Firstly, there is no 'should'. What you share online, and how you choose to share it is totally up to you.
It’s also okay if this changes as you move through the seasons of your life; it has for me. A level of insecurity kept me from sharing much online (and even in person in come cases) until I reached my thirties. Before then, I preferred to hide behind 'personas' - using the voice of companies I was working with or my own events business to engage online.
Now share more of myself online that I ever expected to. I share my journey and experiences, in case that they can help someone else one day. Over the years, I've been so grateful for the words of others, that I want to contribute if I can.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
We are all living our own lives, and we are all responsible for our own happiness, but none of us is alone.
Sure, no one else may have had your exact experiences, or be living with your exact circumstances, but there will always be people out there who have been through or are working on something similar, and that can be incredibly reassuring.
Family and friends can be fantastic sources of support, but sometimes it really helps to from people whose experiences align with yours.
It's also incredibly inspiring to hear the stories of other women who are doing amazing things, in their own way, on their own terms. Like:
Laura Jane Williams, a writer who just speaks such truth. My favourite thing of hers is the tagline on her website: "because none of us is fucking up like we think we are". EXACTLY.
Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington both run awesome creative businesses, and have inspired me with their honesty about life and work. Amongst other things, they've both opened up about what it is like to live and succeed when you have a chronic illness, how Sara has grown in self-belief, and Jen has spoken about the lessons learned from burn out.
Fiona Barrows, a copywriter and content creator, makes me feel less alone through her honest and insightful weekly newsletter. She's a little bit ahead of me in terms of growing her business, but as well as celebrating success Fiona still shares her business anxieties which is always appreciated.
And Amy Young gives awesome empowering advice about being a single lady, especially on her Instagram stories. She's brilliant fun and doesn't do bullshit!
What I find magical is that all of these women are so normal! Not to sound like a total stalker, but I feel like they could be my friends.
I feel inspired and motivated by then all. And their brilliance also lies in their devotion to their work; they're not here to make a quick buck by telling everyone 'how to get one million subscribers within an hour following their unique ten-step method'. They're just sharing what they know, what they're learning, and helping others to feel supported.
If we're going to share parts of our lives online how do we take care of ourselves, and avoid opening ourselves up to negativity? By creating and maintaining some boundaries.
If you're sharing your story, make sure you've dealt with things first.
To write and share something when your emotions are heightened, while things are still fresh, might lead you to later regret your actions.
Many writers and online bloggers or business owners draft an article or a blog while in the midst of a challenging time, to get it out of their system, but they don't hit publish until months later, when they’re finished processing things.
Be honest, but fair.
Anne Lammot said something I love: "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."
I'd caveat this with the notion that we own our experience of everything that happened to us. We own our version. And we should always be mindful that other parties might have their own experiences, their own versions, and their own truth. We must be respectful of this, and fair.
Vulnerability over intimacy.
And finally, keep in mind Brené Brown's widely lauded advice: "share what is vulnerable, not what is intimate".
WHAT DO THE PRO'S SAY?
Social media specialists Buffer recently shared advice for businesses using social media.
They discuss the idea that just because you can share, should you? Again, it comes back to boundaries, and where you personally choose to place those boundaries. But it’s also important to remember who your audience is, and share content that will be valuable to them in some way. That could be informing, or it could be entertaining, or both.
Buffer agrees that authenticity on social media is a good thing; sharing genuinely is valued, even if that means sharing some of the bad as well as the 'highlights'. And they consider how this balances with transparency - how deeply or how much you share - which leads us back to being cautious: vulnerable but not intimate.
We can be authentic without sharing everything
We should always be authentic, but choose our level of transparency depending on the situation
Our comfort level with vulnerability at any given time will help us to determine our level of transparency.
WHY I AM SHARING MORE OF MY STORY
So much of what I have shared here contributes to why I am being more personal online, sharing more of my story. The simple truth is that there are two parts to this:
From times of personal struggle to learning how to become a business owner, I have been immensely grateful for the reassuring articles outlining the experiences of others that I've found (or been sent). I am indebted to others who have helped me to feel less alone through sharing their own stories.
To share what I have learned so far
I'm here because I want to help, and think that I have something useful to share. I've been through a lot, and I have invested a lot of energy, time and money into learning how to process difficulties and move forward with faith in myself, and increased resilience.
BEING OPEN AND HONEST CAN ALSO SUPPORT YOUR BUSINESS GROWTH
And finally, as a bonus honesty, authenticity, and openness can support the growth of a business.
This is dependent on the type of business, and the audience. But personal connection with businesses is increasingly valued by consumers these days - just look at the way huge corporations sign off personally on customer service Twitter accounts. Even marketing has become less about products, and more about the benefits to customers.
When it comes to small businesses, especially those that are service-led and run by individuals, the saying that 'people buy from people' applies. By letting people get to know who you are online, you can make a more genuine connection, gain trust, and be of service. This is where authenticity is so important, and a little bit of vulnerability.
In addition: be of value. Think about what might be of value to your audience, to your dream clients, and share your take on this information. That allows you to be authentic, and feel passionate about your work.
Which leads neatly to the three key questions listed at the end of the Buffer article referenced, to ask ourselves when developing content:
Would others find it interesting?
Is it revealing a part of me that I’m comfortable with sharing?
Does it fit with the message I want to express?
Don’t forget: be honest, be fair, protect yourself. Be authentic. Be as vulnerable as you're comfortable with.