The Dividing Line: Personal Blogging vs. Personal Branding

blogging_success_by_alexmathers

Blogging. Why do people blog? Why does anyone feel compelled to write to an audience of (mostly) people they don’t know? The topic of blogging for personal use versus blogging for personal branding has been floating around the web recently. But is there a difference? And can you incorporate the two into one happy marriage? I say yes to both – and here’s my two cents:

PERSONAL BLOGGING

Historically, blogging was a much more personal thing – at least the way I used to see it. Most of us remember the days of Xanga – a lovely blogging tool that was immensely popular several years ago.  People would write about their daily lives - ‘today I met a girl, she was awesome, I went to three parties this weekend and had so much fun, my dog died and I’m really sad’- keeping an online journal of sorts. Many people still do this, and these people fall into the category of ‘Personal bloggers’ - which also happens to fall into the category of ‘I’m not interested’ - and maybe that’s perfectly fine for folks who write for themselves. Most likely, they’re not trying to be compelling, they’re not trying to increase their audience or fan base – they’re using modern technology to keep a log of daily events. Perfectly fine, and they have their own place in the grand scheme of things.

PERSONAL BRANDING

Most of us, though – feel compelled to contribute. We strive to be ‘experts’ on topics and ideas we are passionate about. For me, personally – I’m interested in a million different things. The most rewarding aspect of blogging is the discussion it can inspire – it’s continually educating myself on things I’m interested in. It’s getting an entirely new perspective on something I thought I knew everything about. It’s being put in my place when it’s called for – and it’s being able to stand up for the things I believe in.

Which brings us to bloggers who write to ‘brand themselves’. These folks are writing for the community; writing with an audience in mind. Networking is the name of the game, focus is on connecting with people they don’t know and providing new insight on relevant topics and ideas that people are interested in. Initially, most (if not all) of us start out as ‘personal’ bloggers – but one day something clicks and we realize that we can transform our own thoughts and experiences into information that is relevant and interesting to an audience. We start mixing the two – and a beautiful relationship is forged.

PUTTING THE TWO TOGETHER

It’s not black and white, there are shades of gray here. Is there a defining line between personal blogging and personal branding? Of course, but the two also (should) go hand in hand. The most compelling and interesting bloggers are able to take a topic, add in their own personal perspective, and spin it in a way that connects to the audience and encourages discussion.

Write to engage your audience, write to establish connections and form relationships with your readers, but don’t lose track of who you are. Be yourself. Your personality is what makes your writing and perspective interesting, exciting, and above all, unique. Anyone can write about what they did yesterday – but it takes some thought to inspire discussion. Challenge yourself in your own writing, write about things you aren’t as knowledgeable about, encourage conversation, take in adversity and disagreement. Odds are, you’ll probably learn something – which is necessary in the growth and development of a writer.

When you write for yourself, your mom is the audience. Write for the community, and massive numbers will follow. What do you think? Is there a clear divide? Where do you see yourself?

For more on this topic – check out Jun Loayza’s awesome video on the subject, and blog posts by Nisha Chittal and Akhila Kolisetty


45 Responses
  • Jamie Reply

    I think it would be crazy to believe that no one wants people to read their writing. If they are blogging, instead of putting something in a personal journal, then they want an audience. If they are showing up for the party, they want to be social. It's just that a lot of people don't know how to be social. Sure, personal bloggers may not want a vast audience, but they want people to read it. Even if they won't admit it, they do. That's my two cents. =)

    • Matt Reply

      Jun. Do you think blogs are ever created solely as a source of revenue? Or do you think that most blogs evolve into that? For example, I would love to eventually make a little money through my writing, because it IS a huge time-investment. I don’t think the blog itself would be a revenue source, but it could and is (in many other cases) a valuable supplement for entrepreneurs. A blog is one of the best ways to connect with your (potential) consumer audience. And that connection can, in turn, increase the perceived value of the product or service you’re trying to market. In that case, I don’t think authenticity is lost. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on using blogging as a tool to drive business.

  • Jamie Reply

    I think it would be crazy to believe that no one wants people to read their writing. If they are blogging, instead of putting something in a personal journal, then they want an audience. If they are showing up for the party, they want to be social. It's just that a lot of people don't know how to be social.

