Reinventing Yourself Through Your Blog

The other week, while I was at the WebWorks Roundup conference in Texas, where I was one of the featured industry speakers, I was sitting next to Anne Gentle during one of the panel sessions, and I asked her about branding. It seems like once you become branded through your blog, it’s hard to reinvent yourself.

I was speaking at WebWorks on blogging and web 2.0. More than anything else, my blog has branded me as a blogger. This brand has led to numerous speaking invitations at conferences and chapters. The more I speak about blogging, the more I become branded as a blogging expert –- it’s a cycle of branding that perpetuates itself.

At the conference, I learned that although some people have branded themselves online in certain ways, they can be much different in person. For example, online you know Richard Hamilton, founder of XML Press, as an entrepreneurial publisher focusing on the technical communication market. You may also see Richard as an experienced manager through his recent book Managing Writers. And you may gather that Richard is a careful, analytical thinker from his lengthy conference write-up posts. That’s how Richard has branded himself — as a publisher and manager.

But Richard has another side to him as well. He’s a pilot and previously owned his own airplane. He loves reading literature, especially mysteries. For example, he has read Sue Grafton’s mystery series (A is for Alibi, B is for …) series up to G. His whole face lights up when he starts talking about mystery novels with another mystery aficionado.

He boots his computer in Ubuntu and prefers to write everything in DocBook XML. He also seems to enjoy long car drives (for example, he drove from Colorado to Texas and back for the conference). More than anything, Richard is one of the most warm, friendly, and conversational people you will ever meet.

Alan Porter is even more of an interesting figure when it comes to branding. Online you know Alan as the head of WebWorks (or VP of Operations). You read his blog as an expert in the tech comm industry, especially with wikis. His forthcoming book, Wikis: Grown Your Own for Fun and Profit, will only solidify his wiki branding. He also blogs about trends in user behavior, from observing, for example, the way his teenage daughter approaches her homework.

But in person, you’ll find that, like Richard, Alan has another side to him entirely. A cowboy-boot wearing Englishman, Alan is an avid comic artist. Mention conferences like Comicon and Dragicon and his ears perk up. He regularly writes the stories, dialog, and scripts for the comic book CARS.

In addition to his drawing talents, Alan has also written books on James Bond, Batman, Star Trek, and the Beatles. He has strong feelings about the importance of storytelling. In fact, Alan works only 30 hours a week so he can focus on his writing.

Alan has written a mystery novel set with NASCAR racing and another novel about Shakespeare pretending to be Christopher Marlowe, which an agent of his was shopping around Hollywood for a possible movie. Alan is also a consultant for Tedopres, a company focused on simplified technical English. He can fly out to your location and train your employees on simplified technical English techniques.

Alan understands the importance of recording presentations. He records all major WebWorks conference sessions, making them available at first on a limited basis and then eventually opens them up to everyone. He’s allergic to gluten, is married to a court reporter, and when you mention his competitor’s products, such as Flare, he breathes a deep sigh.

I’ve gotta say, Alan is one of the most interesting people to meet, because unless you know this other side of Alan, all of this comes as a complete surprise. It’s a surprise mostly because Alan has chosen not to brand himself this way online. In fact, he has a policy that he will not write about either his company’s products or his competitor’s products on his blog.

Blogs provide you with an opportunity to brand yourself with an identity you want to be known by. But you have to be careful what you blog about, because that brand then stays with you. You become known for that brand, and it can be hard to change.

Reinventing yourself with a new identity isn’t impossible. It just requires you to shift your focus, to start writing about a new topic.

I mentioned at the beginning that I’m not so eager to be branded as a blogger (and podcaster and WordPress person). Ideally, I would like to be a screencaster and wiki expert as well. To make that happen, I’ll have to shift the focus of my blog — for about the next 200 posts.

