What is the best way of describing yourself on Twitter?
Comedian David Baddiel describes himself simply as: ‘Jew’
Sir Richard Branson: declares himself to be a “tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality”. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Boris Johnson says nothing at all. Warren Buffett gives his job title. Sir Richard Branson declares himself to be a “Tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr Yes at @virgin!”
What is the best way of describing yourself on Twitter? I ask following a crisis concerning my own bio on the microblogging site. Until last Thursday it read: “Columnist on the FT, among other things”, but then someone pointed out that “among other things” was unhelpful and slightly passive-aggressive, while “on” was the wrong preposition. To see how to do it better, I’ve been studying some of the 230 million examples of this challenging literary genre, in which you have to identify yourself and tempt others to follow you in 160 characters.
The bio I like best is from the comedian David Baddiel, which simply says “Jew”. This is clever, accurate, funny and painless to read; I would copy it, only “Gentile” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
I also admire Bill Gates’s: “Sharing things I am learning from my foundation work and other interests . . .” This is simple and serious and tells you what to expect from his tweets. Only here again, it wouldn’t work for me because I don’t have a foundation, and I can’t use the word “sharing” since I’m not American.
To be avoided
Otherwise, my research has unearthed five Twitter bio clichés, all to be avoided.
First is syntax. Short sentences. Whimsical. Thoroughly annoying. Anne-Marie Slaughter ends hers with: “Mother. Mentor. Foodie. Foreign policy curator.” At least she uses capital letters. Arianna Huffington dispenses with these and finishes her bio with “mother. sister. flat shoe advocate. sleep evangelist.”
These two efforts demonstrate three further things to avoid. One is to mention your family. An extraordinary number of people say they are dad/husband/sister/third-cousin-once-removed etc, which is utterly baffling. A bio is meant to help differentiate you, whereas practically everyone in the world has a blood relation. In writing “dad”, perhaps they are trying to say “I love my family”. But we are all genetically predisposed to do that and, in any case, a Twitter bio isn’t the right place for such declarations.
The clichéd bio must contain a list of hobbies, jostling up against family members: “Skier cook triathlete stepfather”. Alas, there is a rule with interests: when listed they invariably look boring, even when leavened by the ubiquitous “unusual” interest. The head of technology at Cisco writes: “Love art, photography, Haiku and food :)”. The haikus are a valiant try, but don’t help.