Getting Real: Dropping F-Bombs For Pleasure and Profit

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This has been coming for a while…

I’ve danced around the issue in the past. But a recent brilliant post entitled—The Short Sweet Guide to Being Fucking Awesome—by my friend Julien Smith, the co-author of New York Times bestselling Trust Agents, made me revisit it and explore it on a deeper level.

It’s about language, transparency, attention and connection. More specifically, it’s about the word…breath in, breath out…fuck. And a variety of other words that freak people out.

It’s about the intentional mismatch we create between our online personas and who we really are. About how real we’re willing to get in the digital word, in the consulting world, in the speaking world and any other world where our psychic red markers rise up and say, “should you really be going there?”

It’s about one of the reasons this is my favorite work of art from’s Hugh MacLeod, but it’s not hanging on my office wall. It’s about why we censor and what it does both to us and to our ability to feel fully expressed, attract more attention, build business and connect on a different level…or not.

So, I figured who better to hash this out with than Julien, the guy who got the conversation re-kickstarted in my head.

So, without further ado, here’s this week’s Getting Real

web show—Featuring Julien Smith

Listen to or download the audio mp3/podcast version

Click here to jump to the comments…


Check out Julien Smith’s and Chris Brogan’s New York Times bestselling book, Trust Agents, for a deeper understanding of what’s driving next-gen interactions and business and how to better tap social technology to engage, build trust and become the go-to person or company in your market.

But don’t stop there, be sure to also check out Julien’s blog for up to minute dispatches from that uber-cool place also known as Julien’s brain.

———————SHOW TRANSCRIPT———————

Jonathan Fields: Hey guys, Jonathan Fields here and I’m presently hanging out with Julien Smith on the other end of my Skype line here. Where you have been, you are over at Canada, right?

Julien Smith: Yeah. Montreal.

Jonathan Fields: Very nice. Okay. So, why is it snowing in New York City right now? Are you getting snow there?

Julien Smith: Yeah. Well, it’s not today. We got it a couple of nights ago, but we were really sure that spring was coming.

Jonathan Fellds: Yeah.

Julien Smith: And then…

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And a buddy of mine told me it was just 70 degrees and sunny in Colorado so not too happy.

Julien Smith: Yeah. [Laughs] Exactly.

Jonathan Fields: We paid more taxes; we’re supposed to get more sun, what’s up with that? All right. So why we’re hanging out today? So for those of you that have been living under a rock, Julien is a very cool dude, insanely bright, and writes some really provocative, insanely… You know, it’s funny I’ve been rallying against people using different words that are so watered on the blog, but when they actually said that you’re transparent and authentic, you’re one of the few guys who actually, it’s not a bullshit word when I say that.

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: It’s like you really are. So a couple of weeks ago, you dropped this post that was titled, “A Short Sweet Guide to Being Fucking Awesome.”

Julien Smith: Right. Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: And the post blew me away, absolutely. I mean I love everything you write, but this post I was like this is just spot on, man. There’s like a zillion comments, it got passed around all over the place and then it was funny because I went to share that post.

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: And I opened up my Twitter. Like, I’m going to paste it in there and I’m like, do I hit the button or not ’cause it’s got the F bomb in the middle of the title. And I’m like I love the post, I love the sentiment, I love what you write. It’s like dead on, but is this — how does my — how do my tribe, how are my different tribes going to respond to this.

Julien Smith: Right.

Jonathan Fields: And they were hanging out. We caught up at South by Southwest and having this conversation about like where is that line there. So, I want to circle back and sort of like — and talk that through but… And you know like looking back through that and I was just getting back through some of your recent posts also and you use the language very liberally. I mean you just like —

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: So, you know, the big open question is, do you sensor?

Julien Smith: I mean I still have an internal sensor, definitely. I know where the line is. I don’t know if I told you this story, but a friend of mine met Hans Rosling who does these TED Talks with all the bubbles and talking about graphics and stuff like that. And he said, I — Hans Rosling said, “On my TED Talk here’s what happens. I swear a little bit, traffic increases, I swear a little bit traffic increases, I swear a little bit” and then he says, “and then there’s a drop off. I swear too much and everything drops and everybody hates me.” And he goes, “I know where that line is and I’m actually figuring out where that line is.” So it is a conscious use of it and there is a theory behind it. It’s not just reckless, but it came out of a real — like that’s really how I speak. So —

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: I also do a lot of radio so I don’t have to speak that way. But to myself and to friends, I speak that way. So it’s just sort of a conscious increase of the use to see as an experiment what would happen.

Jonathan Fields: Right. So it’s kind of fascinating, right? Because I mean I speak very differently than I write on the blog. I mean I write kind of —

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: — conscious on the blog, but there are many times where I would be, you know, like using all sorts of language in real life with close friends and people like that that really I pull back on the blog. And it’s funny because my concern is always, you know, if I was starting over as a blogger right now, I would probably do it differently. I would probably just a lot more open. I would probably —

Julien Smith: Right.

Jonathan Fields: — write the way that you write because that’s largely how I speak when I’m just being who I am.

Julien Smith: Correct.

Jonathan Fields: Like I wonder if I’m… You know, the question for me is am I creating a false impression of who I am and what I’m really about by censoring that way.

Julien Smith: I don’t think so. I have to tell you like I’ve done — like I said, I’ve been on traditional radio and I’ve been on — I’ve created content for a long time where my audio content was that way because obviously, I was speaking so there was no way to censor it. You know, I was just like it was a very personal podcast at the time so I just spoke that way. But as time goes on and you become sort of more comfortable with the way that things are online, they know that you’re going to swear in person. I don’t think it’s hypocritical to write that way. Everybody writes that way and everybody speaks and swears. So it’s totally fine, but the way that I see it is it is a lesson in authenticity. There are very few censors that we have left, but everybody knows that that particular censor exists. So when they see people break through it, they go, “He must be telling the truth.” And so I actually gain from — in my opinion, I gain from it. I’m sure I’ve lost — I’m sure people —

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: — think it’s stupid. I’m okay with that.

Jonathan Fields: So that’s kind of — and what you’re saying is there’s a reason that you do it. Your madness that’s part of what’s behind it then.

Julien Smith: It is like — like, you know, for years like we would — before [0:04:54] [Indiscernible] agents came out; you know you publish your first book and you’re freaking out. You’re like this is will stand for me for two years or more. Who knows what —


Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: — will happen afterward. So you’re really trying to make —

Jonathan Fields: Or two days depending on…

Julien Smith: Yeah. You know.

Jonathan Fields: [Laughs]

Julien Smith: So I did a lot of research, studied a lot about behavior and how people think about things. And I finally came to grips with sort of a conclusion, which is the same way that everybody is heading towards the internet versus let’s say traditional publishing and they’re heading towards let’s say podcasting instead of traditional radio, they’re also building towards more and more closeness. Like the ability to share things, ability to post drunken pictures on Facebook and it’s less and less of a big deal. So we’re increasingly casual and the result of that is that we are increasingly okay with swearing, some of us more, some of us less.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: So I just decided — I looked at the path, I saw the end of the path and where that door is and I just decided to walk through that door today.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: — five years from now.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s kind of interesting for me because it’s something that I’m dealing with on a pretty regular basis as I blog and also as I… We were talking a little bit before we got on the air here about, you know, one of the things that I’m looking to do is I’m transitioning out of the consulting side of my business and I’m putting a big effort into moving into speaking. So as I think about that, you know, as I think about how I want to build my presence, my reputation, my brand in that world, it’s like I’m revisiting this whole thing all over again.

I remember Gary V like a year or two ago, maybe two years ago, you know, he put — there was like a blog post. I remember he put up somewhere. He’s like, “Yes, I actually can give a talk without cursing.”

Julien Smith: Absolutely.

Jonathan Fields: And because — but he said it like he would have to push back with people who were like booking him and saying, I’m actually physically capable of not just like dropping F bombs all over the place. I don’t have to do that. I do it because I feel comfortable and it’s the right audience for it, and, you know, it’s a way for me to connect with them.

Julien Smith: That’s right. So the counter point to that it’s really interesting because there’s not a lot of people out there that do that. Gary V is one of them, I’m one of them, and there’s a few more but not very many. And it’s really interesting because it becomes the thing.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: You just — every conversation becomes about, oh, this guy swears during the talks or this guys swears.

