write a great bio - the myndset digital strategy

Do you think you could have a better bio? I’m talking about the little blurb that you use to define your presence on various online networks. How to write a great bio isn’t a question we regularly discuss at work, much less at the family dinner table. And yet, I would argue that most of us should probably be a lot more attentive to our bio than we currently are. Having a well-worked bio is an essential part of your online reputation. Ask yourself:

  • How strong is your bio?
  • Does your bio, in 160 characters, accurately reflect you?
  • Is your bio consistent across the web?
  • Does it make you stand out?

The bio is yesteryear’s CV

Just recently, I was asked to send an organization my CV — yes, the good old-fashioned curriculum vitae, albeit as an attachment via email. Some of you might remember when we used to have to send them via the post. In today’s fast-paced and low-attention spanning world, the request for my CV was somewhat surprising, especially since it was to speak at a high-tech event (in China). Anyway, I took the cobwebs off and updated it. I doubt anyone will read it thoroughly, though. In today’s world, I would suggest that anyone asking for a heavily curated, historical and rather long document like a CV is in serious need of updating themselves. Without stating the obvious existence of Linkedin, Xing or Viadeo (Tianji in China), the lack of social proof in a CV feels absolutely inauthentic, almost artificial. Not that everything you write on LinkedIn is necessarily the gospel truth, but your LinkedIn profile — along with the recommendations and the crowd-sourced skills — stands out there in the public domain for all to see and the chances of getting called on an errant fact are rather large.

The healthy bio

write a great bio - the myndset digital strategy

One of the challenges with your bio is that it exists on multiple sites, at different times and in different sizes. One size does not fit all. Whereas in the olden days, you might have had a one-page and two-page version of your CV, the bio is de rigueur on basically all social media sites and comes in all shapes and sizes. Doing an audit of my own bios, in preparation for this post, I realized that I had a number of bios out there that needed updating. The problem is that there is no easy way to view all your bios. It basically requires trolling through all your online profiles singly. A good starting point is to Google yourself (not to snob Bing), and you can also try a few other services that have a person search function, such as Qwant.

The bio character limitation

Taking a look at the top social networks and sites, the range goes from 40 characters to unlimited (with some that don’t give you the option at all). When the option exists, the median length (in this list) is 160 characters. Here is a current list of the space limitations (in alphabetical order) for you to get your “short biography” across (limits updated Feb 2021):

  • Facebook – 255 characters (for the “fan page” overview)
  • Goodreads – Unlimited, and allows for HTML tagging; the first 750 characters are visible.
  • Google+ – Unlimited – SHUT DOWN Apr 2019
  • Instagram – 150 characters
  • LinkedIn – 60 characters per line for the professional title (summary has no limit). While you can add multiple lines, best to make sure the first line says it all.
  • Path – none – SHUT DOWN Oct 2018
  • Pinterest – 160 characters
  • Quora – first 200 characters are visible; more text and hyperlinks possible. 
  • Skype – 200 characters
  • SlideShare.net – 700 characters
  • Snapchat – none available
  • Twitter – 160 characters (bio)
  • Your own website – Site title meta tag (1st 40 characters)
  • WhatsApp – 140 characters
  • YouTube Channel – 1000 characters

Given the pre-eminence of Twitter, I have tended to use my Twitter bio as my anchor text. It’s a good idea to keep the top line of your bio clean and sharp. I recommend having a standard short bio at 200 characters. Naturally, if we are writing in Chinese or Japanese ideograms, the parsimonious nature of bios is a little less challenging.

To write a great bio

write a great bio - the myndset digital strategy

So, here are my 9 key learnings and tips to make your bio the strongest possible (you can tweet out the tips you like most!):

  1. Make sure your bio presents you in the best light: no typos, no unintelligible acronyms or obscure terms. {Click to Tweet}
  2. If you are really pressed for space, you can eliminate the space after a comma or period. Of course, only a single space after a period is become de rigueur. {Click to Tweet}
  3. If you work for a company (as opposed to for yourself), you should check on company policy about how you may include your company name and whether a qualifier (such as “tweets are my own”) is required. {Click to Tweet}
  4. Include a short-form (e.g. with bit.ly) link to your site in your bio if the profile area doesn’t feature a place for a link. {Click to Tweet}
  5. If a photo can be included, don’t use an egghead or an obscured image of yourself. My strongest advice is to use the same headshot as often as possible (in particular to improve the recognition in Google Images). {Click to Tweet}
  6. If you feel you need an expanded version of your profile in the short bio, use a service such as about.me (where you can add all your social media addresses as well as blogs and videos, etc.) or flavors.me. {Click to Tweet}
  7. Make sure your bio has the keywords for which you would like to be found (Twitter has a search engine, too). {Click to Tweet}
  8. Create a series of “stock” bios in a space accessible from all your devices (i.e. in the cloud in Evernote). I have created standard 160-character, 250-character, 500-character and 1000-character versions, with the premise that I will always update in the central document first before copy/pasting into the online profile. {Click to Tweet}
  9. Recognizing it is not feasible to keep all one’s bios up-to-date all the time, I recommend putting in the effort at least once every six months for three reasons: (a) to make sure the bios are reasonably consistent and appropriately fresh; (b) because updating your bio usually spins out an automatic update from the network (which is trying to create moments of interaction/engagement); (c) Google likes new news. In fact, you might want to consider changing either your bio or image a little more frequently on the more strategic sites. {Click to Tweet}

Your thoughts and comments, as always, encouraged!

***If you like my writing and are interested in fostering more meaningful conversations in our society, please check out my Dialogos Substack. This newsletter will feature articles on why and how we can all improve our conversations, whether it’s at home, with friends, in society at large or at work. Subscription is free, but if you see value in it, you are welcome to contribute both materially and through your comments. Sign up here:

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