The Power of a Portrait

Not long ago, I changed my profile picture on Twitter (and subsequently on other social media).

This was not spontaneous. It was prompted by the requests of many others, who told me that they loved my content, they just hated my face.

Yes, that’s exactly how it feels.

And while I typically cut against the grain, when enough people tell you something, you can’t help but start listening. I didn’t want to believe it. I quite liked my old profile picture. It scratched my itch for the neutral and enigmatic.

But, to my immense surprise, the consensus of people online and in real life was that it looked “angry”. Though I can’t imagine what I could have been angry about. Staring into a camera for the express purpose of taking a profile picture is not the kind of thing that riles me up.

I put off taking a new profile picture until July 4th, when I would not be at work and my schedule would be clear. Not far from my apartment building is an old abandoned cabin that looks like it was built in the pioneer era. It is overgrown with trees and shrubs and is so picturesque that photographers often use it for family photos, engagement announcements, and the like.

I took dozens of pictures, whittled them down to four, and had Twitter vote for the best one.

Instant Results

It’s nice that you can see the color of my eyes in this one. It’s also good that I have a profile pic showing my beard. The natural light is great all around. And though a professional could have done a much better job, the overall effect is much better than before.

And the numbers bear this out. The moment I changed profile pics, my Twitter analytics underwent a radical change. Before, the most engagements a Tweet of mine would get was 8 or 9 (except in a few rare cases where I gave a popular reply to someone else’s tweet). This happened as soon as the picture changed. The very first tweet with the new profile exploded in popularity.

I easily get 18 engagements on my least popular tweets these days, in addition to the hundreds of “organic impressions”. This leads to more clicks, which gives more visits to my website. And while I’ve certainly upped my Twitter game in other ways, the new portrait has definitely done its work.

And so can You!

But there is still a lesson to be learned here. Previously, I have given advice about how to improve your Twitter profile. I’ve advised users to use human photographs for their profile pics.

Now I am going to tell you to make those portraits as good as you can. You still are not allowed to use stock photos of recognizable celebrities or models (because robot accounts do that all the time), but I will urge you to put actual thought into the composition of your profile pics. Make them the best they can be.

You’ll be surprised by how much change you can make.