Twitter Choosing an Avatar
Avatar Mosaic courtesy of joelaz (flickr)

Like most social networking sites, your Twitter profile will include a small photo (often called an Avatar) which will accompany messages you send, friend requests and appear anywhere your profile is shown.

Often times your avatar appears alone (without context) which makes it even more important to choose something that works well.

Some people use portraits, some use logos, some use a combination. So which is right for you? It depends.

Below we’ve tried to boil it down and help you determine which is best for you.

Note: Not having the perfect profile picture is not an excuse. If you’re new to Twitter, just throw something up and get started. Bookmark this post for later.

Portrait

Portraits are the most commonly used avatar images. They’re personable, readily available and people like seeing their faces on the internet!

Twitter Avatar Samples
Left to right: @marismith @majortaylor @pekpongpaet

Pros

  • Works well for freelancers, consultants, realtors, etc.
  • Is more personal and welcoming (I suppose there are a few exceptions here)
  • Works well for people with strong personal brands

Cons

  • No context for a new contact to discern what you do
  • Can get confusing for users if it changes
  • May not be familiar, even to current customers

If you want to use a portrait, here are some pro tips:

  1. Try to limit the frame to head & shoulders
  2. Choose a photo that presents a friendly image
  3. Be creative. The Twitter crowd does give points for originality
  4. Try to avoid blending in (see #4), Twitter users see hundreds of images a day, memorable is good.

Logo

Logos are widely used on Twitter and other social networks, though not as often as portraits (even for business use). The most successful brands using logos for their profiles accompany them with personality and a human touch to avoid feeling to ‘corporate’.

Twitter Avatars Logo Samples
Left to right: @ubercab @harrysnavypier @KISSMetrics @SoapBoxWines

Pros

  • Provides an opportunity to spread your branding
  • Easily recognizable by customers
  • Paints a picture (hopefully) of what your business does

Cons

  • Less Personal
  • May not be as recognizable as you think
  • Some people prefer to interact with humans – this can be overcome though

If you think a logo is the way to go, here are some pro tips:

  1. Use an image that doesn’t get distorted or hard to read when uploaded
  2. If your brand is not widely known, try to include some imagery that describes what you do
  3. Make sure any sub-text is legible

Combination

My personal preference is finding a way to combine a logo with a portrait or using a portrait that represents your profession.  It’s not easy to do, especially if you aren’t good with image editing, but the results are both professional and personable; good for commercial social media use.

Twitter Avatars Combo Samples
Left to right: @bradleybolt @scobelizer @adellecharles @jeffpulver

Another approach we use at Sprout Social includes a Logo for our primary account, and a combo with logos into our personal and support accounts.  This is a good approach if you have many people representing your business on Twitter, but it allows a lot of flexibility for how you break up the messaging (support vs. executives vs. promotion, etc.).

Twitter Avatars Sprout Social Samples
Left to right: @sproutsocial @justyn @illestrator @sproutsupport

Whatever you ultimately decide:

  1. Use a square image as it will be viewed as a square image on your profile
  2. Use a high quality image as it may be viewed in larger sizes
  3. Check the file size, as the maximum size is 700k
  4. The file types you can use are JPG, GIF, PNG

Finally, and most importantly, remember your audience. Will they recognize who you are and what you do?  You can’t count on someone seeing your bio to understand what you’re all about (though some will).  Your profile picture, Bio and recent Tweets are all a user has to go on to determine if you’ll add value to their information stream.  Try to help them with a proper photo.

Reader Question: What do you look for when deciding if you should follow someone? How does the Avatar come into play?