What not to Do on Twitter: Your Profile

Don’t have a lot of time tonight, so I thought I would try something simple.

My post from two weeks ago struck a chord with some people, and I’m even getting requests for advice about how to grow a large Twitter following.

And I can tell you that, though the process itself is arduous, and requires many iterations, the principles are rather basic. It takes no great genius to establish yourself as a brand on Twitter that people will listen to.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it wrong. There are still many ways you can do it wrong. Too many to cover in a hastily written blog post, naturally.

So, as a compromise, I am only going to address the number one thing that people do wrong on Twitter, in the hopes that I will thereby prevent it from ever happening again. Because stopping this one bad behavior is honestly 90% of the battle. If you can correct this problem, then you likely don’t need any other Twitter tips.

Mr. Horne’s Top 1 List of Things not to Do on Twitter

And the number one thing holding back your Twitter account is…

  1. Your Profile.

That’s right. The thing that holds most people back from making a lot of Twitter connections is a profile that is riddled with amateur mistakes or that looks like it was made by a seven-year-old (or worse: a robot).

If you want people to take you serious enough to risk following you, then you have got to design a profile that invites them in and makes an effort. And so, so, SO many of the ones currently out there just don’t try. It’s maddening. It’s saddening. Let’s stop doing it.

The Short Version: Prove Your Humanity

Here’s another Top 1 list for you: the list of qualities that people are looking for when they visit your Twitter profile.

  1. They want to be sure you are not a robot.

That’s it. All other considerations for what your profile should look like must spring from this chief concern. Because the one account that nobody wants to follow on Twitter is the one that is run by robots.

Even when robots follow back, they don’t like your tweets, they don’t retweet your tweets, and they don’t respond to your tweets. Robots are dead weight. When they do tweet, it’s usually a link to some post on a phishing site, or maybe a huge block of hash tags.

So, if you look like a robot, people will assume you are one, and that is the last thing you want to happen.

Also, you want to minimize the time it takes for the average Twitter user to figure out you’re a human. If your profile is clearly human, but it takes ten seconds of scrutiny to determine that, then you might as well be speaking in binary.

First Things First: You Need an Image

Twitter gives you the opportunity to actually upload images onto their platform (a dangerous practice in a place as wild and ungovernable as the internet).

But as long as this is allowed, you should take advantage of it. You want a profile image that lets other people know, in as little time as possible, that you are a not a robot.

And here to tell you how to do that is another Top 1 list: the list of what image to use for your profile picture.

  1. It should be a photograph of your face.

That’s all there is to it. A photograph of your face. Or, at least, a photograph of a human face. A lot of people are self conscious about their image, or paranoid about facial recognition software. So I can’t obligate you to use your own face.

Just be sure that it is a face that is believably yours, meaning that you are not allowed to use the face of a celebrity. That is impersonation, and people don’t like it.

Likewise, you are not allowed to use a stock photo of a supermodel—even one who is not famous. Stock photos are too perfectly shot, with too good lighting and too good framing. People will quickly deduce that the smoking hot bikini model in the photo is not actually named “@LesterNeckbeard9402”.

Naturally, the default Twitter profile pic is off limits, as is any kind of symbol or logo (unless the account is for a corporation and not an individual human).

And, though I know this next point is controversial, the image must be a photograph, not a drawing or cartoon or rendered avatar. These kinds of images are too easy to fake. And while even photographic portraits can now be forged, they are still seen as authoritative.

Next Step: Your Handle

Unfortunately, Twitter has lately been giving people the option of using a default handle, which combines aspects of your name with a big long string of random numbers.

The result is Twitter handles like “@Isaac382398524” and the like. These are to be avoided at all cost, as they make you look like a robot.

And this is going to be hard to hear, but there is no way I know of to change an account’s handle after the account is created. This means that, if you already have this kind of default handle, you will have to close your current Twitter account and start a new one.

[UPDATE: I have now been informed that you can change your Twitter handle without making a new account. Apparently, it only causes all previous handle mentions and links to break.]

It is better for you to start over now than spend a lifetime trying to make a bad handle work (which it won’t, even if you live to be 1,000 years old).

The Most Important Thing: Your Description

And this is where most people foul up. Because it’s intimidating to summarize your entire existence into 160 characters.