    Sure, personal bloggers may not want a vast audience, but they want people to read it. Even if they won't admit it, they do.

    That's my two cents. =)

    • Matt Reply

      Jun. Do you think blogs are ever created solely as a source of revenue? Or do you think that most blogs evolve into that? For example, I would love to eventually make a little money through my writing, because it IS a huge time-investment. I don’t think the blog itself would be a revenue source, but it could and is (in many other cases) a valuable supplement for entrepreneurs. A blog is one of the best ways to connect with your (potential) consumer audience. And that connection can, in turn, increase the perceived value of the product or service you’re trying to market. In that case, I don’t think authenticity is lost. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on using blogging as a tool to drive business.

  • Matthew Reply

    I hear what you are saying – but I think there are those people who really don't mind if they have an audience. To some, an online blog IS a personal journal – yes, most of them are writing with SOME (even if it's a very small) audience in mind, but I believe there are still those who don't crave the attention, who could care less if they are the only person reading it. Maybe it’s for therapy; maybe it’s just to organize and gather their daily thoughts. I know that I used to write, just to write – about nothing in particular. In my embryonic blogging stages, I didn't really care who, if anyone, was reading or cared about what I had to say.But then I realized that I was getting bored with my OWN writing, so I adapted, I changed, I evolved my own writing into something that would (hopefully) educate, inspire, or otherwise entertain an audience. Writing for yourself is great and all, but writing for the community – to inspire interactivity and discussion – is MUCH more rewarding (IMHO). I think that's what most bloggers go through – that 'Ah-ha!' moment when you realize the impact and influence you can have as an blogger – some people's 'Ah-ha' is a little bigger than others, but I think we all start in the 'personal' state of mind and then most of us transition to the 'personal branding' stage.Where did you begin? Where do you draw your 'blogging roots' from?

  • Matthew Reply

    I hear what you are saying – but I think there are those people who really don't mind if they have an audience. To some, an online blog IS a personal journal – yes, most of them are writing with SOME (even if it's a very small) audience in mind, but I believe there are still those who don't crave the attention, who could care less if they are the only person reading it. Maybe it’s for therapy; maybe it’s just to organize and gather their daily thoughts. I know that I used to write, just to write – about nothing in particular. In my embryonic blogging stages, I didn't really care who, if anyone, was reading or cared about what I had to say.

    But then I realized that I was getting bored with my OWN writing, so I adapted, I changed, I evolved my own writing into something that would (hopefully) educate, inspire, or otherwise entertain an audience. Writing for yourself is great and all, but writing for the community – to inspire interactivity and discussion – is MUCH more rewarding (IMHO). I think that's what most bloggers go through – that 'Ah-ha!' moment when you realize the impact and influence you can have as an blogger – some people's 'Ah-ha' is a little bigger than others, but I think we all start in the 'personal' state of mind and then most of us transition to the 'personal branding' stage.

    Where did you begin? Where do you draw your 'blogging roots' from?

  • SusanMazza Reply

    Well said. I like your suggestion that blogging for personal branding is sourced by “feeling compelled to contribute”. It is not about the content per se, but rather about the intention. Change the context and how you present the content will be completely different. If your intention is to contribute, connect and learn it won't be hard to be the real you no matter what you are writing about.

  • SusanMazza Reply

    Well said. I like your suggestion that blogging for personal branding is sourced by “feeling compelled to contribute”. It is not about the content per se, but rather about the intention. Change the context and how you present the content will be completely different. If your intention is to contribute, connect and learn it won't be hard to be the real you no matter what you are writing about.

  • Grace Boyle Reply

    @Matthew I think that the divide can easily be crossed and I agree with what you have said. I know a lot of successful bloggers that talk about their personal lives, but spin it to a sense that gives feedback, call-to-action or strikes a dialogue with their readers. This happens with mommy bloggers (other mommy's want to hear about the challenges and fun of everyday parenting life) and even Generation Y bloggers who write about a personal working experience in their field, but then relate it to their peers. I could go on with examples… Personally, with my blog it started just for my family as I made the move to Boulder and started a new job, post-college. Seriously–I was posting YouTube videos of my new house, talking about the hike I went on, etc. Then I realized how much I actually had to say and the hundreds of bloggers I was connecting with daily, at Lijit (my job). It all unfolded from there and I'm learning to bridge the gap between personal life stories to professional ones that aids in my personal branding. I think it has been working not only in a viral sense, but also gives my voice some sort of reason and also offers feedback from readers. Thanks for this post, it's such a relevant topic.