Jonathan Fields: Yes.

Julien Smith: And actually I’ve totally gotten used to that and so I really — I don’t know, maybe it’s like I’ve developed thinking about it as a strategy now. But you discover when you begin to use it, people are like, “Oh my god, he’s doing it. We’re seeing the real him.” And so, you know, we haven’t sworn once during this conversation. Maybe at one point, we will, I don’t know. But the —

Jonathan Fields: We can set it out —

Julien Smith: Gary knows. Gary knows what he’s doing.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: And once — So it is a strategy like another. You know, like top ten lists sort of strategy on your blog.

Jonathan Fields:          Yeah.

Julien Smith: You post the top ten list and then that will become overused. Okay, well now it’s a top eleven list instead so it’s not a top ten. So it’s a development of strategy one after another after another.

So to answer your consulting point, which is very interesting to me. So as I told you before on the call that I just came back from a meeting. And so this is the guy’s list. It says, meeting Julien Smith on top, meeting Julien Smith and he just got a list of things. And so he says, our interest in your help is bring a new and interesting angle to the story, your transparency and honesty and then the final one says, your notoriety. It actually says that as an advantage because — I don’t even know why. Like maybe that it’s — Maybe it’s that they know that I’ll tell them the truth.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: That I won’t lie to them and say well your whole content is bullshit, which I don’t think that but the point is I could. If I thought that, I would genuinely say so. So I’ll be like, do you want to talk?

Jonathan Fields: Yes.

Julien Smith: And that’s what Gary V says, same thing. He is the most popular example of being able to do that. I think it will happen on television, I think it will happen in radio, I think it will happen everywhere.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Well —

Julien Smith: It will become totally normal.

Jonathan Fields: No. I mean I’m old enough to remember like in the early days when “NYPD Blue” came on the air and for the first time, they showed like a guy’s, you know, naked buttocks. And it was like this —

Julien Smith: Yeah. And —

Jonathan Fields: — crazy ass like firestorm and, you know, people are going nuts and they want to shut down the station. And now it’s like — You know, like it’s the stupidest thing, but it is an interesting progression, right. But it’s interesting what you said about how — You know, like it creates this impression that because you’re willing to cross that line that you will actually be honest and forthcoming in a way that probably a lot of other people will just, you know, meet with somebody and blow smoke up their ass because they want their money. But maybe they’ll look at you and say that’s not Julien. It’s not — You know, —

Julien Smith: Right.

Jonathan Fields: He’s a guy who just goes out there and says what he needs to say and says what’s on his mind and he’s really freaking smart. So, you know, and like and I want that.


Julien Smith: So do you want to see the result of this? ‘Cause the result of this is GQ magazine emails me and says that they want my content. And Cosmopolitan magazine emails me and says that they want my content. And that’s from a — You know, it’s funny like ’cause on C.C. Chapman who maybe some people who are listening to this know published a book called, “The Content Rules” or “Content Rules.”

Jonathan Fields: Yes, right.

Julien Smith: And I laughed at him ’cause I said — You know, I was like all social media douchebags are now rephrasing themselves and becoming content strategists.

Jonathan Fields:          Right, right, right.

Julien Smith: And so and it’s true. It’s the next thing. It’s like —

Jonathan Fields: It’s the evolution.

Julien Smith: — everybody’s finally… That it’s not just every day we have to be on Twitter but we have on Twitter and provide good content.

Jonathan Fields: Right. Well, I’m fairly convinced that’s why nobody carries business card at Sotheby. People are like, “Oh, it’s just not cool anymore.” I’m like, “No actually, like you’re changing what you call yourself so quickly –”

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: That nobody actually —

Julien Smith: That’s totally true.

Jonathan Fields: — wants to spend money on cards. ‘Cause you get them and use them for more than like six minutes.

Julien Smith: So I never thought about that, but it makes a lot of sense. ‘Cause then you never define yourself as anything.

Jonathan Fields: Right, exactly.

Julien Smith: Yeah. You know, like, oh, I have that old card that says —

Jonathan Fields: [Laughs]

Julien Smith: What am I going to say? So… God, what were we talking about?

Jonathan Fields: So —

Julien Smith: Oh, yeah. So the point is that content that pushes the envelope gets seen and spread disproportionately lots.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Julien Smith: So it doesn’t matter if it pushes the envelope even 1% or 5%, you never want to push the envelope 100%. And you’ll notice that there’s very few things — I will never target an individual and I’ll never target a group. I mean I target social media people occasionally, but I’m in that industry so maybe that’s okay. I don’t know. But there’s a reason for that. First of all, the strategy does not target and go and say, you’re an asshole, you’re an asshole. It says in fact it usually calls upon the individual reading and says, you have a problem and so they self-identify with it.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: I never tell them you’re an idiot. Instead, I say, if you are doing this then you should be doing this. Or if you’re — You know, the thing about the Cult of Awesome, it asks them to self-identify whether they’re awesome or not.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: And whether they should be awesome or whether or not they’re… You know, the point is, it doesn’t insult anyone.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. But the thing is also you do it in a way where it’s — and you could tell me whether this is an accurate perception or not — where it feels organic. It feels like this is just like Julien, like this is who you are, it comes pretty naturally. You just write.

Julien Smith: Uh-hum.

Jonathan Fields: You know, and — But that’s an art form. I mean it’s not easy to do. There aren’t a lot of people that could step out and sort of I think do it. And I think —

Julien Smith: But that’s — John, that’s crazy that you’re saying that because if it is the person that you are, then why is it —

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. No–

Julien Smith: — so hard to be that person?

Jonathan Fields: No. You know what I think it is? What I was trying to say very inarticulately is that you bring so much extraordinary value to sort of the language that you use and the way you frame it and I think a lot of people have a lot trouble finding that balance.

Julien Smith: Maybe.

Jonathan Fields: And you know maybe they just don’t have enough to say so they’re using, you know, just like dropping curses left and right because they’re just doing it for shock factor. I think — you know,

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: Things get spread around a lot more. You know, there’s — I wrote a couple of years ago for Brian over on Copyblogger blog a post called Trainwreck blooging. And it was all about how much people who were just like, you know, had this crazy, messed up disaster of lives and people loved reading. And they’re usually transparent about their lives.

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: And, you know, it was the content and the fact that they were actually out there and the fact that people — You know, like it made people feel good about the fact that their lives are really messed up, but not that messed up.

Julien Smith: Yeah. Uh-huh.

Jonathan Fields: [Laughs]

Julien Smith: Yeah, exactly.

Jonathan Fields: [Laughs] But, you know, this is — I think using, you know, like swearing in your content is an art form. You know?

Julien Smith: Sure.

Jonathan Fields: I think doing it, you know. So what I was trying to say is you do it in a way which is really compelling also, which is so well bundled with the value on like really provocative thought leadership that it’s really easy to buy into it. So my guess is there a whole bunch of people where if they were in a conversation and somebody else was standing and like dropping the equivalent, you know, like ratio of —

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: — you know, like F bombs and stuff like that in the conversation —

Julien Smith: Right.

Jonathan Fields: — they would be horrified. They’d be like, “Screw this, I’m out of here. This person is like vulgar and disgusting.” But then they’ll turn around and read your stuff and they’ll be like freaking genius.

Julien Smith: This guy is amazing.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: So, of course, you’re right. But internally the process, the internal conversation that occurs when you’re creating that content — I mean you create it with yours too. Like you have those internal barriers and you know where they are.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Julien Smith: They’re just different from where mine are. Right?

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: But you’ve still created them. So, I remember the first time, you know, James Chartrand from —

Jonathan Fields: Yeah, yeah, right.

Julien Smith: — Copyblogger. Have you met this person?

Jonathan Fields: Uh-hum. Yes.

Julien Smith: You have? Okay.

Jonathan Fields: Uh-huh.


Julien Smith: So this — any window will become clearer if you do envision what’s on the other end.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith:               So we got together and we chatted one time, you know. So one time about a week after that, it was in November or December and I was having this crazy week with contents where I put out a post called “The Quick 12-Step Guide to Quitting That Job You Fucking Hate.”

Jonathan Fields: [Chuckles]

Julien Smith: But with the — the sort of gibberish as the title.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah, yeah, right.

