Bio hazard: The danger of using “former” in your social media profile

social media profile

I always cringe a little when I see somebody lead off their social media profile or personal bio with the word “former.”

Maybe the person is the former leader of a company, or a former star athlete, or a former national champion at something. These are all worthy accomplishments. But what does it say about what you’re doing NOW?

Are you sure your “former” designation is helping you … or could it be hurting you?

Does “former” matter?

My “former” in the dustbin

It’s easy to see the highlights of my “former life.” Just check out my website or social media profile on my LinkedIn page. But I’m not sure those details matter any more.

An anecdote:

Last year I was asked by Phil Mershon of Social Media Examiner if I would keynote the gigantic Social Media Marketing World annual conference. Over the course of our discussion, we wandered into a long talk about our careers. I’ve worked closely with Phil for eight years and consider him a friend. And yet he had no idea that I …

  • had worked for a Fortune 100 company
  • was a former global director of eBusiness
  • earned seven patents
  • won my company’s highest leadership honor
  • studied for three years under management legend Peter Drucker
  • have two masters degrees

I said to Phil: “Really the only thing that matters to you is that I am known for what I do today, right? I’m known for my blog, podcast, and books and that’s why you invite me to speak at your event.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Phil said.

“And if I went away for a few years, and was less known, I would not be invited back to speak, right?”

“I had not thought about it that way, but you’re right,” he said.

That may sound a little harsh, but that’s the competitive reality of our world. People want to know what you’re accomplishing now. A three-year-old story is probably not relevant so much any more.

The two-year rule for a social media profile

I accept the fact that nobody knows or cares about what I did in the past. People don’t hire me for what I did five years ago or even one year ago. They want to see where I am today.

What I am stating in this post is not an absolute. There is certainly a place for “former” in your title if you used to be Prime Minister of Canada, an astronaut, or a Nobel laureate, for example. Those represent unique and elite human accomplishments.

It may also be appropriate to leverage your “former” if you’ve left a significant job within the last two years … Former CMO of Tesla or Former SVP of The American Cancer Society. Having a job within the last 24 months is recent enough to be relevant to who you are now.

But if you can’t pass the two-year rule, “former” is probably harming you in social media and professional bios. It always makes me a little sad to see people depending on something that was accurate and relevant five years ago.

Isn’t it better to pique enough interest in what you’re accomplishing today for somebody to dig beyond your social media profile and go … “WOW! She’s also a former champion!”

How are you known TODAY?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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