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Have you thought about your avatar lately?

You should!

Your avatar, that image of you that is associated with your Twitter account (and other accounts too) is a representation of you (or in some cases, your brand). But it is so much more than that.

To everyone that interacts with you on twitter, your avatar actually IS you in many respects. It is the visual queue that I’m dealing with you, the same you I’ve been communicating – or the same you I may be interested in learning more about and connecting with in the future. I’m pretty amazed at the lackadaisical attitude many in the twittersphere take towards selecting an avatar, especially considering how many of my connections are working in social media right now. Given all that, here are 5 things I believe you should be doing to optimize your avatar, presented in order of importance.

1. Ensure your avatar supports your personal brand

This can be tricky, but is pretty important. There are a lot of people who have done an amazing job at building personal brands through social media, and enhancing or solidifying those brands through their avatars.

Chris Brogan & Miss Destructo

I’ve never met Chris Brogan or Amber Osborne in person before, but I suspect their avatars are in perfect harmony with their personal brands. Chris goes out of his way to cultivate the notion that he is just an ordinary guy: He writes that way; he presents that way; and his avatar confirms it (in case there was any doubt). Amber is on the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of a personal brand. She exudes danger, fun, and energy – literally wild haired!

Both brands work for each of them, and each brand is completely supported by their avatar.

2. Be consistent day to day

There are many stories I could use to illustrate the point, but the easiest one is a gaffe I made personally. You see I’m a huge Steeler fan -always have been – and as the playoffs neared this past season, I changed my twitter avatar to the Steeler logo to show my support for the black and gold.

Sean McGinnis & Pittsburgh Steelers

It was fun, and I got to do a little chest beating as the Steelers kept winning, I was actually  confusing a number of connections. After a week or two of continually hearing, “Wow, I  didn’t realize I was talking to you, what happened to your pic?” I finally changed back. My friends on twitter know me by my avatar. It was a huge wakeup call.

I’ve seen the same thing happen to others as well. I feel the same way. When Amber Naslund changed her twitter avatar a few months back it took me a few weeks to readjust. There’s a split second of shock when you see a new image associated with a person with whom you are familiar online. Chase Adams actually bowed to the pressure of his connections and changed his avatar back after a dozen or more complaints.

3. Use the same avatar across multiple channels

This is classic branding etiquette. Use the same imagery wherever you go to signify your brand. These are the digital breadcrumbs that say “I was here”. Obviously the rules of web 2.0 are a little bit different, but basic branding principles still apply, IMHO. As always, there are exceptions to this rule.


I just happen to be friends with someone who I believe does an incredible job of this. Sima Dahl uses the same great headshot for her TwitterFacebookLinkedIn accounts. More than that though, she uses the same image for her guest posting on other sites, her website and more. It seems the only place I haven’t seen Sima’s smiling face is on the radio.

But that’s a good thing. You see, because I know and trust Sima, I know that when I see her face smiling at me, that great content, and incredible work ethic or a wonderful presentation are not far behind. To me personally, I react the same way when I see her face as I do when I hear my favorite NPR news correspondents in the morning commute.

4. Upload a large version of your avatar

This is a tricky one to explain, but (I think) an important one.

The Twitter platform does a marvelous job of taking the photo you upload and scaling it down to thumbnail size. The only requirement is that the pic be less than 700 kilobytes in size. So, why not upload as large a photo as possible. That way, when someone clicks on your avatar while on your profile page to get a better look at you, they’re not stuck looking at a thumbnail sized photo.

Here’s a great example. On the left is online pal Amy Howell. On the right is the first example I could find of the thumbnail problem while scrolling through my twitter feed. Nothing personal against this guy (I’m avoiding naming names because it’s not what’s important here). These two pics are not scaled. They are EXACTLY as they appeared on my screen when I clicked through to these two accounts’ avatars from their twitter profiles.

Here’s the other interesting thing about Amy’s avatar. This is a full length head and shoulders shot. The Twitter platform crops down on the center of her photo, and squares off the proportions.  As a result, when looking at her profile on Twitter, this is what we actually see.

Again, notice how Twitter does the cropping for her. If Amy wanted to have more exacting control over how the cropping was done, she could take her original head and shoulders shop and crop it herself. Any squared proportion would do. I cropped and resized my headshot down to 400 x 400 pixels. The point isn’t to have a perfect size, the point is to go as big as makes sense so others get a true sense of what you really look like, up close and personal, without going too big and ensuring your online friends see every skin flaw served up under a microscope (trust me, these professional shots tend toward the VERY large).

The other point worth making here is to avoid resizing a picture into a larger version of itself. Doing so will likely result in a pixelated or macro-blocked version of the image, leaving an unprofessional image in place, the opposite of what we’re shooting for with this exercise. Below is an example of a small thumbnail scaled up to the same size as my 400×400 pixel avatar.

Unknown Avatar

The final point to mention here is that these full size profile pictures appear not only in Twitter, but also in most twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Hoosuite as well. Why not take advantage of them?

5. Get a professional head-shot

This is a tricky one. If there’s one of these ideas that you should feel empowered to disregard with impunity, it’s this one. If your brand would not be supported by a professional head-shot, then don’t do it.  Then again, a pro can build a lot of great personality into a shoot, so personally, I’m hard pressed to believe a professionally done photo shoot can’t produce a pic that would support your brand, no matter what the elements of that brand are.

Tamsen McMahon & Jen Knoedl

Take a look at these two pics as examples. The one on the left of Tamsen McMahon, is an INCREDIBLE shot. Not just because of her beauty, but because of the personality that comes through. The twinkle in her eye. The look that says, “yeah, I know”. Brillant. Kudos to Rick Bern for capturing such a great shot.  The avatar on the right, of Jen Knoedl is another great photo that captures her spirit. Having hung with Jen a little here and there, I can assure you her personality shines through in this pic! “150 miles an hour and you’re gonna like it too!” is what that shot says to me.

What do you think?

There you have it… ideas for how to get the most from your Twitter avatar. Do any of these ideas make sense to you? What have I missed? If you had the perfect avatar for YOU, what would that be?

Thanks to Josh Wood for talking through the title of this blog post with me on Twitter.



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Sean McGinnis

Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct
Sean McGinnis is Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct. He is also a (digital strategist, blogger, consultant ) and public speaker. You can find Sean on