MySpace. Facebook. Bebo. Xanga. Orkut. Ning.
Like it or not, they've parked their URLs in the World Wide Web, and they're here to stay. Social networking accounts are now as ubiquitous as cell numbers and email addresses. MySpace alone had over 200 million accounts as of September 2007. That's more than half the U.S. population! Chances are you have a profile at one or more social networking sites, and, if you're single, it's probably attracting dates, friends, or friends who will hopefully become dates. That is, if it's not repelling them.
If you've spent any time on a social networking site, you're aware of the most visible dangers of the repulsive profile: Excessive Flash displays have been known to cause blindness and sudden browser failure. Glitter heart comments may induce nausea and vomiting. In some users, bursts of offensively bad music at high volume may permanently damage taste. And those are just some of the visual turn-offs.
If you want your social networking profile to attract the kind of people you'd want to hang out with in real life--nice, normal singles who leave their clothes on when they take pictures and don't need to send you a sparkly Tinkerbell to wish you a happy birthday--you may want to avoid the following profile hazards:
1. Templates For Tots
These are the templates only a first grader could love. They remind one of the results of a primary school coloring contest; every shade known to Crayola is on display. These backgrounds are generally incomplete without clashing patterns that would make a postmodernist painter blush. Adding to the busyness are glittery comments with movable parts, at least one YouTube video, and a profusion of bouncy dividers, icons, smilies, and cursors.
Now before you blast me for censoring anyone's freedom of expression, let me clarify that there's nothing wrong with creating such a profile. Just be aware that the overall effect connotes extreme youth or ADHD. Plus, the longer a profile takes to load, the fewer the people who are going to sit around waiting for it. That is all.
2. Soft Porn Profiles
Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone on MySpace is, was, or wants to be America's Next Topless Model? Again, if you want to rip your shirt off and put your six-pack abs or ample bosom on display, that's your business. But keep in mind that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, the picture says, "I'm looking for sex." So don't be surprised if the kinds of messages and comments you get have a decidedly sexual bent. Moreover, if your profile claims that you're a "nice girl" or "nice guy" who just wants to find another of your kind to settle down with, be aware that, as unfortunately stereotypical as it is, some people you might have been interested in will not believe you; they will believe your scantily clad photos. And not for nothing, as we all know, employers are increasingly turning to the Internet as an additional reference for job candidates, and social networking profiles are notoriously hard to delete.
Perhaps you feel safe because your photos are relatively tame. That's fine, but are your top friends baring it all in their profile photos? Is Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt draped across your wallpaper in next to nothing? Like it or not, everything on your profile is associated with you. It boggles my mind when I see singles advertising for a "sweet, down-to-earth, GOOD man (or woman) for a real relationship" when everyone on their top ten list is shirtless and fancy free. Again, stereotypical or not, visitors will assume that what you want is what you've got--swingin' singles whose poses announce that they're here for flings 'n' things. And be careful of subliminal messages. If you have pictures of your favorite celebrity hotties decorating your page, potential partners may assume that's what you expect of them.
3. I'm Drawing a Blank About Me
Please, please, please don't just stick up a photo and walk away from your profile. There are lots of pretty faces on social networking sites. Members want to know why they should get to know yours. And, no, "I don't know what to write in these things" doesn't cut it. If you care about making personal connections through a social networking site, be personal. You don't have to be a Pulitzer winner, but say a few things about yourself. For starters, try where you're from, what you do for a living, what you do for fun, where you've gone or want to go, and who you hang out with (i.e. family, friends, pets, etc.). If you're witty or eloquent, this is the place to showcase it. The droller the better is usually the rule on social networking sites. Let your bio reflect your personality. Are you sarcastic? Pour it on. Romantic? Post a poem. Optimistic? Share some inspirational quotes.
Don't forget to apply this rule to whoever you'd like to "friend" as well. Millions of profiles take short and sweet to a new level with requests like "I just want a girl/guy who is FUN, HOT, and has NO DRAMA." My immediate reaction to a generalization like this is that the writer must either be a one-dimensional person or doesn't care who responds to the profile since statements that could apply to anyone will attract everyone. That's a turnoff.
Perhaps you do want anyone if you don't intend to establish any permanent relationships from the social networking site. But if you hope to find something lasting, take a moment to consider what attracts you to people and be specific about it. Do you want to find a tennis or jogging partner? A travel companion? Someone who likes the bar and club scene? If you can string together more than two or three words here, you're communicating that you've put some thought into who you'd like to meet, and many singles will react favorably to that. Plus, you'll have a better chance of connecting with someone who's here for the same reasons you are. (Yes, you'll still get spam and messages from smitten singles who never looked beyond your photo, but somewhere in the mix will be responses from people who did.)
On the other hand, this is a social networking bio, not a Match.com profile. The tone and ambience of a social network is different than that of an online dating service, usually lighter and more informal. While it's perfectly normal to see a detailed listing of all your character traits and those of your "ideal partner" on a dating site, the same qualifications can come across as rather desperate or heavy-handed in the casual environment of a social network.
So save the unabridged edition for Yahoo! Personals and cut the details of how many kids you want to have and where you'd go on the perfect date. Instead, make your readers laugh with a few quips about yourself and your outlook on life. Since a social network is a visual space, try to reveal as much as you can through pictures (except, of course, your nether regions; see 2.), the more cleverly captioned the better. The idea is to provide enough of a glimpse into your life to intrigue a casual browser without obviously fishing.
5. Sampler Accounts
These are the everything bagels of the social networking world. These members are here for "friends," "dating," "relationships," "networking," and a bag of chips. Their profile designs are likewise schizophrenic, featuring a bland, basic template for someone whose primary purpose is social or bloody flowers and death metal for someone who's here to promote a catering service.
Singletude advises that you define your objective on a site before you create your profile and restrict it to one sphere, personal or professional. (Better yet, break this down further into one profile for pursuing romantic relationships and another for your circle of friends. Read the fourth point in "Where to Meet Single Friends" for an explanation of why.) Then, construct your profile in accordance with its goal.
A business profile should contain a lot of your work and very little of your personal info and should be clear and easy to navigate. A personal profile is, of course, the place to let loose and express yourself (though hopefully not like a three-year-old; see "1. Templates for Tots" above). If you choose to have a separate profile for dating, this is where you can specify what's important to you in a mate, whereas the profile you use to interact with your friends need waste no time on this. Separate dating and friends-only profiles also allow you to have more control over the distribution of information within your social circle. That is, you can keep your friends abreast of the personal details of your life without making an immediate open book of yourself to potential dates who may or may not become permanent fixtures of your social life.
Ultimately, creating the perfect profile is a matter of taste. But social networking accounts weren't meant to be works of art or repositories of self-expression. They were meant to build networks. That means appealing to other users, who will judge whether your taste is good or bad. Hopefully, the preceding pointers will help you win a favorable judgment from all your friends-to-be.
What are your thoughts on the five profile missteps listed above? Can you think of any other tips for what not to do in a social networking profile?
Fun Link of the Day
Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles
Saturday, April 5, 2008
MySpace. Facebook. Bebo. Xanga. Orkut. Ning.