The Lie that is Online Transparency and ‘Being True to Self’

by Marcus Sheridan

CommunicationA few weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in a Twitter chat put on by the folks at Blog World and without question, it was quite an interesting experience. Basically, the chat was more of a ‘friendly debate’ between me and Jason Falls (of Social Media Explorer and author of the new book ‘No BS Social Media’) on the merits of using curse words/profanity in our online/blogging activities.

As you might imagine, the subject of ‘To curse or not to curse’ is always going to be quite polarizing, with strong opinions on each side. This certainly was the case with this twitter chat, as hundreds of folks participated in the lively but also quite respectful conversation, making it Blog World’s most popular Twitter chat to date.

‘Being True’

But there was one statement that the ‘pro-profanity’ crowd kept going back to:

If a blogger doesn’t curse then they are not being true to themselves.

Hmm, interesting thought.

In fact, I’ve thought about it a lot more since that night, and have reached a further conclusion about this oft-used phrase that seems to pop up all over the blogosphere.

It’s a lie, pure and simple.

There is a Proper Time and Place for Everything

My argument throughout the profanity debate was a simple one: It’s not about whether profanity is right or wrong, it’s about its impact on potential customers, clients, and relationships.

If something we say while we write or present potentially distracts our audience and deters understanding of our message, then why wouldn’t we leave it out, especially if we could have stated it in another way and been just as effective??

For example, I consider myself a ‘religious’ guy. But do you know how often I talk about ‘church’ stuff on this blog or in my speaking?

The answer, of course, is very little.

So does this mean I’m not being true to myself? Does this mean I’m not being transparent?

Or how about politics? I’m a political guy. I have strong opinions (even though I never watch TV or listen to talk shows). I have read more books on history and government than most folks do in a lifetime, yet I never mention politics here on TSL or in other presentations.

Again, does this mean I’m not being true to myself? Should I make jokes about the President and other political figures whenever the opportunity presents itself?

No, of course not. That would be dumb, really dumb.

We all filter. Every…Single…One…Of…Us

Do you talk to your grandparents, parents, or children the same way you do your closest friends? Chances are, you don’t.  You likely change your vernacular, conversation subjects, etc.

But why? Why are you not being ‘you’ around your family?

I submit you are being ‘you’. Except in this case, you have decided that being true means proper communication, depending on who you’re with.

The same principles hold true for the online world. If every blogger, content marketer, etc. started spouting off every part of their life, their thoughts, their weaknesses, etc.—We’d be in the middle the twilight zone.

This is why there must be balance and common sense used in all our communications.


So should we be transparent with our blogging? Well, considering I’ve probably preached that word as much as anyone online in the past 2 years, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’….and ‘No’.

Here’s the way I see it: When it comes to my products, I try to tell all—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I give my most honest opinions, trying never to live in the world of gray, but rather speaking only in black and white terms. This induces trust.

As for the rest, it’s frankly not my goal to alienate/offend/freak out my audience. And if I am going to offend them, it sure as heck is going to be because of something I said about inbound marketing, blogging, sales, business, etc. But it’s not going to come from politics, religion, language, why my neighbor thinks I’m crazy, etc.

The bottom line is we are here to make customers (at least most of us). If we don’t have them, we don’t make money. If we don’t make money, it doesn’t mean squat how ‘true to self’ we’ve been, because at that point we’re stressed, frustrated, and life stinks.

Hopefully you see that this article isn’t about whether profanity in blogging is right or wrong, as that debate will go on until the end of time. Rather, I simply wanted to put a different spin on this idea of online transparency.

Yes, we need to keep it real. But let’s also be smart, selective, and choose wisely.

Your Turn:

So what’s your take? Do we all filter or am I way off base? And should we be ‘true to self’ in every occasion or is there a proper time and place for certain elements of communication?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this interesting subject.

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