What makes a good Twitter profile? At Columbia Journalism Review, two internet marketers have some suggestions, analyzing four journalists’ Twitter profiles and providing tips. Much of the advice reads like a tutorial on grooming your LinkedIn profile — give out your real location; list your past jobs, or the elite institutions you attended; include a real photograph, etc. I would suggest: Don’t.
I mean, sure, do! Whatever floats your boat. But this advice (given, I’ll admit, with tongue somewhat in cheek), like most advice from social-media marketing professional-types, encourages the troubling line of thinking that Twitter is a business tool — a way to interact and “engage” with customers (in the case of journalists, readers) and potential employers.
The thing is, this is not really how most people, journalists especially, use Twitter. The reason, for example, that Shane Smith doesn’t mention that he runs Vice in his bio, is because Shane Smith assumes that the followers he actually cares about — people who keep a close eye on the media industry — already know who Shane Smith is. Shane Smith isn’t tweeting for anyone but the people who already know who he is.
This tends to be true of anyone who’s “good” at Twitter. The best people I follow are people who have dropped the idea of using their account as a purely professional resource. They post embarrassing anecdotes and goofy, stupid jokes and that makes them far more interesting than anyone who’s just online to say, “Please read my articles!” Post some great links, but don’t only post great links. Throw in a few shitty links and memes to spice it up.
Taking the advice of CJR’s experts and treating your Twitter bio like yet another iteration of your professional résumé would be to partake in the worst trend social media has to offer us: The increasing inseparability of our “professional” identities and our “personal” identities. Twitter is goofy, ephemeral nonsense, and should be treated as such — not as another extension of our Personal Brand, to be massaged and obsessed over.
It should be obvious that all of the advice I’ve given out is colored by my identity as a straight, white man. I can be freewheeling on Twitter because my bio and my profile pic and the tweets I compose are not taken to be representative of my race or gender as a whole. This is decidedly not the case for women and minorities online, who frequently face the unnecessary burden of the assumption that they are speaking on behalf of large swaths of people. It helps me to remember this: Almost everyone on Twitter represents only themselves, and in rare cases, the organizations that employ them. It would be nice if everyone was able to police themselves as lazily as I police myself, but that’s not the case right now.
The main thing I’m trying to say about how you appear on Twitter is: Do what makes you happy. Don’t worry if you’ve maximized your Twitter bio to increase engagement. Twitter is not a good place to find a job, or, really, to find customers. It’s a good place to mess around and argue and, most important, make jokes. Any attention you gain from that comes from an honest place, not grandstanding, and that’s a nice feeling. Including your résumé in your profile because you’re worried about how you might appear is just one more way to make the internet a little less fun and a little more anxiety-inducing.