As LinkedIn continues to grow exponentially, so has the debate on whether profiles should be written in the 1st or 3rd person. Opinions are often dogged and replicated without a deep understanding of the unique positioning LinkedIn holds. What is consistent opinion however is that 1st impressions matter. And those impressions will be either negative or positive.
LinkedIn profiles are personal introductions to ‘brand you’, owned by you and from you.
They are not a media release, book biography, resume, annual report, academic paper, speaker announcement or keynote introduction. Each of these has relevant functions and hence the syntax and pronouns are suited to the purpose.
Essentially a 1st person narrative is ‘I/me/myself’ and 3rd ‘He/she/name’. There are some variances and the 2nd person is a ‘we/us/you’. The neutral narrative is factual statements without specific pronouns.
And let’s be upfront and call the elephant out in the room. Writing and talking about yourself is not easy for many, indeed torturous at times. The reality is your personal brand and profile will not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you are being genuine and authentic, then by virtue it will both attract and repel.
Now every member absolutely has the right to choose however their profile is written as long as it doesn’t contravene any T&Cs. But most want to put their best foot forward to maximise success, be it for careers or business purposes.
What do members prefer?
Given objectives are to impress, inspire and influence, it is essential to understand what profile narrative style lends towards more attraction and engagement from a UX (user experience) point of view.
I wanted to know what people honestly thought about profiles written in 3rd person vs 1st and did it impact their perception of personal brands.
It was time to obtain richer feedback because frankly, opinions are dangerous if not backed by any market research and insights.
I ran a LinkedIn poll in August asking these questions the results clear.
The poll logged 199 votes together with a wide range of additional opinion both publicly and privately. Further, after the Poll had closed I received another 28 messages with feedback aligning to the final metrics.
Interestingly, 72 per cent who voted ‘Don’t care either way’ used the 1st person in their own profiles, 21 per cent the 3rd person and 7% didn’t even have a profile summary at all.
And surprisingly, 55 per cent who voted ‘Prefer/Powerful’ used the 1st person in their own profiles. A few commented that if they had the courage or ability, they would have written in the 3rd person.
Many shared they judged profiles by the individual and their needs and were not fussed as they would still be in contact to find out more. Whereas others were quite turned off and the perception of the person’s brand was not favourable to say the least.
A wide range of sectors, roles and levels were represented as were genders and age ranges. And within specific industries, there was no linear preference to style. Conservative and creative professions had equal divides of opinion which refutes the notion that certain sectors lean towards a preference, for both using and engaging.
Takeaways & Recommendations
- With 66 per cent disliking the 3rd person (22 per cent finding them highly pretentious and narcissistic and 44 per cent unfriendly and quite strange) it is clear that writing in the 3rd person is incredibly risky and unwise.
- Stick to the one narrative style. There are many hotchpotch profiles using both 1st and 3rd person alternating in each paragraph. This is also applicable to all other profile formats outside of LinkedIn to maintain pronoun consistency.
- Cadence, syntax and tone matters. If you struggle with writing about yourself and you really want to impress and influence hire a professional to do it.
- Note, a skilled writer will write in the tone of your personal brand voice. And having written over 150 profiles myself (from senior board directors to salespeople) the style and positioning would never be thought to be written by a ghostwriter.
- Unless you are of the ilk of a senior politician, Prime Minister, a global celebrity, industry ASX CEO you will just sound a braggart.
- The 1st person can be written with great authority when done skillfully. The big issue for many is that they have no idea how to write with gravitas and default to the 3rd
- Don’t assume that specific sectors and professions have consistent preferences.
Humans are unique and as the world becomes more fractured the desire for greater engagement and sense of relationship is stronger than ever. Be human and inviting.
Feedback from a few experts
I asked a few communications experts to share their feedback:
I am a fan of the first person as it allows you to be a bit more personal and I feel the first person allows you to bring in your own voice and personality. ~ Gabrielle Dolan, Storytelling expert, Author of ‘Stories for Work’ & ‘Real Communication’
‘Writing a LinkedIn profile in the third person introduces distance, unfamiliarity, and disconnection. First-person invites readers in and shares with them your world of triumphs and the lessons you learned to achieve them’ ~ Kieran Bicheno, Online News Editor & Economist
‘We live in an age where there’s so much talk about being vulnerable, real and authentic. When you write your profile in 3rd person, it is like slamming a barrier between you and the reader; stiff, rigid, with no personality. How are people meant to connect with you if you don’t give them access to you?’ ~ Annette Densham, PR Strategist, the Audacious Agency
There is a rule in advertising and marketing that it’s not about your own opinion that matters but what the broader market opinion is. And whilst these statistics are a micro survey of sorts. I am totally confident that it represents the heartland of consensus which is also supported within LinkedIn specialist communities globally. Be human and impress.