I could make the shift, but I think I prefer to let things happen in a more natural way. It’s more interesting to let water flow in the direction it wants to. And then every once in a while look up to see where you are.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, JavaScript, front-end design, content strategy, Jekyll, and more. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

8 thoughts on “Reinventing Yourself Through Your Blog

  1. Alan J. Porter

    Hi Tom –

    Thanks for the mention and for plugging my various projects. It was great chatting with you during RoundUp this year.

    Just to clarify a couple of points:
    – Yes I do write the regular CARS comic book series, but I don’t draw them. I create the stories and write the scripts and dialog, but a group of talented artists take my words and turn them into some fun pictures.
    – And I can’t take credit for the A/V set up at RoundUp – that was all the work of the hotel’s a/v team based on the requirements I gave them. – Sorry of you got the wrong impression when we were discussing the set-up. I didn’t intend to take credit where it wasn’t due.



    1. Tom

      Alan, thanks for clarifying about the A/V setup and CARS. I updated the post a little bit to try to be more accurate. Even seeing the importance of recording sessions is something noteworthy. (I have to wonder, though, how well it recorded, because a lot of the time we didn’t speak directly into those microphones.)

      I had a great time at the conference, especially the dinner and lunch conversations with you and the others. The content development best practices panel was also excellent, as was the panel on DITA publishing. I wish I had gotten there a day earlier to hear Stewart Mader speak on wikis.

  2. Richard Hamilton

    Tom, thanks for the kind words; I enjoyed speaking with you, too. You’ve really carved out an impressive brand, and a piece of that is something that is under-appreciated, but that you (and Anne) do very well. You write frequent, interesting blog posts. Some people can handle the frequent part, others can handle the interesting part, but putting it together is harder than it looks.

    BTW, while I enjoy Sue Grafton’s novels, my all-time favorite mystery writer is Rex Stout. He seems to be a bit out of fashion these days, but he’s one of the few mystery writers that I will happily re-read.

    1. Tom

      Richard, thanks for allowing me to write about you in this post. I knew that you mentioned half a dozen other mystery writers as we were talking that night, but Grafton is all I remembered. Thanks for adding Rex Stout’s name here.

      Also, thanks for the note about writing posts that are both frequent and interesting. I always love to hear feedback like that.

  3. David S.( @seemsArtless )

    An interesting take on things! Over the last few years I don’t find myself thinking as people as ‘bloggers’ anymore, but perhaps the outside world still labels people that way?

    A good reminder, though, that a blog, or a Twitter stream, etc… just reflects a small subset of a person, and that there is likely other interesting aspects lurking out there.

  4. Larry Kunz

    Former STC president Saul Carliner recently posted some thoughts about developing a personal brand. They’re worth reading:

    Saul says that branding is a function of everything we do — not just what we write in our blogs. He also says that we should draw a line between what we do, from a professional standpoint, and what we won’t do. All of us who use social networking for business make choices about what to reveal and what to keep to ourselves.

    By the way, Tom, speaking of branding: I’ve noticed that it’s very hard to find your name on your blog pages. If that was a conscious choice on your part, I’d be curious to know your reasoning. To be honest, there was awhile there when I could read this blog and see your tweets on Twitter — and not realize that they came from the same person. That’s all behind me now, of course. :-)

    1. Tom

      Larry, thanks for the tip about the Saul Caroliner article. I remember reading it and in looking at it again, I should have referenced in somehow. He has a lot of useful information, so thanks for linking to it.

      Re the absence of my name on the blog, thanks for the note. I need to also use my email address as well.

      I wish I could change my twitter handle to idratherbewriting, but it has too many characters (by 2). Ratherbewriting is already taken.

      I will try to brand my name more prominently on my blog. Thanks for the tip. It’s kind of a major oversight on my part, and I appreciate your bringing it to my attention.

  5. Ellis Pratt

    Part of this is because of “the long tail” of the Internet. It’s like dropping a stone into a pool and seeing the ripples go further and further out over time.

    The Chinese have the idea of GuanXi, and Blogs are a modern day manifestation of that concept. There are advantages to talking about more than just your business focus. Talking about your other interests, even your vulnerabilities, can make you more interesting and approachable. However, it’s a matter of degree.


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