The basic rules for logos are:
- Able to work very big and very small
- Able to work in black and white
- Able to work with inverted colours.
And above all a logo should be memorable. The rules above are there to facilitate this and to make the logo flexible and adaptable no matter where it is deployed.
A photo contain none of these traits. Big and small… perhaps. Black and white… maybe in a very artsy way. Inverted colours… no.
But all this is counteracted by the fact that faces are the most memorable thing to us humans. We can recognise faces we’ve only seen in a split-second. And we subconsciously detect every single element of a face, hence it is so incredibly difficult to make a CGI face that looks real.
In fact, I follow 2K+ people on Twitter. I can instantly spot new faces when somebody retweets a person I don’t follow or when somebody changes their profile photo.
Faces are our social road signs in life
Naturally most, if not all, social networks allow us to upload a photo of ourselves to put face to the content we produce online. Yes, you can use the profile photo space to upload a logo but by doing so you lose the human aspect of your otherwise digital and non-physical presence.
A real photograph also creates a vital connections between different networks. If you use a logo (or any other form of graphic for that matter) you are reliant on people associating the logo with you.
This can be a leap of faith too far if they are used to communicating with you in a certain context, for example work, for then suddenly bumping into you on a hobby forum for knitting cat sweaters. As mentioned before a face is instantly recognised which means the connection is made with almost 100% certainty no matter the disconnect between subjects.
And this recognition translates into real life. Few things are better than when you run into an online-only connection at a conference and are able to recognise her from her Twitter photo. It is an instant ice-breaker because you have something personal to talk about straight away but also because you both quickly establish that you already have a relationship you can skip the whole polite introductions and get get down to the matters at hand: “Is Google+ awesome or what?”.
How to choose the right profile photo
Your profile photo represents you as a brand so choose a good quality photo. Don’t use blurry or out of focus photos. Don’t use photos in bad light for example with a bright sun behind you leaving your face drowned in shadows.
Smile. Don’t look angry, grumpy, sad or bored. Do look into the camera. Studies show that photos of people looking at the viewer trigger more empathy.
Dress for success. If you are using your networks to present you professionally make sure your style of clothes reflect this. If you want a job in a bank a suit might be a good option. If you want to be a trendy musician a suit may not be a good option. Be aware that your social profiles might present you professionally whether you want to or not.
Be mindful of the background. There are too many examples of unfortunate photography on ebay (the link is not safe for work, but funny nevertheless). Be aware of what is happening in the background not only what other people are doing but also what the background says about you.
This may sound harsh but having a backdrop of a council estate doesn’t convey the same quality as choosing Canary Wharf as a backdrop. If in doubt, stick with a plain background. A blue sky is always a safe bet as most people associate blue skies with happy memories.
Get a professionally looking photo. By this I don’t mean spending a fortune on a professional photographer (although if you can, do it). But we all have a friend or two who are just that inch better at taking those party or family photos, maybe you know somebody who is an amateur photographer.
The advanced options. I won’t go into choosing a photo for a company’s social profiles, but if you are the face of your business (be it as a celebrity or in a senior role at your company) you may have access to PR photos or photos used in printed material or online advertising. Using these photos may not only connect across your social networks, it will also connect to any other related material featuring you.
When to ignore the advice above
I use the same photo for almost all my social profiles. I don’t use it on Facebook. My Facebook profile is personal. People I connect with on Facebook know me in real life and most I have know for years. As such, me changing profile photos art random and even changing it to non-photos, is not an issue. Use common sense for what photo to use when… or whether to use a photo at all. Maybe you don’t want to be recognised by your colleagues when you comment on Pylons of the Month.
And as with any other creative rules all the advice above are there to be broken so if you feel your online persona can benefit from green hair to be easier to recognise then go for it!