Nearly ten years into the social media revolution, it is still surprising how careless people can be in their choice and use of a profile picture or an avatar on their social networks.

Having just one social media avatar and using it repeatedly across all your social networks is recommended.

For me, choosing the right image is a vital piece of your branding and identity in the modern online world, yet many people fall at this first hurdle.

Indeed, upon registering with a social network, it is one of the first things you will be asked to upload; a picture of yourself. Yet, surprisingly many still not do this. Facebook is populated by mysterious silhouetted Cluedo murder victims and Twitter is littered with unhatched eggs.

I have argued at length the importance of imagery in online marketing and social media, and probably the most important image of all is the one that you choose to represent yourself or your organisation.

I suspect that the decision not to upload a picture is either down to shyness, privacy concerns or not having a suitable digital picture of oneself to upload at the time, but none of these are legitimate reasons if you’re intending to use social media for marketing purposes.

There’s not much one can do about shyness, and maybe social media isn’t for you if you’re not comfortable with being on public display.

Privacy concerns have some validity to them, but not having a photo can hamper your interactions and impact on social media; you can still have a photo but have your privacy settings set as such so that only your existing connections can see it.

Not having a suitable picture is not really an excuse either, given that we all have cameras readily to hand thanks to the proliferation of smartphones.

Your social media profile picture or avatar is a visual signature of your activity on the internet. It is literally the icon that signifies who you are, and at a glance people should be able to quickly identify that image with your interactions elsewhere on that particular social network and, ideally, elsewhere on the web.

Given this, here are 7 things that you should consider when choosing a profile picture / avatar for you social networks.


1.  Choose an image that reflects the brand values that you want to convey

One cannot emphasise enough the importance this image, as it reflects who you are and what you would like to convey about yourself. For better or for worse, we all make snap judgements of each other based on cultural conditioning, and you should be conscious of these when choosing your image.

Are you wanting to look serious? Do you want to be seen wearing smart office wear? If you’re a man, are you wearing tie? Are you smiling or do you have a neutral expression on your face? Is the picture going to be in colour or in black and white? Do you want the image to be funny or playful? What’s going to be the setting of the picture (see below)?

There is not a correct or incorrect image in itself, but there will be the right and the wrong image depending on what you are trying to achieve with it. It has to be appropriate for the brand values you want to convey to your intended audience.

For example, if you are a lawyer, you probably don’t want anything to humourous or whacky given the conservative nature of the legal sector… unless you are wanting to brand yourself as a whacky, funny lawyer to distinguish yourself from your competitors.

A whacky, funny lawyer? It’s an image that could work I suppose…

2.  Choose an image that you will use across all your social networks and blogs

You should use the same profile picture or avatar across all your social networks, certainly across all your social media profiles that are connected with your professional life or marketing activity (there’s a lot to be said for having separate social media accounts for personal and professional purposes).

This quickly establishes you in the eyes of others as the same individual on one network as you are on the other. It also helps reinforce your brand, the repetition and continually reproduction of the image only strengthening its familiarity and recognition.

If you blog regularly and use WordPress (to take just one example), you may want to consider registering with Gravatar and/ or Disqus, online widgets that will ensure that the same profile picture will be pulled in when you comment on others’ posts on certain platforms.


3.  Don’t forget about the thumbnail

In all probability, most profile images or avatars are now mainly viewed through third party applications on mobile devices. This means that image itself has to be recognisable in smaller dimensions than as it appears on a desktop or laptop screen.

These smaller images are known as ‘thumbnails’, for your image to work as a thumbnail your face must be predominate in the original image. Think of framing your portrait picture around your head and shoulders, and then it is hard to go wrong in this regard.

4.  Adapt the image for the social network in question

The different social networks have different dimensions and sizes for their social avatars, and these occasionally change from time to time.

Most social networks also offer users a choice of backdrop or cover to your profile and you may want to choose an image that complements your choice of avatar or branding (see below).

Make sure that you upload the right size image for social network in question, because if uploading an incorrect size can cause the image to blur or for it to be rejected by the social network in question.

Most social networks offer editing tools for your avatar (which is handy when it comes to reviewing your thumbnail) but a program as simple as Microsoft Paint can be used. You don’t necessarily have to be a Photoshop wizard to create the perfect avatar.


5.  Keep your image up-to-date

Unfortunately, we all age and this is something we should consider when it comes to our ongoing use of certain avatars on social media or online marketing. The key thing is that your avatar has to be recognisably you in the here or now, as you want people to marry up the online image with your appearance if they happen to meet you.

There’s no point being vain about this; if you have gone bald or turned grey, get a new avatar up on your social networks, as it has to be a reasonably honest depiction of how you look today. As a rough rule of thumb, look to get a new avatar in place every two to three years, assuming you haven’t undergone a radical change in your appearance (i.e. grown a beard or dyed your hair a different colour).  


6.  There’s nothing wrong in getting professional photographs commissioned

Despite their popularity, having a selfie as your social media avatar may not necessarily be the best professional image you want to project.

We’re lucky to live in age when even the most basic smartphone has a good camera within it, and we can take fairly decent pictures of each other if needs be. However, a professional photographer can help with important elements such as the backdrop and the lighting, ensuring that your portrait photo shows you off in the best possible way.

It can be seen as an unnecessary cost, but it is one worth bearing, especially if you are looking for similar photos for the rest of your team or company (when the return on investment becomes much greater).


7.  Think about your choice of backdrop and of using a watermark

While you may be preoccupied with how you look in your social avatar, don’t forget to think about everything else which may be in it. In other words, what are you standing in front of, and what does that say about you professionally?

This might sound spurious but it can be a serious consideration. This is why getting photographs professionally taken can be a good idea, because skilled photographers can advise on such matters.

The simplest option is go for a plain, neutral backdrop that does not distract from the main image of yourself, and which can be edited out easily in the event your photo will ever be used as a byline in a webpage or print article.

Alternatively, you can use your backdrop to offset any perceived image problems you may have. Younger professionals may want a backdrop of an oak-panelled study to give them the gravitas they feel their youth doesn’t convey, while older employees may want to go the other way, with a high tech, modern backdrop that implies a dynamism that might be otherwise by looked over due to commonplace ageism.

Also, you may want to watermark your photograph as well with a company logo or other information. Not only can this be another way assert your organisation’s brand values, it is another way of indicating that you or your company own the copyright to the image. Alternatively, you may want to put some text into the image but this may fall foul of some of the social networks’ guidelines. Obviously, such branding is not appropriate for individuals who work for multiple organisations or companies.



Social media avatars may sound like a spurious concern, but I am afraid basic human psychology argues otherwise. Don’t get too stressed or overly concerned with this however; just ensure you have a professional image in place that can be easily adapted to different online mediums, and that it adequately depicts what you look like as well as what you want to consciously convey about yourself.


Nick Lewis Communications can provide training in social media marketing as well as offer professional management of social media feeds. To find out, please e-mail or call 07970 839137.


Nick Lewis is a communications professional with over 15 years’ experience of working in both the private and public sector.

Nick is now using his wealth of skills and experience to help small businesses and organisations adapt to the modern online age. He helps individuals understand the possible successful applications of Social Media for their business and how they can use and monitor online materials and Social Media themselves to meet their professional goals.

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