Julien Smith: You know, when you shift and like all the numbers. So, I remember I published it. I was like it just came out one morning. I was sitting in this exact place where I work when I wake up, and I was like this is going to be really interesting to see how it flies. And immediately, something like 250 Facebook likes, which is disproportionate–

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: — for how much ’cause they look at it and it’s actually really interesting. If you put a Facebook or a Twitter button right next to the word “fucking” people just they’re like, “oh my god!”

Jonathan Fields: [Laughs]

Julien Smith: Excited with —

Jonathan Fields: You know, I’m going to have to test that though. [Laughs]

Julien Smith: I recommend it, you know. So I’m giving away all my secrets here.

Jonathan Fields: [Laughs]

Julien Smith: So when you put it in the title, like something immediately happened. Because people see it on Facebook or they see it on Twitter and they go, “Oh my god,” you know. You should see the number of Facebook and Twitter likes that’s on that post now, it’s sitting around 3000. Yeah.

So my point is that I remember breaking through that barrier and I was talking with James and I have a post… I’m not going to say the title of the post, which came a few after that. You can look for it in November or December. It’s easily the most offensively title post I’ve ever written. And I called James and I said, “You know, you should — I’m going to publish this post and it is this and it is that” and I was having this crazy week with content where I was testing and seeing what would happen if I did this and if did parodies and all these things. I was like, I’m having the most unbelievable traffic week, People are coming out of the woodwork and saying that they love me. I was like, this is really strange and I realized that all I was doing was being who I authentically actually am. So this old version of myself who existed in podcasting and who existed in all of these places was simply coming back. It wasn’t like a fake me or anything like that. And I —

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: And so James said, “Oh my god, you’re not actually going to post that, are you?” And now we’re talking about it so much that people are going to be like… And they’ll go check it and it will go viral again ’cause that’s what happens. Because James says, “Oh it’s going to go viral, I know it. It’s going to go viral” and then sure enough, I pressed post and it’s like… It becomes this explosion and this is a really offensive post with an offensive title and people were discussing it. Some people were offended.

So the point of that internal wall and passing that internal wall is difficult no matter where that wall is. No matter if it’s saying fucking in the title or no matter if it’s just going, you know, I’m going to talk about religion in this post and I know some people would disagree with that or something.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Julien Smith: Everybody has that thing. But the point is that as soon as you pass that, it’s only then that that content becomes disproportionately spread.

Jonathan Fields: Right. Now —

Julien Smith: So —

Jonathan Fields: And it’s interesting because I’m at that point right now where I sort of like in my personal brand and my content and stuff like that, like I have to make a decision. You know, I have to make a decision whether I want to go there.

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: Because also it would be so different from the brand that I’ve built for the last three years.

Julien Smith: That’s right.

Jonathan Fields: So then I know. There are going to be a chunk of people that have been just sort of bouncing around with me for a while there, they’re like, hmm, this isn’t what I signed up for. But then, you know, like the flipside is then I get to be real then I also get to be — or more real. It’s not like you’ve been false —

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: — but I just haven’t been… You know, I haven’t let as much of me show.

Julien Smith: Right. But actually, you have parts of you that I would never show. Like you’re like this happened with my family or with my biz and that and that. And I’m like, there’s no way that I’m — you know,

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: So we get different levels of comments.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Julien Smith:               I get comments like, “you’re a big wuss, stop talking about, you know, flowers and puppy dogs” or something. And I would get the opposite where people just there’s like this backlash of how dare you talk to me this way. But we’re just speaking to a different audience that have different internal values.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: But, you know, your people might very well swear like —

Jonathan Fields: Right. And —

Julien Smith: — it’s not–

Jonathan Fields: That’s the thing. It’s like I mean I’m making this big assumption that, you know, because — And also I have developed this tremendous comment community. Like bloggers left and right are shutting off their comments because they’re like, “Oh, they’re people who are just trying to scam like link juice. They’re trying to like you know just…”

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: Whatever it is. And I’m like, you know, what actually so many times the comment section of my blog just like completely dusts the value of the post itself.

Julien Smith: Oh, I know. Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: And I’m like, how can I turn that off. I’ve learned so much from them, but also I’ve curated that and sort of cultivated that sort of comment community that is very much in line with the brand that I’ve laid out on the blog.


So I wonder how many of those people are holding back who they really are in the comments because they see me sort of setting a certain tone on the blog. I’m like how would that whole community and ethic change, you know, if I just opened up and started showing like ranting a little bit more and being a little bit —

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: — using the language that I use every day with my friends. So I think it is worth testing at least for me and just kind of see —

Julien Smith: Definitely.

Jonathan Fields: — how I feel about it. You know, it’s like I have to push that boundary personally.

Julien Smith: You feel like you — It’s like because it is… I just had a realization. I posted about it the other day. Of course, everyone ignores it. That all conversation is simply highly targeted contents. So the reason Gary V is successful is because he’s creating a tiny bit of content for one person, for example Jonathan Fields, which takes about 15 seconds to type into Twitter.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: And so Jonathan Fields receives it and he goes this is content meant directly for me.

Jonathan Fields: Uh-hum.

Julien Smith: So of course you eat it up. Right?

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: So the developments of all kinds of content including conversation becomes about targeting either somebody in an extremely effective targeted way or targeting as many people as possible within a given mindset.

Jonathan Fields: Uh-hum.

Julien Smith: And so I know that I speak to a field of people, which is very vast. You know, like there’s — A huge number of people it’s like the personal development… It just offends even to use those words. But you have no choice but to speak to a really tough audience, a really jilted and sort of jaded audience that has heard this and has heard that and this is nothing new and that’s nothing new using something different.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: So whatever blogger you are, you have to either be more targeted or you have to become more memorable in a different way.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Julien Smith: So it’s a really challenging thing.

Jonathan Fields: Yes.

Julien Smith: You know.

Jonathan Fields: And what’s interesting to me is too and this is… You know, I owned a yoga center for seven years and I taught yoga. So I was like sitting and walking around with bare feet teaching yoga and talking about all sorts of spiritual things. And it wasn’t unusual for me to be like sitting there in a packed room of students and we’re like 45 minutes into a 90-minute class.

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: And I’ll be like — You know, and I’ll just be like get a fucking life people.

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: And people are like… And half the people start cracking up and four people —

Julien Smith: You felt it just now, didn’t you?

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Julien Smith: You felt the wall literally as you were doing it.

Jonathan Fields: I did.

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: It’s like bam.

Julien Smith: Uh-huh.

Jonathan Fields: But you know —

Julien Smith: So but —

Jonathan Fields: And it’s funny because like that was who I was and you know, I had a big following in that class. Because I was the dude who was just like out there being real in a very cruel world. And it’s funny that I hadn’t really been willing to go all the way there in my online persona.

Julien Smith: You just went there by the way.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah, I know.

Julien Smith: And if this is your content — I mean —

Jonathan Fields: I know.

Julien Smith: But your —

Jonathan Fields: And as soon as this video comes out, they’re like that’s it.

Julien Smith: Like…

Jonathan Fields: Oh my god…

Julien Smith: You know what might actually happen, Jonathan? Nothing.

Jonathan Fields: Or — Yeah.

Julien Smith: Not a fucking thing will happen.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: And then when that happens, you’ll be like, “Oh, I see, so that’s all it is.” And so all you get is this — I mean you can either do it like I said five years from now whatever that barrier is I don’t even care if it’s swearing. For me it’s swearing. People say I can’t swear it’s unprofessional, all this stuff. I’m like fine. But there is a line and you need to push past that line and that’s the only point at which people start to think that you’re interesting and different. Aaron Wall —

Jonathan Fields: Yes.

Julien Smith: — super famous search marketer. I was in search marketing for a while, said you need a strong editorial voice inside of your space. And so it doesn’t matter how boring your industry is. I don’t care of its blend tech. It’s a strong editorial voice.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Julien Smith: You really find out and you push the envelope whatever it is and that’s why people love content that’s boring.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: ‘Cause you can go through the post and be like, it’s really interesting lots of information but so what, people ignore it.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. I think the voice matters so much. All right. That’s very cool. Okay. So one last really just super — Like a very practical question to end this on actually ’cause we’ve been going at this pretty long here.

Julien Smith: Yeah.

Jonathan Fields: So just pure straight up.  One of the concerns that a lot of bloggers have and content creators have is this going to get through the spam filters. You know, like is this going to kill my traffic because nobody is going to be able to read it anywhere.

