Continuing her series of articles on the Art of Blogging, Natalie Lue tackles the subject of self-censorship and blogging. Do you censor yourself?

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If you’ve ever had the experience of thinking twice about something that you want to write/publish on your blog, you’ve experienced self-censorship which arises out of your fear of how others will perceive or react to it. While the fear can exist out of confidence issues or fear of damaging your reputation, where I see people tending to ‘hold back’ is a fear of rocking the boat because they’re afraid of conflict that they think will arise from expressing their opinion/discontent.

This is understandable. There are a lot of people online who will have a fight with a paper bag – they’re gagging to sound off. Some will express their opinion and counter argument respectfully and others will get down to a personal level and cross into trolling/libel territory. I’ve also found that when you factor in the ‘mum’ element, we can be afraid of being judged or creating the Dynasty levels of drama that can happen with blog comments, egos and Twitter combined.

At the end of the day, you have to bring it back to the foundation of your decisions and motivations to write and publish something on your blog – Even if what I have to say is not going to be ‘liked’ by everyone, does this benefit my business? Or is my motivation for publishing to stir the pot and/or get attention via controversy?

If it’s the former, you’ll make honest decisions that are congruent with your personal values and your aspirations for your business. If it’s the latter, your thirst for attention and your need to run your mouth, while it may get your ‘name’ out there and even attract likeminded fans, may not have you being remembered for the right reasons by others.

I’ll be honest – I wish some business owners would think before they publish whether it’s on their blog or Twitter because they might actually consider how they or their business are perceived and not just about being ‘right’ or ‘opinionated’ or the loudest.

Unless you’re not really in business, I’m going to assume that you actually want to make money. I’m also going to assume that wherever possible, you want to cast your business in the best light possible.

You cannot please everyone all of the time but in writing a blog that directly or indirectly helps you to market your business and build your brand, it is the latter activities that are your chief concern.

After nearly seven years of blogging, I’ve learned to strike a balance between being myself, expressing what I need to, and considering how it may be perceived by others.

The wonderful thing about blogging is that having an opinion gives you content, direction, a tone, and even a unique selling point depending on what your subject is, but the double-edged sword is that having an opinion also opens you up to negative side effects.

Being myself means that I know my personal and business values and I ensure that my actions are congruent with those – this means knowing what you need to live your life and run your business authentically and they’re based around your beliefs.

With expressing what you ‘need’ to, it’s recognising that actually, not everything needs to be said. Sometimes I read something that someone has written on their blog or Twitter and it sets my teeth on edge. But I don’t need to tell them all about themselves or create a counter blog post slating them directly or leaving their name out but making it clear I’m talking about them. You also have to prioritise in business, something anyone with a neverending to-do list should be aware of – prioritise what you need to write about.

In the wider sense of blogging, a classic example of self-censorship is recognising that you can hurt or offend those close to you if you write about them. It’s not that you want to limit your opportunity to express your thoughts, but if you write about others and you are identifiable, you must consider whether it is worth it for ‘hits’ or ‘entertainment’ or ‘venting’.

When considering how it may be perceived by others, always remember that while you can consider the flipside of something you write, in all honesty, you couldn’t even begin to imagine every last damn thing that someone might think when they read what you write. You’re not looking to dampen your message or even lose it but basically don’t include superfluous stuff that may alienate your reader as they won’t be becoming your customer.

With that in mind, here are my key tips for ‘self-censoring’ that will ensure you don’t feel censored:

1) If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t won’t write it online especially when they can discover it.

2) The key to being opinionated is having a genuine basis (read: business case) for your opinion and argument. If your basis is creating conflict or discomfort, I’d leave it in draft mode.

3) Imagine if a competitor wrote what you’re intending to write – what would you think of them?

4) Imagine your customer or potential customer – Is what you have to say creating the right perception of you?

5) Does expressing your opinion demonstrate your authority? This is what makes you memorable for the right reasons and shows that you know the product, market, customer etc.

6) If you take your ego out of it and wind your neck in, do you still feel there is a genuine business need to write it?

7) Have goals for your blog – whatever you write should feed into these, helping you to be focused.

8) Be inspiring, informative, a thought-leader, humorous even, but don’t be mean.

9) Leave out personal attacks. Seriously.

10) Save your ‘out there’ stuff for your personal blog. Failing that, leave it in draft for 24 hours and then go back to it.