But there is a trick to it. The most easy and effective way to create a description that proves your humanity is…the subject of my next Top 1 list.

  1. Nouns are your friends. Everyone else is your enemy.

And I don’t mean all nouns, either. For example, it’s not uncommon to find a Twitter profile that reads as follows:

Love. Peace. Honor. Respect.

@SomeoneWho’sNotGoingPlaces

Now, every word of that profile description is a noun. But none of them tell us the kind of person that the account belongs to.

When I say that your profile should have nouns, I mean nouns which can only be used to describe human beings. Nouns like “Artist”, “Firefighter”, “Shaman”, “Goldfish Eater”, “Critic”, “Woman”, “Man”, “Juggler”, “Lover of music”, “Moviegoer”, “Consumer”, or any other label that quickly identifies you.

And don’t say that you don’t believe in labels, because that’s a cop out that will keep you from making connections with people.

(Also, starting your description with some kind of famous inspirational quote looks suspiciously like something a robot would do. Robots love famous quotes because they require no original thought. All they have to do is parrot what they’ve heard.)

When writing prose, we are often advised to cut out adverbs. For concise prose, we throw away the adjectives too. But a Twitter profile is so brief, and so concentrated, that it requires us to even abandon verbs.

So instead of saying “I write music”, say “Composer”.

Instead of declaring that “I like snowboarding”, say “Snowboarder”.

Don’t say, “I hope to make an impact.” Say, “Mischief maker”, or “Advocate”, or “Citizen”.

There was one time, actually, when I encountered an account whose only description was the word “Person”. Yet I started following it, because it was said with no tricks or frills.

When looking at my own profile, you will notice that it is only four words long:

“Author. Keeper of Secrets.”

And though this description is on the vague side, I have gotten more comments from it than all the dead ends I had been trying before. New followers often ask me what kind of secrets I keep. And though I naturally can’t tell them, they are still intrigued.

Separate the Nouns with Periods

However, even if your profile is nothing but people-specific nouns, you may still run into pitfalls. Here are a few things you should avoid doing.

  • Separating šŸ™ your šŸ nouns šŸØ with šŸ§ emojis. Unless you want the whole world to know you are an eleven-year-old, this is a bad move.
  • Separating | them | with | bitwise | OR | operators. This looks only slightly more professional than emojis.
  • #Listing #all #of #them #as #hashtags. Honestly, most Twitter user’s eyes have adapted to hashtags, to the point where our field of vision just slides over them without reading. They’re a surefire way to hide something. If you’re ever planning to commit a crime, confess all the details in Twitter hashtags. No one will ever notice.
  • NotseparatingthematallinfactIjustslamthemalltogetherit’syourjobtofigureoutwhereonenounbeginsandtheotherends.

Twitter provides you with one right way to separate your nouns, and that is with periods. Make sure you keep all your nouns separated by 1 period followed by 1 space. This will keep you from looking like a total lunatic.

Need an Example? Look at Actors

I am a little ashamed to be a writer on Twitter, because writers (who are supposed to be the best people in the world at writing), end up writing a lot of terrible Twitter profiles.

But you know what kind of people always have excellent profiles?

Actors.

A typical actor’s profile will look like the following.

Actor. Currently playing Macduff in the Old Scottish play. Represented by the Epstein-Barr agency. Headshots and filmography at http://imdb.com/MatthewJohnson

@MattJohnsonActor

It’s simple. It’s to the point. It’s not…exclusively nouns, but it gets the job done.

For more examples, check this link. It’s a list of accounts being followed by a Hollywood actor, most of whom are other actors. Not all of them follow the rules I put forth, and since the list changes frequently, I can’t guarantee what it will look like even a day from now. But chances are it will continue to illustrate many of the points I have put forth in this post. Because actors are apparently taught how to build their public profiles.

If you want to be a professional, you have to present yourself professionally.

Conclusion

Most of the people on Twitter have a long way to go before their profile will start working in their favor. But it’s not hard to create a fantastic profile. And if you do, then your experience will be much richer. You will get more followers. You will get more likes and retweets. You will have conversations with actual humans on the platform.

If you need more convincing, put in the legwork yourself. Look at the accounts that have the most human followers, and see how they do it. You’re going to see a lot of my recommendations put into action by these people.

Always remember: keep it simple. Keep it on point. And avoid looking like a robot.