for promotion of my writing.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Thanks so much for weighing in, y'all!

I'm looking forward to Darcy's article next month. I'm happy with the balance I've achieved, but it seems like social media balance is a writer gray issue that could use a little light!

LuAnn Schindler said...

So, Cath, are you saying that writers shouldn't challenge readers? Make them approach a topic from a different angle? Promote critical thought? :)

I'm torn. I'm social network friends with several authors whose work I've read or I have interviewed them for WOW! articles. Sure, they sometimes go off on a diatribe about something controversial, but as a reader/social media user, I have options. I can choose to read their comments and get sucked into a debate; I can read their comments, sit back, and form my own opinion; I can choose not to read the rant.

Here's where the dilemma begins. In the next post, they offer insight about some art exhibit they just went to and how it sparked a poem/story/article, or describe something that I would not see often here in my neck of the woods (like today, a writer mentioned walking along a NYC street and coming upon a suicide scene moments after it happened and told how it made her feel), or when another author comments about her constant need for coffee. I like seeing the human side. It gives me a glimpse into what they write, their style, and many times, the characters they placed on the page.

I've been lucky to work with some talented comedians the last five years, and I follow their blogs and social media accounts. Most are always controversial. But, they also draw a lot of comments from followers. One of the top comics I've worked with says smart comedy makes the audience think. It's the same with writers: smart writing makes the audience think. It doesn't mean everyone has to always agree with a particular POV.

I get the whole professionalism argument, but the beauty of the first amendment means they can say what they what. It also means the audience can choose when or what to tune out.

Margo Dill said...

The only time I think it actually works for authors are authors that are NY TIMES bestselling authors (for example--popular, well-known)--really, they can share their opinion, and they really won't lose anyone or it won't matter because they have SO many. Actually, like celebrities, most people want to know what these authors have to say. One author I can think of that this works for her is YA author Ellen Hopkins. Of course, I also happen to believe and agree with most of what she says. :)

T.K. Marnell said...

I deleted my Facebook account more than a year ago, and I only use Twitter to advertise new blog posts.

However, I don't scrub what I blog about. I used to, but then I realized that hiding the raw, potentially offensive parts of myself is really silly if I'm going to be a writer. My stories are 200+ page expressions of my opinions on the world as it is and as it should be. I write about potentially offensive things. I don't have a problem thinking of people reading and picking apart my books, so why should I be afraid of putting my honest opinions on my blog? If people don't like me when I'm honest on the Internet, they certainly won't like my novels.

Of course I think everyone should treat each other decently. Name-calling and mud-slinging is not being "honest"; it's just childish. People can disagree and still be friends, can't they? We don't have to be timid--we just need to be respectful.

Angela Mackintosh said...

LuAnn, I follow a lot of comedians too, and love that what they say is controversial and in your face--that's what makes it funny! They also can get away with it because it's part of their job.

When I hear a fellow writer bashing a political candidate that I'm for or getting all church lady about a subject, it just turns me off. I'm all for personal opinions, except for politics and religion, or if those opinions are hurtful. Like you said, smart writing makes an audience think, but smart writing also means considering what your statement will do before you put it out there.

We run into this problem on a monthly basis when editing WOW articles. Since we have so many different people contributing there are many strong opinions, and sometimes those work themselves into freelancer's articles. As a publisher, I feel it's important to take responsibility for what we put out there. Many of the things that our readers will find offensive we either remove completely or ask for a rewrite. For example, one writer was bashing web designers who use html and basically saying that they will rip you off. She personally had this experience with them, but it didn't vouch for the industry as a whole and she had no evidence (except her one experience) to support it. It was personal opinion, not fact. It would have offended many web designers, and WOW readers who didn't know any better would be wary of them. So that section was cut much to her chagrin. After she looked at it closer, she realized that it wasn't necessary to the piece and was a horror story better served for something else.

We had one author infer in her piece that unpublished writers didn't work as hard as those that found a home for their work. While that was her personal opinion, and she probably didn't mean it the way it sounded, we rewrote it because we knew it would offend those of us who haven't found a publisher yet. Is it extremely hurtful? No. But there are writers who work for years on end improving their craft and shopping their work, but still haven't found a publisher due to the industry or market. It doesn't mean they are lazy.

I think we have a responsibility to our audience even in social media. The whole they can tune out thing is kind of a cop out. You can be honest without using (as Cathy said) a "vitriolic attack, snide comment, or hurtful diatribe." Writers that are doing that aren't thinking before they publish.

LuAnn Schindler said...

I get turned off when one of my FRIEND friends starts spouting opinions about politics and religion. It's been especially bad this political season. It's a turnoff. And from what I've seen, many people who choose to spout off on these topics lack facts on said topics or cite one-sided sources. But, they are entitled to their opinion.

One of my columns that received the most comments was about a decision by the Nebraska Board of Education requiring schools to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I shared my opinion and backed it up with facts and classroom experience. Most readers agreed, but some had drastically different opinions...and weren't afraid to voice them. Didn't change my opinion of those readers - many of whom I am friends with off the published page, and many who are writers and editors. I guess after working in Journalism, I'm accustomed to reading or hearing other people's opinions. Maybe I've developed my own filtering system. LOL

I don't think tuning it out is a cop out, though. I follow several writers on Twitter because they give out gems of advice; yet, when they bash the POTUS or another candidate for office, I elect to tune it out. Does it change my opinion? I sometimes shake my head and wonder how they arrived at such a decision, but in most cases, I'm not looking for their opinion on politics or religion. I have my own. I am looking for knowledge about writing, and I find it.

Sarah Butland said...

I mostly agree but sometimes Facebook demands a friendship be accepted before connecting in the primary way necessary. Unfortunately when this happens it can be difficult to keep up with deleting the friendships once the author page is pushed.

I guess this would reiterate the importance of thinking and connecting outside the Facebook as our campaign and life shouldn't be between the covers of a business.

Personally I am very opinionated and like to share it with people only for the reason of discussing, growing and changing my opinion. Sometimes I have to learn to bite my tongue or still my fingers, other times I let loose.

And in my opinion, I always enjoy reading your blog so have nominated you for a blog award. Just visit my site at for instructions.

Thanks for writing, sharing and reading,

Sarah Butland author of Arm Farm, Brain Tales - Volume One and Sending You Sammy

Anonymous said...

This is such common sense, and yet - it still needs to be said. I read a comment on someone else's blog post and was horrified at how mean-spirited and nasty it was. It made me wonder why the blogger didn't delete the comment, but then, I was almost glad she kept it so that we could steer away from someone so rude.

The web is a wonderful way to connect. It seems like common sense to want to put your best foot forward, but I guess some people just don't get it, do they?

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