Analyzing journalists’ Twitter bios?!?

ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL OF THE ONLINE AGE, personal branding is key to building a career in journalism. Of all the tools journalists have at their disposal in their hunt for digital glory, the Twitter bio reigns high. But with only 160 characters available, it’s not easy to strike that magical mix of informative, funny, and engaging.


Source: Analyzing journalists’ Twitter bios | Columbia Journalism Review


+Commentary: The cobbler’s children has no shoes. While following her advice & analysis above, it would seem the author relies very heavily on her associations in her own twitter bio. While not featuring a header image, having only 500+ followers, it is a very different approach for the featured people she analyzes who do not need to actually ‘introduce’ themselves. Instead they are free to use whimsy, or other forms of humor in their bio/handle and branding.

lene bech sillesen twitter bio

For an established writer or entrepreneur who is well known already, stating the obvious like their books, current position, et al… seems almost redundant or at worst braggadocious. Twitter is a place of conversation, so announcing these things in a limited space (as we’ve seen some do) is rather like trying to introduce yourself with a long list of obnoxious modifiers. Let your tweets stand for themselves, that is where the true branding comes in.

You don’t become an influencer because people choose to follow you, and they may follow you because you are one, but announcing such a thing, or crafting your limited twitter bio to frame that seems ill-conceived. If you are an influencer, that only matters to marketing folks, not your followers. So if you are trying to get hired to write something, or need to start collecting passive income for endorsing something, then perhaps you’ll want to identify that.

For a journalist, and Twitter is littered with them, that seems to go against the grain of what would be best practices & furthermore slightly obnoxious. For tech people, who are also over-represented, the examples provided seem sorely out of place, but good for grafting beginner tips onto. However, if one wants to maximize the 160 character space, less is always more.

Certain tips are essential:

  1. Make sure there is a link to *your own personal website* not just your employers. Personal Branding 101

    • There you are free to give a longer list of both your CV, press clippings, and a more intimate bio. Don’t expect a short blurb on Twitter to convince them.
    • Preferably this would be a trackable link providing you with metrics on how many people actually clicked it & where they visited on your site so that you can measure & gauge the interest that people who discover you have.
    • Using the metrics from that to better craft your website to appeal to those who will follow you, buy your books, read your articles, and become a part of your network of influence
    • In an age of Sharing Economy, Freelance Forever, it is best if perhaps you have a singular place that you can showcase what you are doing, even if that is a Tumblog or insta-page like Square Space cookie cutter that has your own branding, not that of your employers.
  2. Do not jam it full of hashtags, other handles, awards, accolades, etc…the effect of this is to again educate or hand your calling card to a stranger is overwhelming

    • With Twitter’s adoption rate slowing or almost still, are you really finding “new” people?
    • Assume they are new to you, but not new to Twitter.
    • Expect as a new journalist, obviously, to list your associations, but that people who know who you are ~ will find you based on your name, a retweet, or something, and decide from there to follow you. Or from a friend who retweeted your article, etc…someone else’s influence brought them there, or they found & followed you from a recent (or long ago) article that listed your handle.
    • That they won’t need to know you have a byline at whatever publication, that is how they recognized your name in the first place, and if you freelance write, to list all of them, or worse have to choose a few, then you are really shooting your brand in the foot.
  3. Be whimsical, if that is what you are/do, maybe less so if you cover world events or social justice

    • Convey in that short amount of space the gist of what they can expect in your tweets. If that is irreverence, then better to announce that upfront, as opposed to being all business when you use it to basically make jokes about trending topics. This is possible, even if you are a journalist.

Avoid sounding like it was created using this:

twitter bio generator_

That said, I went and looked at the journalists whom I respect & have followed for years, and here is what their bios look like:

(Click any picture below to read their bios or to easily scroll through )

Thoughts on each:
  1. Keith Boykin [35k]: Crisp, Clean, and to the articles’ points. Yet almost cold.
  2. Jonathan Capehart [130k]: Minimal, does nothing for him, or people who would follow him the person, not ‘the journalist.’ He is in a rather visible position so this seems very business-friendly.
  3. Cory Doctorow [404k]: Concise & informative. Extra URL leads to a contact form. Own personal website even though he is a co-editor of BoingBoing. Why the GPG key fingerprint is beyond me. But most people, he’s probably realized, only contact him to get their stuff published on Boing Boing. So he has the submit there preemptively.
  4. Ana Marie Cox [1.2 million]. Zen. She’s been through many cat-related ones, and despite having years in there where she wasn’t working for a major publication, this didn’t seem to hurt her brand. She has over a million followers, who love her irreverent charm, sharp insight, and great tweets.
  5. Jose Antonio Vargas [64k]: has lots of twitter handles, hashtags, etc…given that he’s hosted & produced these projects and is using this to get more follows for them, that is acceptable. Perhaps not wise, or best branding, but not uncommon. That he uses a facebook address for his personal website annoys & irritates me to no end, but what can be done? Why he wasted the space to put his Instagram link, is beyond me, that is the least of all his branded profiles and does very little. He needs his own website where he can prominently feature the links he stuffs in his bio (both on Twitter & Facebook) and alas making all his content reside in the walled garden of Facebook seems to be a lame amateurish move most millennials will make. Don’t be like Jose.
  6. Adam Serwer [38k]: Long indescipherable link which is actually a GPG key. Standard work twitter handle, and work bio link. Plus email. Simple to the point, less the GPG it is probably wise. However, he is funny, insightful, and biting at times in his tweets. He is funny with other journalists and usually great to follow. I get none of that from his Buzzfeed branding. In fact, I followed him despite his working at Buzzfeed.

So if you are just starting out, and branding, getting a job, assignments, or building a following and you don’t have name recognition to base your bio off of ,then you are certain to follow the tips in the above article. However, even those will seem almost out of place on Twitter, as the tone is more conversational than the rest of the social media platforms, where people prize the quirks over the more mundane & serious.

Following a bunch of “thought leaders” and digital tech people, their bios almost always read like a 100 things not to do, but you won’t believe #37. They are obnoxious incarnate, oft irrelevant, or god forbid they are a social media guru, 100% lead generating clickbait. So don’t be like them, don’t take your tips on personal or professional branding from amateurs. Branding is what others say about you, not what you say or think about yourself. Worse yet, in this era, you most definitely are not who you have worked for. Use this space creatively, but try to make sure that it also conveys what you do, and your passion, and what you’ll tweet.

If you plan to just use Twitter to promote your published pieces, then you are starting off on the wrong foot. If you are going to use it to get leads, quotes, and to write articles with; have conversations and get ideas; even just to joke around with other journos then it seems you might want a bio in line with that, and not one that reads like the “Objective/Career Goals” line of your résumé.

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