Julien Smith: Uh-huh.

Jonathan Fields: Have you sort of explored that or had issues with that?

Julien Smith: Well, I mean it’s — You know what to tell you the truth, I haven’t really thought about it. But it’s — I think the majority of the traffic if I look at it now comes from email or RSS or Twitter. which are generally like the pretty savvy people —

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: — that have sophisticated spam filters and not the crappy, I don’t know, ones or whatever they are, you know?

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: I don’t — I see a significant increase in traffic and again like I’m not telling people to swear.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Right.

Julien Smith: This is just — I decided a long time ago that I was going to have a really personal online voice and I have — I’m not beholden to anyone. I don’t have consulting fees. I do — I mean, you know, I do get paid by these things. But if all those things go away I’m not all of a sudden like, oh no, I have no marketable skills. Like it just turns out that the more that you speak to your audience in a general way… You know, what I really figured out is this. Is the more the content sounds like you getting drunk on a Friday night —


Jonathan Fields: [Laughs]

Julien Smith: — with a bunch of your friends and it’s 4 o’clock in the morning and someone is slamming the piano and another guy is rolling around the ground for no reason and then somebody said something and they say something and everybody cracks up and they’re like ha-ha-ha, that’s your content.

Jonathan Fields: Hmm, god that’s pretty funny.

Julien Smith: That’s your content right there and nobody is willing to go there. They think that they can only go there with two or three people, wrong. The whole internet wants this.

Jonathan Fields: Right.

Julien Smith: That’s why — Again, Gary V, he noticed.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah.

Julien Smith: They want to hear the real shit.

Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Totally. And I think that’s a good place to end it on also; they want to hear the real shit.

Julien Smith: Yeah. And so that’s it.

Jonathan Fields: Dude, where can — Most of the internet already knows who you are and where to find you, but for the people who don’t, where can people find you?

Julien Smith: I have a blog at I’m @julien on Twitter and… I don’t know. I mean you can find me anywhere, email me, Google me, whatever it is you want.

Jonathan Fields: Awesome, man. Very cool.

Julien Smith: I had a good time.

Jonathan Fields: Yes, thank you. This is awesome. Take care.

Julien Smith: See you later.


So. What do YOU think???

How much of your real-life-with-friends persona do you share online?

And why?

[FTC Disclosure – You should always assume that pretty much every link on this blog is an affiliate link and that if you click it, find something you like and buy it, I’m gonna make some serious money. Now, understand this, I’m not talking chump change, I’m talking huge windfall in commissions, bling up the wazoo and all sorts of other free stuff. I may even be given a mansion and a yacht, though honestly I’d settle most of the time for some organic dark chocolate and clean socks. Oh, and if I mention a book or some other product, just assume I got a review copy of it gratis and that me getting it has completely biased everything I say. Because, books and other stuff are like a drug to me, put one them my hand and you own me. Ethics be damned! K, you’ve been warned. Huggies and butterflies. ]

Photo of Julien Smith By Frédéric de Villamil

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95 responses

95 responses to “Getting Real: Dropping F-Bombs For Pleasure and Profit”

  1. NomadicNeill says:

    There’s no disconnect between my real self and my online persona (that I’m aware of). But then it’s easy for me because I’m not trying to sell anything.

    BTW, IMO this whole business of being authentic applies to ALL areas of life, not just blogging and marketing.

  2. Tim Brownson says:

    Quite honestly I’m appalled Jonathan.

    Appalled that you haven’t come on over to the dark side before now 😉

    So many people talk about being authentic, but then censor themselves and don’t use their authentic voice.

    What’s that all about then?

  3. Rick Wolff says:

    So Mr. Smith is “transparent”, yet very calculating as to the number of f-bombs he drops per post or video. Is anyone else’s hypocrisy detector going off right now? Really, can you do both at the same time? When a speaker curses, is he relaxed, or feigning relaxation? Even Julien calls it “strategic” in this video. If you’re strategic, how are you being transparent?

    • Ding, ding, ding.

      I too thought it was interesting that what was percieved by others as “being authentic” was actually more intentional and strategic in approach than most assume. Of course, when you assume, you make an a** of you and me.

      I also laughed when I heard him say “I’m giving away all my secrets.”

      None the less, quite a thought provoking conversation – but more so for other reasons than the use of swear words.

    • Transparency is not an absolute.

      And since when do we ever NOT consider what we say, how we say it and what effect it will have? That wouldn’t be a lack of transparency or authenticity, that would just be stupid.

      • Michael – I probably shoot my mouth off all the time without considering what effect it will have. ALL THE TIME>

        I actually give the guy props – he gets it. It was more about others thinking that they get him…when I think that they don’t.

        • It’s easy to shoot your mouth off when you’ve had a few at a party but not so much when you’re writing content for your blog. Or maybe that’s just me and you’re very different! 😀

          “It was more about others thinking that they get him…when I think that they don’t.” <– I think so too.

          • Rob says:

            @Rick Wolff,
            Thanks for keeping it real. If the only way I can appeal to my audience is by shock value…well, it sucks to be me. Maybe it’s that my crowd isn’t in their teens or twenties. Not everyone talks that way. Will it get readers? Sure. But so will quality content. I agree with most of your posts Jonathan, but I can’t pretend to be a lemming and blindly agree so we can wink/wink at each other. The writers I respect most are the ones that can get a point across in PG. Takes a little more imho.
            Also, after visiting some of the commenters blogs I’m not sure what they were reading. Search and see how many use those words in their blogs. I’m not sure that really is your audience, Jonathan.
            Live it LOUD!

    • Omochan says:

      I get where you are coming from, but let’s make a clear distinction here: being transparent doesn’t negate being tactful. It is very possible most times to get a point across and be strategic in the way you do so without being unauthentic and there’s no reason that I can think of that it could be otherwise.

      It’s the simple difference between being a person with a refreshing outlook and just being an ass. Being mean and unprofessional (he does do this for a living and all) while just throwing in a phrase like “I’m just being real” or “I’m just being transparent” is nonsense.

      No one wants to listen to a person who’s an ass even if they have good info.

  4. I swear like a Truck Driver, but as my site is B2B I thought I can’t use the F-Bomb. I instantly engage with anyone who uses it online, business or not, so what am I afraid of?

  5. Anne Wayman says:

    Ahhhh, great question. I haven’t dropped the f-bomb on my blog and not sure I will, but I love thinking about it and I do use it in some of my conversation. There’s something about that word that expresses something I can’t say any other way.

    Of course, or on another hand as I become more mindful (when I do), I have less reason to swear.

    Like so much in language – no single answer.

    Thanks for bringing this up!


  6. Tolle says:

    We like to see other people flirt with disaster – but not quite fly off the rails. It’s entertaining.

  7. Rufus Dogg says:

    Yeah, not buying it.

    Part of being authentically human is peeing and pooping, but you still look for an appropriate place to do it. Same with cursing. I suppose there are communities where group pooping or spontaneous public urination is ok, but I can’t think of one. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean you get to do it anytime YOU choose.

    Here is the REAL art: To have an authentic voice without relying on a lexicon of curse words and still draw an audience. If all that is driving your traffic is curse words or your readers feel that cursing makes you “authentic” or you are strategically using curse words in your marketing, this is even less than authentically you.

    Great writers can drive traffic with their voice. Lazy writers reply on short-cut curse words. Quoting Henry David Thoreau terribly, I’d rather have an audience of three really engaged readers in hell than a thousand false admirers in Heaven. Or something like that 🙂

    • Rufus – I am laughing hysterically here. Can I quote your first paragraph? Epic.

    • D. Brent says:

      Thank you Rufus! My thoughts exactly.

      Btw, my father held a Doctorate in Pharmacy and was the most authentic person I know (and I knew him for all of my 50+ years of life). He never cursed, not even in anger–and he could hold your attention in conversation.

      Why do we assume that cursing demonstrates greater authenticity? I rarely curse–and when I do it is during an moment of anger and frustration–and frankly I am not proud of myself when I do. Does this mean anger and frustration are the only authentic emotions? When I am happy and ecstatic, I don’t curse. Are these inauthentic emotions?

      There are some words we would not use even in blogs because certain segments in society would jump us (and rightly so) the “N” word being one of them. Does this mean we are being inauthentic?

