An Avatar Picture Worth 1,000 Friends

Do default avatar pictures bother you, or you still shrinking back from showing the world your pearly whites or using an agency logo on a consumer-oriented social media site?

It’s often surprising how many new social media users fail to update their generic avatars when starting out. And failing to do so is likely to be a major setback for effective use of social media tools. A study earlier this year by marketing firm HubSpot looked at 9 million Twitter accounts and found that accounts with profile pictures had 10 times as many followers as account with generic avatar images.

Most social sites make putting up a picture part of the sign-up process, others like GovLoop have an approval process before you can upload a photo. Sadly, one look at GovLoop’s members tab tells you that most people aren’t bothering with that second step. But for 10 times the contacts, it seems like social media suicide not to do so.

Not everyone is comfortable putting up their picture on a social site, and there are plenty of other ways to dress up your avatar without. This article from Mashable talks about creative avatar images, and just about any creative picture is a lot better than the default images, such as the Twitter egg shown here.

For the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office on Twitter, we used a classic mug shot of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, top right (smiling in your picture also means more friends, studies have shown), and a custom background with our agency logo and a little blackbird. The simple custom background is fairly popular, eliciting responses like those of local journalist Lois Beckett, “How could Twitter bird + formal seal not be awesome?”

Hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to put your best foot – er, face – forward in open government social media efforts.

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Stephen Peteritas

Yes default pics really bug me. How am I ever supposed to find Tom Smith when he doesn’t have a pic up? Post a craigslist missed connection?

Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Adriel, I was drawn in by the clever title for this blog. Generic avatars bother me as well. When I see that someone has a photo or a created avatar or logo, it sends a message to me that they have at least taken a step toward a commitment to the site. Without that, I wonder if they are really invested. In other words I am much more likely to follow/friend/like an image that is non-generic. Accounts with profile pictures are probably becoming active in other ways, thus leading to statistics like having 10 times as many followers.

Adriel Hampton

Jay, thanks for the comment. The statistic is stunning, and I’m going to start highlighting it more. It drives me crazy when folks have something good to say, but don’t bother to complete their profile/avatar. And it also bothers me that people witll conclude that social media doesn’t work, without laying the necessary groundwork.