    • Matt Reply

      Trace – you’re right. There is a clear distinction between the old way things were done and Web 2.0, which really focuses on interactivity, discussion, and active engagement. What’s the next step? Is there room for blogging to continue its evolutionary process? Or have we reached the summit? Where do we go from here?

  • Grace Boyle Reply

    @Matthew I think that the divide can easily be crossed and I agree with what you have said. I know a lot of successful bloggers that talk about their personal lives, but spin it to a sense that gives feedback, call-to-action or strikes a dialogue with their readers. This happens with mommy bloggers (other mommy's want to hear about the challenges and fun of everyday parenting life) and even Generation Y bloggers who write about a personal working experience in their field, but then relate it to their peers. I could go on with examples…

    Personally, with my blog it started just for my family as I made the move to Boulder and started a new job, post-college. Seriously–I was posting YouTube videos of my new house, talking about the hike I went on, etc. Then I realized how much I actually had to say and the hundreds of bloggers I was connecting with daily, at Lijit (my job). It all unfolded from there and I'm learning to bridge the gap between personal life stories to professional ones that aids in my personal branding. I think it has been working not only in a viral sense, but also gives my voice some sort of reason and also offers feedback from readers. Thanks for this post, it's such a relevant topic.

    • Matt Reply

      Trace – you’re right. There is a clear distinction between the old way things were done and Web 2.0, which really focuses on interactivity, discussion, and active engagement. What’s the next step? Is there room for blogging to continue its evolutionary process? Or have we reached the summit? Where do we go from here?

  • Kim with a K Reply

    This is a great post and a very intense subject. There are so many areas of gray involved. Some of us started out blogging for our own personal enjoyment and realized that it was a pathway to an identity. One more complication is how you transition from one to the other.

    • Matt Reply

      I think focusing a blog on one subject (in most cases) stifles the creative thought process because your constantly questioning what you can and can not write about. Obviously there are going to some exceptions here – and some ‘themed’ blogs do very well. But even a blog focusing specifically on the environment (for example) needs passion and personality to engage the readers. There still needs to be something there for the audience to grasp and walk away with. I challenge myself to provide some form of takeaway with every post I write – it makes people remember you and (hopefully) encourages repeat visits.

  • Kim with a K Reply

    This is a great post and a very intense subject. There are so many areas of gray involved. Some of us started out blogging for our own personal enjoyment and realized that it was a pathway to an identity. One more complication is how you transition from one to the other.

    • Matt Reply

      I think focusing a blog on one subject (in most cases) stifles the creative thought process because your constantly questioning what you can and can not write about. Obviously there are going to some exceptions here – and some ‘themed’ blogs do very well. But even a blog focusing specifically on the environment (for example) needs passion and personality to engage the readers. There still needs to be something there for the audience to grasp and walk away with. I challenge myself to provide some form of takeaway with every post I write – it makes people remember you and (hopefully) encourages repeat visits.

  • danny. Reply

    I have two blogs and one is definitely in the personal branding category. The other, however, is neither. I share a beer blog with a couple other friends and I think we fall into a third category which I would call enthusiast press. We offer opinions and news relevant (at least loosely) to one topic in particular. I suppose it could be taken as personal branding, but we work hard to use the editorial 'we' and to avoid being regional while seeking an audience of a certain mindset. That may be unromantic (which is likely why I wanted my personal brand type blog) but in theory it's the best way for us to develop or current (weak) skills and find a potential niche that we could monotize while still having the fun required to keep it going.

    • Matt Reply

      LaTosha, thanks for stopping by! I think all of us want some level of interactivity with our readers. We won’t be able to connect with everyone on everything – there will be some times when we don’t connect with anyone, and that’s ok. Through it all – we learn as writers what people do and do not respond to. It’s all about continuing to grow and develop as time goes on.

