Curating your profile
Almost every social media platform encourages users to write a brief description of themselves which can be shown publicly alongside their profile picture.
This is often called the ‘bio’, but it doesn’t have to contain biographical information. People often use this space to talk about their passions, goals, career status and what they’re interested in hearing about.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. As your bio is often the first way somebody may learn about you online, it’s best to think about it as a shorthand introduction.
If you had time for a brief conversation with someone important or interesting in a lift or at a party, how might you introduce yourself? What information might pique curiosity or open doors, and what might be off-putting to a potential contact?
Before we delve into the words, let’s focus briefly on the accompanying image, since that too can be enormously impactful to someone’s impression of you online.
Profile pictures, when used in a professional context, should observe the following five conventions:
Use a photograph (not a cartoon, avatar or drawing), and definitely not the default avatar image for a bio on the social platform you’re using: that makes you look unsophisticated, or like you have something to hide.
Clear, in focus head and shoulder shot. Preferably not a selfie (or not an obvious one). It can be worth paying for a professional headshot, which can be used across all your online activity and can act as effective personal branding.
Not heavily stylised or edited. Instagram filters and Snapchat enhancements are fun and often flattering, but can detract from the person in the image. Making an image black and white is about as much as you should do to tweak it.
Not cropped from a group shot or obviously taken on a night out or holiday. It’s always noticeable and it’s distracting for the viewer.
Works well at small resolutions or when cropped or masked to fit the site. For example, at the time of writing, Twitter profile pictures are rendered in circles on the main website, so images with details in the corners will not work so well. You should always bear in mind the cropping and resizing that will occur with profile pictures on all sites.
When it comes to the bio or profile content, there are also conventions that will help you make an impact.
Keep it brief, but not too brief. Different social platforms have wildly different limits on what you can put in this bio space, from the short (Twitter) to the much more lengthy (LinkedIn). You want to communicate who you are, so focus on what’s most important and relevant.
Be platform-appropriate. Surf around a particular social platform and see what stands out (in good and bad ways) from other people’s profiles. Think about tone. Twitter and Instagram are usually thought of as more authentic, personal platforms, so try to add something unique or a curious fact about you to your profile there. LinkedIn gives you more space to talk about your achievements, so you can use more formal language and fewer abbreviations or industry jargon.
Say something to invite engagement and demonstrate openness to contact. What are you looking for, interested in, curious about? Do you have a favourite quote?
Use keywords in context to your interests or area of work. For example, saying you are passionate about marketing, public speaking and football is better than simply saying you like talking to people about stuff. If you can use hashtags in your profile then do so, but no more than three, and put them at the end of a piece of the profile to aid readability.
Avoid buzzwords. Words like ninja, guru, leader, synergy, strategic, etc are overused and tend to put potential contacts off. There are more creative and interesting ways to communicate what you do in a professional context. Find them and own them.
Include a link. The character count for bios or user profiles is usually small and not enough to allow for a lengthy CV. You can include a link in your profile so people can find out more about what makes you tick. Link to your personal site, or LinkedIn, for the biggest impact.
In the ‘See Also’ section below, you’ll find an example of Sanne’s profile for two different social sites, rewritten for each context. Can you see the common elements? Can you see how language has been used differently for effect?
Have a go:
Reflecting on what has been covered in this step, think about how you would write your bio or profile differently, using the above conventions.
- What keywords do you think would be most appropriate for you?
- What buzzwords are you planning to avoid?
Share your thoughts in the Comments section.
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