      Refusing to curse is not a lack of authenticity, it is a demonstration of self-discipline in communication.

      We have become very desensitized and I am not convinced this is a good thing. Cursing is usually a demonstration of contempt for another person. Is this what we wish to convey? I understand that you are not actually calling someone a name–but if you want as many people as possible to read your blogs wouldn’t you want to show them respect?

      • Rufus Dogg says:

        Ah, you went and used the R-word; RESPECT! Shame on you 🙂 Think how many wars we could have avoided, how many hurt feelings we could have prevented, how many relationships we could have built if we just took the extra bits to respect the other person. I could vehemently disagree with every single point you make, but as long as we respect each other, we’re ok. In this “me, me, me, me and more me” world we have created for ourselves, we do tend to forget there is always at least one more side to the conversation we claim to be having. Cursing just says “it is only my voice — not your ears — that is important.”

        People who know me well know that I am in the habit of saying, “There are no accidental scenes in movies, no characters without purpose in literature, no accidents in design” or something like that. The director, author or artist has ultimate control over what is placed in the final version. The same is true of blogs. When you curse in a blog, there better be a good reason why you didn’t edit it out. (I edited out an adjective modifying “good” in the previous sentence, BTW. It didn’t seem all that necessary.)

        And “being authentic” is just a cop-out. What you meant to say is “I have not spent more time honing my vocabulary. I am a poor craftsman with words.” And that is the point at which you should push away from the blog and let others who are better at it then you be heard.

  8. Questions this video brought to mind for me…

    Is desenticization really a good thing?

    At what point do things no longer carry value or meaning?

  9. Priyanka says:

    You know..the coincidence is tht just before reading this I was browsing for information on a music video I saw a few days’s Pink’s ‘You are Perfect’ and read that the song was originally called ‘You are Fucking Perfect’. And thought that made so much sense, as in, apt for that moment. Loved this post, what with the conversation flowing..made me the end of the day what it does boil down to is the human connect, isn’t it?

    I concur with what NomadicNeill says..and try not to keep too much of a wall between my off and on-screen personae..but sometimes a little distinction is necessary cos the person at the other end can’t experience your tonal shifts, changes in facial expression, etc.

    And I like the idea of the strong editorial voice. Would also use the word ‘engaging’ along with it. 🙂

  10. Jonathan –
    For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be at all offended or run screaming into the hills if you started swearing. I have a hunch that you’d use those words judiciously – in order to make a point, not cash in on shock factor.

    I actually think that – like the word ‘authentic’ – cursing for effect quickly starts to become wearing. I have no issue with the occasional well-placed and appropriate “color,” but when I see a blogger using those words constantly, it starts to feel a little manipulated. It almost feels like we’re back in school – a bunch of little kids trying to be cool by saying bad words.

    I swear in real-life conversations when the context calls for it, but I definitely hold back on putting curses into writing. I think my hesitation to put that kind of language into black and white has to do with the inability to read my audience in real-time. I can tell whether someone I’m with in the real world will roll with a curse or not; but when it comes to publishing content on the web – as much as we talk about the dialog and the conversation – there are very few guiding cues to tell a writer what will be considered funny or impactful and what will be considered offensive.

    I suppose it comes down to trust, doesn’t it? Trusting that your audience will come along with you. Trusting that you know them well enough to make the right choices. Trusting yourself to grow your online persona and audience in the direction that’s right for you. It’s scary, but worth the risk.

    Good luck.

  11. Lorraine says:

    I speak in an authentic voice to my children.

    I speak in an authentic voice to my clients.

    I speak in an authentic voice to my 80-year old mother-in-law at family gatherings.

    I speak in an authentic voice to my best friend after a couple of drinks.

    I speak in an authentic voice the first time I meet someone–and I speak in an authentic voice after I’ve known that person for years.

    All the voices are authentic–but they’re not the same voice. I don’t use the same language in all conversations–but I’m still having meaningful conversations.

    I don’t agree that swearing will become ubiquitous in a few years–at least I hope not. It’s simply not appropriate in all situations, e.g.: around children, people from more formal cultures or folks of certain generations.

    While swearing gets attention–is that really the point of online communication? Aren’t you also trying to move hearts and minds?

    I agree with Julien, “… there is a line and you need to push past that line and that’s the only point at which people start to think that you’re interesting and different.” But as he notes, the line isn’t uniformly about swearing. Each person needs to identify the line herself–with as much honesty, courage and imagination as possible.

    • Rufus Dogg says:

      Very well put. The only people who speak using one voice to everyone are those who have very limited selves, mostly the young. As we age, we become different roles to different people and our language becomes (or should become) less about “me, I want” to “you, how can I help.” Cursing keeps you in the first stage.

      I think Julien says a lot of smart things. I’m not sure this was one of them. I would find him more compelling if he left out the curse words, but I may not be his audience. All I know if his blog has become one I no longer point people to as I don’t trust that it reflects well on my voice.

  12. Priyanka says:

    n m still’s not always that having a strategy while saying u’re authentic is being hypocritical. if it’s about what you bring to the table, finding out what resonates with you – could be a matter of strategy, deep thinking..and possibly gut-feeling. and then, acting on what resonates could be fine-tuning your strategy to be as authentic as possible. as a commentator in another post of urs says, ““We’re all in the process of creating ourselves.” i guess we are, and moulding ourselves as authentically as we can – is also about some soul-searching into ‘what works’ and adds value.

  13. Priyanka says:

    i also love lorraine’s line in reference to pushing past the line: “Each person needs to identify the line herself–with as much honesty, courage and imagination as possible.”

  14. This is very much a discussion worth having. The right expletive at the right moment increases that magical effect words have on people a thousandfold.

    There have been times when I’ve written something and just didn’t feel right or natural or effective until I put a choice swear word in it. There have also been times when swearing felt forced or overcooked. Once you over-spice, you’ve ruined the dish. So I would take the word out or tone it down.

    Let’s not forget that we are creating this content to achieve a business objective and it is calculated as all fuck, but that is not related to ideas of transparency or authenticity. Strategy and transparency are not opposites.

    When we become extremely practiced, we make it look easy, as if we’re just having this natural conversation. Our writing hits its target instinctively and effortlessly. But we won’t achieve that state unless we push the boundaries and push through that extreme self-consciousness and awkwardness.

    Julien’s web traffic doesn’t blow up because he’s Julien and yours doesn’t because you’re not. Julien’s traffic blows up because he’s both smart about the art of what he says and smart about the science of testing things out to see what has the greater effect. The man’s figuring out f-bomb to Like button proximities, fer crying out loud. That’s hardcore.

    • Michael – thanks for the heads up on this discussion. I have to say, the whole conversation is fuckin’ awesome – but only because my mother’s not listening…otherwise, I’d have to say it’s really neat. 😉

      F bombs to Likes analysis…that IS hardcore.

      Some things should be said with tact and diplomacy. Other times, well…there’s just no other way to call it than to say ‘this is bullshit.’ Luckily, my readers appreciate just the right dash of colorful language – and the audacity to call ‘bullshit’ when warranted.

      Haven’t tried out f bombs yet, though. After all, my mother does read my blog from time to time. I don’t want to get that phone call…”Sandra Lee…” (Tell me you don’t hear your folks’ voice doin’ that middle name thing before you type a f-o-u-r letter word.)

      I think everyone here has a point, tho. There are lines in the sand that you should not cross, depending on the situation, audience, and your own comfort level.

      However, language is a means of communication. When you’re trying to communicate a message, sometimes you need words that would otherwise be frowned upon. Choosing how impactful you want those words to be doesn’t negate your authenticity or transparency. It is simply choosing how you convey your message to fit your intented audience. Period.

  15. Being you will weed out your audience and that is a good thing. If you curse in real life occasionally, might not be good to hide that fact in your writing/other work if building trust is key 🙂

  16. I think it’s now gone the other way. People swear so much it no longer has any value, shocking or otherwise. I certainly don’t think it indicates someone being more honest or authentic than anyone who doesn’t swear.

    If anything I switch off; it’s as if someone can’t think of the words to explain what they want to say. Or can’t do it without insulting their readers – who put up with it because they’re the so-called “right people”.

    And before I get labelled a prude or something, it’s not that I mind swearing per se. I worked in an environment where every other word was the f-word, and I didn’t bat an eyelid. I know it’s how people talk; but it’s now being used as a marketing ploy, a benchmark by which your authenticity is measured, which brings me back to my first points.

