'I' Before 'We' Except...


When you're the only person running your business, it's hard to get away from the word "I." It's just you - there is no 'we' to speak of. There's no team, not even a guest writer. It's just 'me, myself and I.'


Over the years, I've worked on both solo projects and collaborations. Though I write "we" when referring to a team effort, I find myself writing about solo projects in the third person so I can avoid the pronouns altogether - because, let's face it, writing 'I' all over the place looks bad for your brand.

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On the one hand, you want your business to sound big and important, and using 'we' will help you do that. Then again, you might feel sort of arrogant if you use 'we' when it's really just you.

My new website 'Meeting In The Media,' on which I write about communications, design, production and my personal experiences in 'the [film] industry,' is one such example of this conundrum. The articles are often short stories about personal experiences and/or express personal opinion, and therefore 'I' is both applicable and acceptable. But, then, the description of the site on the 'about' page is full of 'I' pronouns, and we want the business to sound larger - like you just stumbled onto a community here at MITM - so the word 'we' would be more appropriate.

Here's another issue - I just created and scheduled 140 new posts on our Facebook page; half of the posts say 'we' - as in 'we just found this great new resource,' while the other half of the posts say 'I.' It's sort of a mish-mosh, and it can confuse our readers.

Outside of a personal quote, I tend to find it off-putting to see a website full of 'I's. Sure, you want your website, blog - your writing - to be personable. It's hard to see a line between being personable, accessible and direct, and looking professional. You want viewers to engage with you directly, but you want them to feel like there's already an established community behind the scenes of your business, ready to interact, share and invite the viewer to be part of that community.


Google it?


I did some Googling about 'running your business with an I,' and came across two interesting articles. The first of which is entitled 'HBR: When a Leader Should Say 'I' Instead of 'We' @ http://www.advisory.com, and it briefly notes that leaders should use 'I' when taking responsibility for their own actions, and use 'we' when commending a team effort, both of which will show strength.

Then I came across this great article from managing director at Foundry Group, Brad Feld @ http://www.feld.com, in which Feld lays out the problem with the head of a company using 'I' when the company is a team effort. However, I didn't find any articles that work the other way around - using 'we' for a solo effort.

Now, if you scroll down to the comments section in Feld's article, many of the commenters give articulate - and great - advice for our problem.

One commenter added a link to an NPR article about dating success based on the use of personal pronouns and their link to power. I thought, that's a great way to think about it - marketing yourself is just like dating. I had heard this from my mother, a marketing writer, but I never thought about it in the 'I' versus 'we' sense - until now.

The article, 'To Predict Dating Success, The Secret's in The Pronouns' by Alix Spriegel, covers a speed dating session and her call to a psychologist interested in the meaning behind pronouns, James Pennebaker. To sum it up, Pennebaker explains:


"The person with the higher status uses the word 'I' less."


"But in retrospect he says it makes sense. We use 'I' more when we talk to someone with power because we're more self-conscious. We are focused on ourselves - how we're coming across - and our language reflects that," Spriegel writes.

We've all run into this issue through emails, before. I call it an 'issue,' because most often the person using 'I' is slightly insulted when the returned response contains little to no pronouns to speak of - it seems a bit impersonal. However, if a return response contains the word 'we,' as in 'we would love to see your work!' - you feel pretty special, right? Not only is someone writing you back with such pizazz, but the group behind the word 'we' is interested in you.


Rise above this personal conundrum!


One way to rise above your 'I' vs. 'we' conundrum is to think about all of the people who have assisted you on your website - your blog, your business - thus far, even if they don't directly contribute to your website content or growth. For instance, do you have a friend you call when you realize your coding skills are limited? Is there someone you show your posts to, prior to making them public, in order to gather opinions and thoughts? These people are definitely part of the 'we' that makes the you-and-your-solo-business, and should give you a sense of how the 'we' can work without the confusion.

Another way to look at it: maybe you have just five followers - people who somehow picked up on your site, your blog, and actively visit. And, hey, maybe they leave some comments. There's your 'we' - the people who make your business look that much more active by simply visiting and showing support!


Feel free to say 'we.'


You should feel free to say 'we' when referencing your business, and when writing about it online. And, if anyone asks who else is part of this 'we' when there are so many 'I'-based posts, explain to them that you want to show people that you're fostering a sense of community - and you want to give people this sense, too, through your use of personal pronouns.

www.MeetingInTheMedia.com