  • danny. Reply

    I have two blogs and one is definitely in the personal branding category. The other, however, is neither. I share a beer blog with a couple other friends and I think we fall into a third category which I would call enthusiast press. We offer opinions and news relevant (at least loosely) to one topic in particular. I suppose it could be taken as personal branding, but we work hard to use the editorial 'we' and to avoid being regional while seeking an audience of a certain mindset. That may be unromantic (which is likely why I wanted my personal brand type blog) but in theory it's the best way for us to develop or current (weak) skills and find a potential niche that we could monotize while still having the fun required to keep it going.

    • Matt Reply

      LaTosha, thanks for stopping by! I think all of us want some level of interactivity with our readers. We won’t be able to connect with everyone on everything – there will be some times when we don’t connect with anyone, and that’s ok. Through it all – we learn as writers what people do and do not respond to. It’s all about continuing to grow and develop as time goes on.

  • Jun Loayza Reply

    Do you know what I'm tired of? Blogs that are created for the sole purpose of making money. I think that's when we lose authenticity. I feel that I have found an amazing community of people who care about the personal brand, and at the same time, put so much of their personality into each post that you can feel it flowing through their words.When you write purely for money, the passion from your writing disappears. Write for yourself and write for your readers and the process will be absolutely wonderful.

  • Jun Loayza Reply

    Do you know what I'm tired of? Blogs that are created for the sole purpose of making money. I think that's when we lose authenticity. I feel that I have found an amazing community of people who care about the personal brand, and at the same time, put so much of their personality into each post that you can feel it flowing through their words.

    When you write purely for money, the passion from your writing disappears. Write for yourself and write for your readers and the process will be absolutely wonderful.

  • danny. Reply

    I don't see why the two have to be mutually exclusive. As I said in the comment above, I have both a personal brand type blog and one that I hope to monotize. Both offer unique challenges and are stimulating to me in a different way. I don't expect to make a living off of blogging but the pursuit of a goal where I could write about beer for a living is fun. I've had bands where I made a little money and the passion didn't leave the music. A long time ago I tried to sell some of my “art” but my intentions weren't changed by it. It's fun and gratifying to pursue dream jobs.

  • danny. Reply

    I don't see why the two have to be mutually exclusive. As I said in the comment above, I have both a personal brand type blog and one that I hope to monotize. Both offer unique challenges and are stimulating to me in a different way. I don't expect to make a living off of blogging but the pursuit of a goal where I could write about beer for a living is fun. I've had bands where I made a little money and the passion didn't leave the music. A long time ago I tried to sell some of my “art” but my intentions weren't changed by it. It's fun and gratifying to pursue dream jobs.

  • Trace Cohen Reply

    Thank you for making the clear distinction, “the diving line” between the two types of blogging. Personal blogging with Xanga (brings back memories) was just a one way conversation, usually ranting or as you stated, useless updates about your life. This was the web 1.0! We're in the 21st century now, we evolved and moved on. Web 2.0 is all about making connections, creating value and making people think. A one way conversation doesnt cut it any more. Not all blogging has to create a personal brand, but a nice blend of both would be the perfect combination for anyone trying to create a personal brand and/or web presence.

  • Trace Cohen Reply

    Thank you for making the clear distinction, “the diving line” between the two types of blogging. Personal blogging with Xanga (brings back memories) was just a one way conversation, usually ranting or as you stated, useless updates about your life. This was the web 1.0!

    We're in the 21st century now, we evolved and moved on. Web 2.0 is all about making connections, creating value and making people think. A one way conversation doesnt cut it any more. Not all blogging has to create a personal brand, but a nice blend of both would be the perfect combination for anyone trying to create a personal brand and/or web presence.

  • rikin Reply

    At the end of the day successful blogging is all about your “voice”. If you take a look at dooce, she's done an amazing job at what truly is a personal blog and turned it into something extremely successful. Gary Vaynerchuck and Darren Rowse of ProBlogger have turned their passion of an industry into a blog which essentially is personal branding.

    There's room for everyone in this ecosystem but only those with a truly unique voice can make connections with large audiences. Personally, I'm not a fan of niches and one topic blogs, even though they monetize well. However, it's becoming more and more apparent that you can mix both personal blogging and personal branding on one site. You can be in both buckets and I think many of us aspire for a blog that finds this balance.