    It no longer shocks and it doesn’t mean you’re more authentic than me.

  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    So many great points.

    It’s not about doing it for the sake of doing it, at least for me, it’s because there are certain words that convey an idea or an emotion better that anything else.

    A few years back, I shared a post ( where I told a story about a conversation I’d been privy to in an elevator in hospital. One woman dropped the f-bomb and when I wrote the post I considered changing it or $&#* it, but that would have changed both the emotion and the power of what she actually said and was experiencing.

    I do agree that sometimes it’s a crutch for linguistic myopathy, but other times it’s the ultimate expression of art.

  18. Julien says:

    guys, great conversation. I’m typing via my iPhone so you’ll have to excuse the brevity, but I’m going to add a bit in here.

    #1, strong editorial voice is key to everything, and the more radical and polarizing it is, the more it wins zealots, who look forward to your posts while frothing at the mouth, etc.

    #2, accusations of manipulative strategy vs transparency. I simultaneously am guilty, while also being transparent and authentic about it in this video. they’re for different audiences than the blog is. If strong language, which I use naturally, has a multiplying effect on visibility, I am comfortable with it.

    #3, the tend is not towards swearing necessarily, but towards the casual and breaking of social rules. think “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and journalists being editorial in their covering of politics. the persona of the neutral commentator is disappearing and being replaced with the one who speaks his mind.

  19. Jason Falls says:

    You can talk about authenticity and transparency and honesty until the cows come home. But the simple truth is that about 60% or so of the population is offended by the word and thinks less of you for using it. As long as you’re comfortable eliminating them from your potential audience (which I have come to terms with), then fuck all you want.

    If you need business, clean up your potty mouth and play the game. It’s not dishonest to not offend someone. It’s polite.

  20. Ellen Berg says:

    I actually wrote about a related issue on my own blog today about getting over your damn self already. As a new blogger, I found myself getting in my head too much, questioning every word based on what the “experts” say.

    What I (or anyone else) has to offer is themselves in as real a fashion as they can share. I *do* cuss a lot less on my blog than in conversation, but that’s because too many cuss words detract from the overall message in writing. A well placed cuss word though…genius.

    It’s like I tell my students: if you’re cussing just to cuss or to show us you know the words, *YAWN*. Anyone can do that. But if you’re using it for effect in service of the writing, rock it out.

  21. What if there are children or your parents around? What the fuck then?

  22. Daniel Roach says:

    I love this conversation and I gotta go with Julien on this one. It’s not about swearing to swear, or swearing to manipulate, it’s you being you to an audience that is drawn toward that type of you. You can hide who you are behind vague, neutral 3rd person now but it will just make the change that much more jarring and painful for your audience if you decide to be authentic two years from now.

    It’s not that it would be dishonest not to offend people, like Jason said, but you’ll find a more loyal and active following through authenticity than aiming at the 60% that cares what you say.

    All that said, I’m all for some editorial discretion. I cuss on my blog, but I edit it out 90% of the time, not because I don’t want to offend people but because it gets in the way of what I’m saying. I’m aiming for directness, not distraction.

  23. Naomi Niles says:

    In my mind, it’s not so much about authenticity as it is about the message you are trying to share.

    If a well-placed word here and there gives your argument more weight or gives your message more impact, then great!

    But, if it’s used as a crutch to try to add something that isn’t there in the first place, then…not so great.

  24. Tim Croteau says:

    To me, this is just one of the vital differences between social network communication and day-to-day “corporate” communication. One of the biggest reasons for social media’s growth is our desire to stop dealing with companies and start interacting with humans – well, humans get mad, curse and have strong opinions.

    In my world, when people SOCIALize, f-bombs happen. Culture is a factor for sure, and I certainly wouldn’t expect vulgarities flying around in a business-professional interaction, religious community, etc. But when it comes to the online “water-cooler” that IS social media, I want to hear real voices and real opinions, and I want them delivered as a human being, not an artificially-censored corporate talkbox. If I want that boring stuff, I’ll read your brochure.

  25. I agree that using a colorful vernacular might appear authentic or transparent. The people who will bond with the speaker/author are like that, too. There’s a certain kinship. Like attracts like, as they say.

    But the initial attraction (and to borrow a fitting analogy) may be good for a one-night stand, but it will never cement a long-term marriage. And that’s the problem. Great for product launches. Great for one-hit sales. Great for drive-by marketing campaigns.

    But not good for long-term, thriving, profit-minded, customer-oriented businesses.

    I think that being too casual ignores and even deters a huge prospect base — real, targeted prospects, not just tire-kickers. I’m not talking about polarizing people, which is a different issue. I’m talking about the “meta-message” it communicates.

    In other words, this speaks of something I call a UPA, an “unconscious paralleled assumption.” Meaning, people unconsciously assume there’s a parallel between a part and its whole.

    (For example, dirty shelves at a retail store gives the UPA that, if the store can’t take care of its shelves, how can it take care of its own customers?)

    In this case, the UPA created when business people use such a colorful vernacular is: “If he’s that laid back, casual, and unpolished about his presentation, I can only imagine how unpolished his product will be — or how laid back they will be when it comes to customer service.”

    This happens unconsciously, often in a fraction of a second. There are tons of articles on psychology about this. The corollary/converse is called the “Halo Effect.”

    Nevertheless, I think that restraint speaks a greater message, because people realize you’re respecting them — and therefore the UPA is you will respect them equally if not more when they buy from you and become your customers.

    Again, just my opinion.

    • Michel, great points. I don’t associate casual with unprofessional or sloppy. I know many people do feel swearing (specifically) is unprofessional.

      I think that what’s professional is changing and fragmenting as various communities coalesce online. There’s no longer a single standard.

      I doubt very much that swear words in my blog content or even my information products means my customers won’t value me over time (the “long-term marriage” as you put it). If anything (or, rather, ideally) they will come to love my work even more, because I will continue to give them what they expect and enjoy about my work.

      I would never lose respect for someone who didn’t swear, and that’s a strong point in favor of not doing it. But personally, I would never lose respect for someone because they swore–if they did it for the right reasons (authenticity and the perfect effect vs immature shock value). Because that’s harder to accomplish, I respect that person even more than someone who takes the easy way out and never swears at all.

      That’s how I see it, anyway. 🙂

      • Great point. I think the distinction here is one who uses it — perhaps rarely — either to make a point, or by accident. The authenticity comes NOT from the use of swear words but by the idea that the person is human after all. They make mistakes or feel passionate at times, too.

        My point was to differentiate the human aspect from the strategic, intentional, “let’s do it because being a little shocking is good for business” aspect.

        To me, doing it in a way where people can feel you’re being a bit contrived — and by “feel,” Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” comes to mind — then in the end it doesn’t make you look real. It makes you look smarmy.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Michel – Love where you’re going with this and the concept of the UPA.

      Completely agree on the ability for less than conscious/visceral messaging to convey equal if not more compelling information and either reinforce or contradict more overt messaging.

      I can see easily how dirty shelves fall into this category, but I’m not so convinced about the use of colorful language.

      In fact, some of the leading people in the world of marketing and copywriting use language that would be considered horribly offensive by many, but they’re also so good at what they do and share it so purely that people look past the language and embrace the value and they have for decades. The late Gary Halbert, who I know you knew, is a great example. Or Carlton and others. I don’t think any less of them simply because they rarely filter.

      In the world of storytelling, Robert McKee is another example. His 4 day Story program is a lesson on how to be the most un-PC person on Earth. Yet, he is so raw and real and delivers such extraordinary value that he still packs theaters and has for the last 25 years.

      So I don’t necessarily see colorful language as a signpost of a short-term relationship. To me, the context, sense of its use for effect or genuine expression of self and value that is delivered along with it is a far greater determinant of long-term connections.

  26. Jonathan and Julien,

    Killer conversation! Absorbing and revealing in so many ways.

    I think it’s tricky. Ultimately, it is all about realness, getting to the essence of a persona, and profanity can be a part of that for some. For me, a PG-rated writing style on my blog is the choice that feels right, so I go with it, but I do think that swearing in the manner of a Gary V., for example, can be entertaining in moderation.

    By the way, Jonathan, your website URL is missing the second “N” at the end of the video (it says “A gig”)
    Just passing that along.

