I am consistently surprised by the way some professionals portray themselves on Twitter. You have precious few ways to introduce yourself to new people on Twitter. Before someone can access the pearls of wisdom in your tweets, they first need to follow you, recognize you and want to know you. What impression do you create in the split second someone takes to consider following? And when people scan their tweet stream, what does your profile picture do to lend credibility to your tweets?
People who wish to achieve professional goals on Twitter must select profile pictures that advance, not hinder, those goals. Of course, if you are on Twitter to have fun, all of the following advice is null and void, but if you are spending time to construct a professional persona and create a professional network, here are ten ways your profile picture may undermine that effort:
- Illustrations: Remember when Mad Men had that app that converted your picture into a hip illustration? That was cool--in 2009. Creative, artful versions of yourself are fun, but if your goals are professional, do you really want to be defined by a cartoon character?
- Logos: If you are a company, a logo is fine for a profile picture, but if you are a person, ditch your employer's logo (except, perhaps, a tiny one in the corner). You do not introduce yourself at professional events as "Hi, I'm XYZ Corp," so do not do so on Twitter.
- Significant Others: We're so happy that you found your soulmate, but unless you're surgically joined at the hip, think with one mind and have a single conjoined career, two heads are not better than one. Save the romantic couple pictures for your desk, not your Twitter avatar. (And do not get me started about wedding shots as profile pics--it was the happiest day of your lives, not your most professional.)
- Crop Crap: If your profile picture contains a mysterious disembodied hand or shoulder or, worse yet, you cropped off your ear to eliminate another person from the shot, it is time to smile for the camera and take a new picture. Severed body parts are for horror movies, not your profile pic.
- Webcam: Webcams are amazing devices--for capturing video. If your profile picture is a dark, muddy shot of you hunched over your kitchen table staring into a fish-eye lens, then take a real picture with a real camera already.
- Boobs: I am not being sexist--this advice applies to both men and women: Button it up and cover your chest. Twitter is not Match.com. If you do not want people staring at your chest at work, you should not want them to stare at it on Twitter.
- Outdated: Ever meet someone in person that you have only known online and thought, "What the hell happened to you?" Your first meeting IRL should not leave people wondering if you borrowed someone else's photo or had a disfiguring accident. If your photo is more than three years, 25 pounds, or two hairstyles different from reality, update it.
- Animation: I don't see this often, thank God, but please omit animation from your profile picture. Yes, it makes your avatar more obvious and grabs attention--so much so that many people will unfollow you to avoid the blinking annoyance.
- Frequent Changes: Staying fresh is important, but remember that your profile picture is your face to your Twitter friends. When people scan their tweet stream, it is your photo and not your name they are most likely to recognize at a glance. Consistency may be last refuge of the unimaginative, but it is also the best way to be recognized in a sea of tweets and avatars.
- PURE ENERGY!!!! You think your wide-open mouth and eyes convey that you are energetic, exciting, and unafraid to express yourself; instead, it tells us you may be slightly crazed, prone to emotional outbursts and apt to break into Richard Simmons' routines. Unless your profession is cheerleading, impress us with your competence, not your exuberance.
I considered the profile pictures of the people I follow most closely, retweet most often and with whom I've built the strongest relationships. With very few exceptions, they all share one thing: Their profile pictures feature high-quality headshots.
It may be a digital world, but your face still matters. It conveys trust and personality more quickly and effectively than your 160-character Twitter bio. Be sure to put your best foot, er, face forward.