You have 160 characters. Make them count.What you don't need in your Twitter biography

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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?

Comments

Kim Werker says

September 10, 2010 - 3:45am

I'll go with marital status. It's amazing how many people say they're a husband, wife or simply married. It's irrelevant unless you're tweeting about your marriage. I've never actually encountered anyone who focuses their Twitter stream on their marriage – which, in the interest of the health of their marriage, is probably a good thing.

Scott B. (@thatsme43) says

September 10, 2010 - 4:13am

Great tips! Thanks!

Sebastien says

September 10, 2010 - 10:15am

I'm sorry for the shameless self publicity but I thought it might be helpful to share this post I wrote a few months ago about being presentable on Twitter: http://www.sebastienpage.com/7-tips-to-be-presentable-on-twitter/

In this post I share tips to optimize the little amount of space we have in the bio. Let me know what you think.

Danny says

September 10, 2010 - 10:23am

I have seen quite a few bio's that tell about what kind of animal you have along with the genius and other qualities they provide. Unless you have a bonified space monkey this information might not be that importanat to share. lol! But its all good.

Adam says

September 14, 2010 - 1:45pm

I tell my clients to focus on your particular interest/job/industry keywords and lose the fluff. Google indexing is the main motivation. My company used a combination of keywords and misson statement. Having said that maybe you like hotdogs so "I like hotdogs with ketchup" may be what you are looking for ;)

Good article cheers,

 

Adam

@ninepointten

 

Lauren Ashley says

November 15, 2010 - 1:05am

I see way too many "experts," as well as sales pitches in the bio. What I'm looking for - and a huge part of whether or not I follow - is a taste of personality along with what they do and what they will likely tweet about. They don't have to be a comedic genius in the bio, but a little humility goes a long way.

Cathie says

May 29, 2011 - 12:15am

This is mine - it's pretty simple, but I think it sums up who I am ... with words to spare!!

 

I am a wife,

A mother.

I work,

I blog,

I photograph,

I design tshirts,

I tweet,

I'm tired.

Daud Yar says

May 29, 2011 - 11:47am

Hi. My Twitter account is used to entertain; either with funny jokes, good insight, quotes, Retweeting or mentioning, so on and so forth.

My Twitter Bio reads: Keep on, Keepin' on.

Is this appropriate? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

P.S. Thank you Social Signal and the rest of the commentators for giving your insight into this issue. I know I learned a lot from reading the blog and comments. :)

Rob Cottingham says

June 1, 2011 - 10:32am

Thanks for the kind words, Daud!

I think your current bio - "I aim to entertain; just trying to keep things interesting. I keep my tweets clean at almost all costs. :)" - is a lot stronger and less generic than K.O.K.O.

Caleb Kinchlow says

May 29, 2011 - 3:49pm

we should not know about your favorite animal or even these ambiguous bios. Sort of like " I am just a guy having fun in the sun". What in the world does that even mean anyway?

Rob Cottingham says

June 1, 2011 - 10:38am

I'm going to guess a lot of people look at the bio space and panic:

What can I say about myself in 160 characters? God, I'm blanking! My parents will feel so hurt if I don't mention them. And so will Connie, but man, our relationship is so up-in-the-air right now. I should mention my job, except I'm not really satisfied with it, and OH SWEET LORD WHAT HAVE I DONE WITH MY LIFE?!

So they write "I am just a guy having fun in the sun", because it means they can postpone a painful searching inventory of their lives, and then they wonder why they keep getting spammed by people selling SPF 60 lotion and Vitamin K cream.

Just a theory.

Samantha Gluck says

May 31, 2011 - 2:04pm

Great article and very good advice. I really am wary of following anyone who has the word "guru", "expert', or "ninja" in their bios, except when "ninja" refers to an actual ninja; then I might consider following. All the copywriting, blogging, and social media guru/experts I follow do not need to put those words into their bios because everyone knows they are gurus and experts. Anyone can look at a photograph of me and see I am female -- I don't need to include that in my bio and if I ever reach the status of guru-anything, you can bet I won't include that in my bio either! Samantha

Graham Pickles says

June 1, 2011 - 8:17am

Some great posts, remarks etc. To be honest you now have me thinking exactly what have I put in my bio? It seems that long ago that I don't actually remember and have a sneaky sad feeling it is all the things you say we should not put in. For that I apologise and I am going to check and alter it to a more constructive one.

Steph Marie says

August 28, 2012 - 8:21am
I've seen tons of people post their sexual orientation in their bios. That and whether or not they are "pierced" or "tatted" is really unnecessary.

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