    Excellent work, guys!


  27. Jen says:

    I love this conversation!

    I am more apt to swear in real life than on my blog, except for “ass”, as in badass or kick ass, here and there. I wrestle with this because I care about not offending people, especially my mom. (She already caught me swearing as early as preschool.) When that worry/internal censor comes up, I ask myself…who do you think you’re losing? As one who is building my web presence, often that one comment or follower feels like gold, but at what cost if by being polite, I’ve been inauthentic? Have a made a connection with someone who will soon find out “I’m not that innocent” (since Thoreau was mentioned, I thought Spears should be too.)

    Isn’t there strategy in politeness? Is it more honorable or at least the trangression of inauthenticity more forgivable, than strategically dropping the f-bomb? If I strategically condemn the f-bomb on my blog and Team Knickers in a Bunch tweets and likes me into instant fame what would that say about me and my clean mouth self?

    Lastly…I think readers are smart. Man/woman cannot live on fuck alone and, as Julien stated, strong editorial voice is the key.

    Peace and thanks for this electrifying moment!

  28. I definitely agree Julien, that it’s a lesson of authenticity. It makes a lot of sense.

    I think you make a great point when you say you’ve probably both gained and lost people because of it. I, like.. guys like Tim Ferriss believe that you won’t be able to please everyone. Focus on the people who get it.

    Overall, the internet has become a place where you can literally broadcast your entire life, or small parts of it and I think that people align with you being you.

    Swearing in blog posts is certainly challenging people’s typical behaviors, which is going to create chatter about it. Things have to become status quo somehow. I think it’s a great thing. Sometimes, there are no other words to express exactly what the hell you’re thinking than strong ones. Great topic.

  29. […] the article titled Getting Real: Dropping F Bombs for Pleasure and Profit, Jonathan Fields interviews Julien about swearing in blog […]

  30. Brittni says:

    I love this topic. In fact, I recently did a video about using the f word on my blog and what it means to be “professional” in this day and age. Here’s the link for anyone that wants to take a look:

    Anyway, I just finished watching the entire video and completely agree that (for some of us) its completely natural to cuss when you’re writing in an authentic voice. Some people love it and some people hate it. There’s no getting around it.

  31. There’s a nuance that people seem to be missing here while getting hung up on the vocabulary: there is a difference between using “shocking” language, and writing as unfettered as if you were a couple of drinks in and with your buddies.

    You can be that open, that candid, without resorting to a “potty mouth” but most people don’t dare to.

    I know I don’t. Might have to rethink that.

  32. We can wrap our ‘message’ around what ever language, F bombs too we want,and in the end it it what is in the FUCKING CONTENT that counts…or does it? like when i wrote screenplays in Hollywood once upon a time, it’s called THE HOOK…so clearly fucking is a major hook for the masses:)))

  33. I seldom swear just for the sake of searing. Sometimes when I am doing a home improvement project and I start to get frustrated I will swear and swear often.

    I’m not against swearing, everything has it’s place.

    I remember watching a Tony Robbins video where he is on stage giving a quick talk and he drops an F-Bomb. I was taken back at first, but I realize that he is human after-all.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I remember seeing that talk too. Tony was speaking at TED, with Al Gore in the front row when he asked the audience who’s watched a movie or TV show twice. Many hands went up, to which he replied, “get a f-ing life!”

  34. Interesting discussion for sure. I’ve gone through an experience similar to what Julien was describing with running up against the wall and moving past it. In my case, however, the resistance was fully going there with a more spiritual, ‘woo woo’ tone in my writing. Somewhere along the way, I realized that if the people that are most inspiring to me are communicating this way, and that is the kind of discussion I want to facilitate on my blog and in my business, I better go for it all the way.

    There has been an undeniable shift in my writing on my blog, as well as my work with Spirit of the Gulf Coast. Interestingly (and almost immediately), the phone started ringing, people started asking me to speak and write on topics that I am motivated to share, etc. I feel like I’ve turned a corner and finally overcome a big hurdle in my thinking as well as my writing.

    So, being ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ *for me* doesn’t necessarily involve cursing, but instead means speaking from my heart in business as well as in personal life. That’s my take on it anyway. And by the way, I totally filtered out the use of ‘passionate’ in the paragraph above just for you. 🙂

  35. OOoh. I just watched this, mere hours after using a word I”m still becoming comfortable with – pu$$y – on a class I taught with Jennifer Louden… There’s no other word for the entirety of the female sexual organ… And I’m learning and learning to teach Orgasmic Meditation.

    For me, this question is not only about profanity and authenticity but also about taboos and topics that have been “off limits” and important conversations we need to have — about pleasure, intimacy, money, race, gender, and more — that may stir some… er, stuff… up.

    I don’t have any answers to lay down as “fershure” but I love the thought of all of us doing our utmost to say what’s so, in the most compelling, vivid, AND accessible ways possible.

    • I’m glad somebody else brought this up. It was dancing at the edge of my thinking out of focus until now.

      “Shock value” is a very crude way to try to describe something else entirely: words are magic. People who only understand and work with shock value are making crude pipe bombs instead of beautiful fireworks.

      Words are spells that unlock emotions, reactions and memories. Words have power, sometimes to weaken one person and strengthen another all in the same utterance. Take for example, “nigger” or “cunt” (see the book of the same name).

      In one context, those words are the spear points of a spell of contempt and hatred. In a different context, they are words stolen back and turned against the oppressors in a glory of celebration. They are power words.

      If you use them incorrectly, it will backfire on you. Possibly even destroy you. But if you can use them correctly, you can make some real gold. Not everyone gets to use them that way.

      Is it even possible for someone who’s not black to say “nigger” and not only get away with it but completely rock out with it? Watch this and decide for yourself: Or this from comedian from Louis C.K. –

      Words have incredible power. By choosing not to use certain words we can end up saying the wrong thing because we didn’t say the right thing. Because we weren’t brave enough. We held our magic in check instead of unleashing a spell upon the world.

      Having said all that, there’s almost never an appropriate context for me to use the word nigger unless I’m writing fiction or quoting someone else. There just isn’t enough white irony in all the world otherwise to even remotely make it work. And it’s not that I’m looking for an excuse, either, because my whole point has to do with the rightness of a particular moment in context.

      • Thanks, Michael. You made the pointed points I didn’t : ) Plus, righteous beard. Here’s to power words in skillful hands (and mouths and keyboards!

      • Michael:
        Thanks for this precise commentary and distinction.

      • Julien says:

        Yeah this discussion of taboo subjects is what it’s actually about, I realize. Good stuff.

      • Eloquently said.

      • Michael – Lovely prose. Per our earlier dialog I wondered at the strategy of the words and amount of editing done in your response. Me (per my earlier comment re shooting my mouth off) I tend to write stream of consciousness – especially in blog responses.

        Jonathan & Julien – You know you have a winner when we come back again to read and comment. This is my third (or fourth) trip through the chain. Thanks to all of you who post comments and foster a dialog.

        My take on Julien is that he IS authentic, but not because he swears. His authenticity, true to self, or heart centered view (Brandon’s term if I remember correctly) comes through in many, many ways both in the video as well as what work of his I have read. Yes Julien, you did get me over to your blog.

        Words are incredibly powerful. They can cut as sharp. In fact, the wound can last much longer.

        To me the “root” of this issue gets to this issue of whether words are used for shock value or because they are natural for that individual.

        • Ah, the with writing stream of consciousness and not proofing. Not all the word my head make it out the fingertips.

          What I had meant to type…

          Words can cut as sharp as a knife. But that the wounds can last much longer.

        • Jonathan Fields says:

          Yup on all.

  36. wendy reese says:

    What is fascinating is I was just reprimanded at an academic setting for “having a potty mouth” in my class. I had to laugh. I teach about the value of authenticity, loving yourself, and tapping into abundance. For me, I need to be “real” and part of that reality is my language. I can easily teach a class without cursing, and often do, but sometimes, I am guided by something greater and it does not always have “nice” language. I speak in whatever language is best heard by the person it is being directed to. I write this way, including in my book and blog, and I speak this way in “real life”, too.

    The funny thing was the number of “like” and “you know” that filtered through the conversation was far more annoying than had every imaginable curse word been used.

    Be authentic and use whatever language is appropriate to get your message out.

