Nothing concentrates the mind, the saying goes, like the prospect of being executed in the morning. When you only have a few hours left, you want to make them count.
But substitute space for time, and give people a 160-character limit on summing up their life’s story (or even just the past 525,600 minutes), and they start adding the oddest things.
On Twitter, you have a tiny little space – your profile’s biography field – to tell people who you are. Obviously, that’s an impossible task: you’re a rich, unique and complex person, a proverbial unique snowflake, and your essence can’t be captured in 20 to 30 words.
So you’re going to have to make some choices. Everything you decide to put in that bio means you have to close the door on something else. Mention your dog, your kids, your love of Rational Youth and your significant other, and you have to leave out your profession, your aspirations and your recent Nobel Prize.
Or, if we’re talking about a Twitter feed for a brand or an organization, you may have to choose from among a mission statement, a positioning line, a list of the people tweeting on this account and your intention for this feed.
It comes down to this: people look to your bio to tell them what kind of things you intend to talk about on Twitter – and to make the case for following you. (Or, perhaps just as valuable, for deciding not to.) You have 160 characters to do that.
Let me make that a little easier for you by lightening your load. Here are three things I don’t think any Twitter bio needs – which should free up some badly-needed space for the stuff that counts:
Your follower policy: “I’ll follow back. But I’ll unfollow if u unfollow me!” Unless the central obsession of your participation on Twitter is who you’re following and who’s following you back – and you’re mainly interesting in talking with people who share that obsession – you can drop this. If you absolutely have to tell the world about your policy, then create a custom Twitter landing page on your web site and use it as the link in your profile. But understand that this is a red flag that you’re using Twitter to make up for some high school social trauma… and that never works.
A generic quotation: “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a lovely idea, but the words themselves have been repeated so often, by so many people, that they’ve lost their power. If you really want to use someone else’s words in your bio, choose something distinctive and memorable that we haven’t heard thousands of times before. You’re unique; why make your biography generic?
Your geographical coordinates: “49.268701;-123.178153” tells a potential follower next to nothing about you and whether you might be interesting to talk with. You’re already telling people what city you’re in in the “Location” field of your profile; if your specific neighbourhood’s really that important, by all means mention it by name. But unless you’re a geo geek of the highest order – not that there’s anything wrong with that – you can lose the numbers.
I asked my Twitter community what they’d like to see dropped from Twitter bios:
John Bollwitt and Paul Rickett each suggested geo coordinates (thanks, you two).
Phillip Jeffrey mentioned that he’d seen people include their Twitter URL in their biography – which is a waste of space, because it already appears on your profile automatically. Good catch.
Tris Hussey, Sean Moffitt and Christine Rondeau are going to have to duke it out; Tris and Christine don’t like “social media guru”, while Sean would rather see “guru” or “ninja” instead of “expert” (maybe because there’s a self-mocking connotation there).
Finally, Christine and Monica Hamburg mentioned religion. I understand why, but I’m prepared to give religion my tentative, uh, blessing… if it’s central to your outlook on life and relevant to your Twitter conversations. Just be aware that some people may well read something you might or might not intend into your profession of faith (or your declaration of lack thereof): for example, that you only want to connect with other members of your faith, or that you’ll be mainly talking about religion (or, again, your opposition to it).
How about you? What do you think people can safely leave out of their 160-character life story?