  • rikin Reply

    At the end of the day successful blogging is all about your “voice”. If you take a look at dooce, she's done an amazing job at what truly is a personal blog and turned it into something extremely successful. Gary Vaynerchuck and Darren Rowse of ProBlogger have turned their passion of an industry into a blog which essentially is personal branding. There's room for everyone in this ecosystem but only those with a truly unique voice can make connections with large audiences. Personally, I'm not a fan of niches and one topic blogs, even though they monetize well. However, it's becoming more and more apparent that you can mix both personal blogging and personal branding on one site. You can be in both buckets and I think many of us aspire for a blog that finds this balance.

  • LaTosha Reply

    I definitely do believe that there is a clear distinction between the two types of bloggers, but it is very possible to create a “blend” between the two types. I have come across some blogs where it is very evident that the audience the blog is intended to be read by is family. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these types of blogs, but I am more intrigued by personal brand blogs or those blogs that have developed a blend of both (I consider myself to fall under this category).I am drawn towards personal brand blogs because I love the idea of being able to speak my mind about various topics and these blogs generate great discussions. My purpose for writing a blog and reading them is to share my two cents and receive much more in return from the feedback the posts generate.

  • LaTosha Reply

    I definitely do believe that there is a clear distinction between the two types of bloggers, but it is very possible to create a “blend” between the two types. I have come across some blogs where it is very evident that the audience the blog is intended to be read by is family. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these types of blogs, but I am more intrigued by personal brand blogs or those blogs that have developed a blend of both (I consider myself to fall under this category).

    I am drawn towards personal brand blogs because I love the idea of being able to speak my mind about various topics and these blogs generate great discussions. My purpose for writing a blog and reading them is to share my two cents and receive much more in return from the feedback the posts generate.

  • Suzanne Shaffer Reply

    If you don’t want people to read your blog you write on LiveJournal and make it private. Anyone who has a blog (either personal or for personal branding purposes)wants people to read it. You write because you have a voice, an opinion, and something to say or share. If you’re not interested in that, you don’t blog.

    Finding that balance between writing about what your passionate about and incorporating it into your personal brand is the key, and possibly the most important reason for this discussion. Thanks Matt!

  • Suzanne Shaffer Reply

    If you don’t want people to read your blog you write on LiveJournal and make it private. Anyone who has a blog (either personal or for personal branding purposes)wants people to read it. You write because you have a voice, an opinion, and something to say or share. If you’re not interested in that, you don’t blog.

    Finding that balance between writing about what your passionate about and incorporating it into your personal brand is the key, and possibly the most important reason for this discussion. Thanks Matt!

  • Eva Reply

    My main goal when I started blogging was to write for myself. I debated keeping my blog private vs. public, and between being anonymous vs. identifying myself by my real name.

    In the end I decided to share my real info with the world because it would hold me accountable to the things I write. It keeps my writing more productive too, since I have to write clearly enough for someone else to comprehend my thoughts.

    As time goes by, I find I like the feedback from others and I like the audience because it shows me what topics others care about and it keeps me going – I’m more likely to keep blogging if I think about the readers.

    So I guess my personal blogging has morphed into personal branding, in a way.

  • Eva Reply

    My main goal when I started blogging was to write for myself. I debated keeping my blog private vs. public, and between being anonymous vs. identifying myself by my real name.

    In the end I decided to share my real info with the world because it would hold me accountable to the things I write. It keeps my writing more productive too, since I have to write clearly enough for someone else to comprehend my thoughts.

    As time goes by, I find I like the feedback from others and I like the audience because it shows me what topics others care about and it keeps me going – I’m more likely to keep blogging if I think about the readers.

    So I guess my personal blogging has morphed into personal branding, in a way.

  • Matt Reply

    Hey Eva. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think it’s always better to remain (for the most part) transparent as a writer. As bloggers and online journalists, no matter what we may be writing about, we are always held accountable for our words – so hiding behind the ‘anonymous’ cloak isn’t usually the best move.