  37. As long as someone lives in their authentic truth then right on and go for the “F” bombs, etc., you also have to know your audience. Not everyone wants to hear the “F” bomb either or there are some that love the “F” bomb – all about being yourself and live in your TRUTH!
    In gratitude,

  38. Jackie says:

    Jonathan, our perception of how things are, dosent represent others reality. I find it interesting that you made the assumption that you will “turn your audience off” by expressing yourself without censorship.

    I say let the chips fall as they may, your audience will find its natural level, you may have some losses, but I’ll bet there’ll be more gains.

    Julien absolutley rocks because of his authenticity.

    Heres to breaking down those self imposed walls, and boundaries.


  39. Jonathan: Your conversation did what a thoughtful conversation should do – take me out of my knee-jerk reactions and think. I admit I’m annoyed by what I perceive as not just the ‘shock value’ that Michael and others mention among some bloggers but also what appears to be simple posing by using ‘fucking’ and even ‘bad-ass.’ ‘Bad-ass’ isn’t even shocking; just when it’s overused it sounds like a middle-aged blogger trying to sound like she’s or he’s young, hip, and street-wise.

    You can see my judgments. I lay them transparently for all to kick and laugh at. 🙂

    But your conversation helped me think about both the ‘strategy’ and even the authenticity of some bloggers using ‘fuck’ or whatever words.

    I recognize the merit of language in context and in art. Read James Kelman’s novel How Late It Was How Late in the context of this conversation. It almost didn’t when the Booker because Brits on the board bristled at 15 ‘fuckin’s on page 1. Kelman claims that “fuckin'” is like a comma in his characters’ speech. As a Scottish novelist wanting to get out of the British shadow, he also wants to dismantle any class hierarchies of language (i.e., ‘vulgar’ language being for the vulgar, common class).

    After seeing Julien on video, I can see that his whole persona begs to say ‘fuck.’ So it feels real. And if he’s helping break down class barriers of language or calculating more like buttons, then more power to him. Me, I’m too much of a prig – except when driving. (fuckin’ idiot! :-))

  40. Jscott says:

    Fields—I like. F’ng love the conversation. Monologue is dead. Killing comments is arrogant. You, dear sir, are mixing it up.

    Or maybe you just agree with me so it is a bias.

    Either or.

  41. […] led me to author Jonathan Fields‘ blog post entitled Getting Real: Dropping F-Bombs For Pleasure and Profit, where he interviews author and blogger Julien Smith about his use of an uncensored f-bomb in the […]

  42. […] Tips for knowing your customer. If you’re sensitive to strong language, please be aware before either reading this post or watching the attendant video. Julien Smith, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Trust Agents, talks about knowing your audience…or your customers? Do you know yours? Are your assumptions right about the people your business serves? […]

  43. […] Tips for knowing your customer. If you’re sensitive to strong language, please be aware before either reading this post or watching the attendant video. Julien Smith, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Trust Agents, talks about knowing your audience…or your customers? Do you know yours? Are your assumptions right about the people your business serves? […]

  44. […] Tips for knowing your customer. If you’re sensitive to strong language, please be aware before either reading this post or watching the attendant video. Julien Smith, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Trust Agents, talks about knowing your audience…or your customers? Do you know yours? Are your assumptions right about the people your business serves? […]

  45. What interests me most about this talk is experimenting intentionally and revealing versions of yourself.

    And, how that’s all still you.

    It feels so risky.

    And, yet, really, what’s at stake? There are things, relationships – personal and business – that can be lost, but you can define what’s at risk (what matters to you & what’s the worst possible outcome) and decide how far to go. It’s not all or nothing, so why not experiment with how you express yourself?

    That’s what I’m thinking about, moved by, after listening to this talk – it’s what I often get out of Julien and Jonathan’s blogs, and other places – and then I forget (over and over), decide – without noticing that I decided – not to experiment with myself.

  46. Mark Freddy Farrell says:

    In the moment, I think it has its place.
    And some people seem to get away with it more than others, especially the Scots.
    Billy Connolly must allways be in the moment, I couldnt imagine
    him not swearing…., I wonder if he would still be as Funny?


    Mark Freddy Farrell.

  47. Valerie says:

    I cringe when I hear the word “strategy” applied in a conversation about authenticity. But I always struggle with these things. Do you lower your authenticity the minute you consciously start to examine it and start trying to be authentic? Who knows…

    • Valerie – That was an insightful question.

      I believe that it truly depends on the intent of your examination. Are you examining what you have done to ensure you are being truthful and true to who you are. Perhaps you are worried that you might have censored yourself in some way. This is the inside out view.

      Alternately if you actually looking to see if others might percieve you as authentic and adjust your language with the intent of fostering this (the outside in view) than that, is in fact the opposite.

      I do think that you can have strategies about being authentic. You can be strategic in the method in which you unveil the layers of who you are. How you share your various “faces” and life experiences.

  48. […] How do you feel about people using the F-bomb on the net? Two popular bloggers discuss the trend. […]

  49. […] the “real” me when I post here on The Blue Inkwell? Certainly not. As the conversation over at Jonathan Field’s blog illustrates, (thanks for the heads up on the discussion over there, Michael!) authenticity and […]

  50. John Sherry says:

    Well it makes me think that before Oprah came along very few people did self-help speak and then….boom, she has a show and its on our lips. But in Julien’s case the language is already out there so the audience exists and so it’s tapping into their culture and thought patterns. And where there’s one culture there’s more….

  51. […] Speak your mind…or not. The other day I was reading a posting in the blog written by Jonathan Fields at The posting actually was a video interview with Julien Smith, co-author of “Trust Agents.” The discussion was about using the F-word in your blogging and other online writing. Certainly a provocative and interesting conversation that generated a great deal of commentary that in itself is worth reading. You can read and view the interview here […]

  52. Najwalaylah says:

    I get the right kind of attention and apply the right kind of force when I drop the F-Bomb; people who know me gasp at it. Why the shock and awe? How to duplicate this result?

    It could be because it only happens every 30 to 90 days; during the interval, I flex my vocabulary, and indulge in quiet (sometimes unspoken) reflection where others might rage.

    I also tend to use the word most often to describe the physical act of coitus, and not as a euphemism or an intensifier, thus reducing the number and multiplying the force of the times when I use it as a weapon. Your mileage might vary, but I doubt it.

  53. […] the moment where he was about to say “fuck” but almost stopped himself. It was amazing. So I called him out on it. “You felt it just now, didn’t […]

  54. […] the moment where he was about to say “fuck” but almost stopped himself. It was amazing. So I called him out on it. “You felt it just now, didn’t […]

  55. […] call this “plasticity”, I call it “fucking awesome” (Julien Smith and Jonathan Fields said it was ok to swear).  We are living in a world where the only thing that determines our […]

  56. […] the moment where he was about to say “fuck” but almost stopped himself. It was amazing. So I called him out on it. “You felt it just now, didn’t […]

  57. […] the moment where he was about to say “fuck” but almost stopped himself. It was amazing. So I called him out on it. “You felt it just now, didn’t […]

  58. […] the moment where he was about to say “fuck” but almost stopped himself. It was amazing. So I called him out on it. “You felt it just now, didn’t you?” Everyone has an internetal eye. It always watching. It […]

  59. […] by gsuchy on July 24, 2011 in asides, Freelance Design Stuff, Social Media The idea that authenticity trumps everything has been percolating around the blogosphere for a long time. I recently precipitated an argument with a colleague when I suggested to him that his use of the F word 37 times in one blog post was in my opinion just crass and had little to do with his authentic voice. That discussion prompted me to revisit this post that I had written awhile back. It was inspired by an article in the blog written by Jonathan Fields at The posting actually was a video interview with Julien Smith, co-author of “Trust Agents.” The discussion was about using the F-word in your blogging and other online writing. Certainly a provocative and interesting conversation that generated a great deal of commentary that in itself is worth reading. You can read and view the interview here […]

  60. […] the moment where he was about to say “fuck” but almost stopped himself. It was amazing. So I called him out on it. “You felt it just now, didn’t […]

  61. […] okay to say, but genuinely the most accurate word choice, while Jonathan Fields and Julian Smith actively shamed me for lacking the testicular fortitude to say it more […]

  62. […] the moment where he was about to say “fuck” but almost stopped himself. It was amazing. So I called him out on it.“You felt it just now, didn’t […]