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Friday, March 26, 2010

Selling Yourself with Profiles: Appearance and Content

Hundreds of millions of people have had a profile at some point in their life. Whether its a Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, or Blogger profile, most websites employ some sort of landing page that gives a brief bio of the user, and any information connecting the user to whatever service the profile is on. For example, a typical Facebook profile contains your name, school, location (basic info), and a list of wall posts (info related to Facebook). A Google profile contains your name, school, location (sounds familiar), and a list of Buzz posts (info related to Buzz). Profiles are vital for telling other users who you are, what you are like, and what you do, all without anybody actually meeting in person. Furthermore, most of the content you generate will be spread by word of mouth (or word of HTTP in the online case), and a profile is the starting point for people who might be interested in spreading this word. Because a profile is so important, knowing what's on your profile and what your profile looks like becomes important for giving yourself a name. When creating your profile, a couple of key concepts need to be factored in: content, appearance, and audience.

Content is Not King

Before talking about the first on that list, I must issue a warning. Individuals across the blogosphere have once heard "Content is king". I respectfully disagree with this statement. Dean Hunt provides a good argument for content. Content is indeed important, because it keeps users at the table, and helps them interact with your service. However, a piece of the pie has mysteriously vanished. Nobody stops to consider the fact that content means absolutely nothing until the user actually reads (or uses) the content. How can content bring people to a community if they have not seen the content? Because of this, a profile should have content, yes, but do not focus on what's on your profile so much that you forget everything else.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, what content should be on your profile? Profiles should contain content that informs first, and engages second. You are not writing a blog post, or maintaining a website, so rather than putting your entire website in a profile, only include the basic information and a summary of your activity on the website in question. As far as basic information is concerned, this usually means name and contact information, but there are two important parts that deserve a sentence or two. The About Me section on your profile might be the single least or most important section on your profile. Least or most depends on you. Uninteresting or long About Me sections will likely not be given much attention, while both extremely awesome and extremely crappy About Me sections will almost always get read. The worst would be an About Me that portrays a personality that is not you, because the reader will almost always detect this. While neutral About Mes (those that don't get read) are better than lies, you want to aim for an About Me that tells the reader who you are and why he or she should know who you are, because it is this brief paragraph that can really engage the reader and hold on to that person, hopefully for future site visits to come. And make sure not to go on a rant, because About Me is supposed to be about you, not about your entire life.

The second important piece of content on your profile is connections. Along with the About Me section, they are the two pieces of basic information that can be easily messed up. (Unless you are one of those people who misspells his or her name.) Connections are the portal from your profile to everything else pertaining to you. Because your profile does not (or at least should not) contain absolutely everything about you, it should at least have links to sites that do have everything about you. If you blog a lot, put down your blog. If Facebook is your primary platform, put that down too. Anything that you think the user might actually find useful to go to should be included in your profile. Other links, those that do not inform or those that the reader would not care about, should be left off. Things such as very personal websites (those you would only want your friends or family to see), sites that cannot be accessed without logging in, or sites that do not even relate to you should not be listed. Most likely, your connections will include a Facebook profile, Twitter profile, maybe a blog, and sometimes a Flickr or Picasa link. (As I said, it depends on who you are: somebody who uses the Internet to show the world their photographical expertise would include more photo-sharing sites in their profile.)

The final piece of content on the profile is information pertaining to that specific site. Unfortunately, this is one of the factors that usually lies with the website administrators. Sometimes there are specific settings for what feeds, posts, etc. display on a profile, but for the most part, whoever runs the website will be in control. Google profiles display your entire Buzz feed, as does Facebook. Usually, the best way to customize what content reaches your profile is to regulate what content you put out there in the first place. Other than that, there is not much to say about service-specific content, as there is not way to generalize what content should go on every website and service you use.

Appearances are Everything

Probably the best example of a profile is DooID. If you look at a screenshot of my DooID below, you can see why. Sure the content is brief and organized, and the appropriate connections are included, but more importantly, it has a visual design even Apple could appreciate. Nice rounded edges, a cool background picture. These things might seem superficial, but if a reader comes to a boring page, chances are they leave bored, something you do not want happening. However, this does not mean you should go all out and have some fluffy, pink explosion of colors. A profile design should reflect the definition of a profile we discussed earlier: compact and informative. DooID makes it a point to put the actual profile in a small box, with the big background picture expanding around it. This can be compared to profiles that take up the entire page, and probably include so much content that making everything small would create a mess. If you cannot make your profile small and neat, there is too much information on it.


Don't be fooled: you have more control over the appearance of your profile than you think. Some websites, such as Twitter, only allow you to customize your background picture, which in many cases is enough. In fact, even DooID only allows you to change your background picture and color scheme. However, the single most important thing you should remember when editing the appearance of your profile: if you cannot make it look good, get rid of it. Chances are you will not use your Blogger profile, or other obscure profiles that most people do not look at, so try to focus on the big ones. In my profile situation, my DooID, Google, Facebook, and Twitter profiles are the most important, specifically because they are the most frequented.

And the Audience Goes Wild

I have used the word "user", "reader", and probably a couple of other words to describe the person looking at your profile. But who exactly is this "person"? Asking this question, and embedding the answer in your profile, is the maraschino cherry on top of the sundae. A user who came to your profile to find out what pictures you upload does not want to hear about your latest politically-charged blog post. And they definitely do not want to hear any inside jokes or something only you and your closest online (or even offline) friends would understand. For profiles such as DooID, there is no service actually tied to the profile, so your audience is very general. In this case, put on your best show, and give a little bit of everything, making sure to emphasize your best work.

So for everybody reading this post, make sure your profiles take into account the three factors, because without appearance they won't come, without audience they won't read, and without content they won't come back. Hopefully the website designers making these profiles also learn a lesson, because I am getting tired of seeing messy, unused profiles that serve no purpose because they are not designed correctly, and just lay around and do nothing. But just to reinforce what I said earlier, do not leave this blog thinking this does not apply to you, and nobody reads your profiles and nobody cares, because that just might be why your personal brand has not propagated as much as you would like, or why your blog has only 100 visits a month rather than that much in a day, or in an hour.

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