    I think all of us go through (and still are going through) blogger evolution. It usually takes a while to realize that our words can have an impact on others. But once we do come to the realization that we can influence and inspire others, we begin to understand what a powerful tool a blog can be. That’s the moment when you start to not only write for ourselves, but for the community. I’m still learning, still growing, and the discussion that ensues after each post is absolutely crucial to the development of any writer.

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  • Matt Reply

    Hello Kim, and thanks for the comment. Do you think it’s about transitioning from one to the other, or is it more about incorporating the two into one? Should there be a clear distinction between different writing styles? What style of writing successfully captures your attention?

  • Matt Reply

    Hello Kim, and thanks for the comment. Do you think it’s about transitioning from one to the other, or is it more about incorporating the two into one? Should there be a clear distinction between different writing styles? What style of writing successfully captures your attention?

  • Matt Reply

    Susan. You hit the nail on the head! It really is about the intent of the writer. Are you trying to connect with an audience, and if so, what do you want them to take away? Whether you’re writing to inspire, educate, or entertain – most (if not all of us) want our readers to take something away – to grow from what they’ve read.

    As you said, if you’re writing about something you’re passionate about, the connection may be easier. But it’s also important to challenge yourself and grow personally by writing about things you may not know everything about. Encourage discussion, and let your audience contribute. Interactivity is the bread and butter of any successful blog.

  • Matt Reply

    Susan. You hit the nail on the head! It really is about the intent of the writer. Are you trying to connect with an audience, and if so, what do you want them to take away? Whether you’re writing to inspire, educate, or entertain – most (if not all of us) want our readers to take something away – to grow from what they’ve read.

    As you said, if you’re writing about something you’re passionate about, the connection may be easier. But it’s also important to challenge yourself and grow personally by writing about things you may not know everything about. Encourage discussion, and let your audience contribute. Interactivity is the bread and butter of any successful blog.

  • Matt Reply

    Grace, thanks for the input! The dividing line clearly isn’t black and white – it’s shades of gray. June Lin wrote about this topic on her blog and she has a great illustration of the line between personal blogging and personal branding being a spectrum, which showcases that blogs can either lean one way or the other, but also how great blogs find a happy medium of both. Check her post out here: http://www.junelin.com/2009/03/personal-blogging-vs-personal-branding/

    Also, you and I need to hook up RE: Lijit. I feel like it’s an amazing tool/resource that I haven’t figured out how to tap into yet. I need the rundown.

  • Matt Reply

    Grace, thanks for the input! The dividing line clearly isn’t black and white – it’s shades of gray. June Lin wrote about this topic on her blog and she has a great illustration of the line between personal blogging and personal branding being a spectrum, which showcases that blogs can either lean one way or the other, but also how great blogs find a happy medium of both. Check her post out here: http://www.junelin.com/2009/03/personal-blogging-vs-personal-branding/

    Also, you and I need to hook up RE: Lijit. I feel like it’s an amazing tool/resource that I haven’t figured out how to tap into yet. I need the rundown.

  • Matt Reply

    Thanks, as always, for your input Suzanne. What do you think makes us feel that we are ‘experts’ on a certain topic? How do we give ourselves authority to be the knowledge-barer of a particular idea? What compels us to write? And more importantly, what inspires us to want to inspire others? I’m not sure if those questions can be answered, but it’s something to think about.

  • Matt Reply

    Thanks, as always, for your input Suzanne. What do you think makes us feel that we are ‘experts’ on a certain topic? How do we give ourselves authority to be the knowledge-barer of a particular idea? What compels us to write? And more importantly, what inspires us to want to inspire others? I’m not sure if those questions can be answered, but it’s something to think about.

  • Matt Reply

    Hey Eva. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think it’s always better to remain (for the most part) transparent as a writer. As bloggers and online journalists, no matter what we may be writing about, we are always held accountable for our words – so hiding behind the ‘anonymous’ cloak isn’t usually the best move.

    I think all of us go through (and still are going through) blogger evolution. It usually takes a while to realize that our words can have an impact on others. But once we do come to the realization that we can influence and inspire others, we begin to understand what a powerful tool a blog can be. That’s the moment when you start to not only write for ourselves, but for the community. I’m still learning, still growing, and the discussion that ensues after each post is absolutely crucial to the development of any writer.

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