Your company’s single biggest mistake on Twitter

Let’s start this post with a little quiz.  I’ve assembled a few Twitter avatars from my Twitter stream.  Take a look at the line-up and think about which company you would most likely follow and relate to …

I’ve used this example in many of my classes and the answer is usually unanimous — Megan Parker at GE.  It’s disarming isn’t it?  A massive multi-national B2B company represented by the welcoming and smiling face of Megan. But I think that’s just what makes this a best practice.

Your company is not choosing just a picture. You’re choosing a voice for the account, a personality, a strategy!

If you’re like me, it’s extremely difficult to connect to a logo.  I think it puts a company at an immediate disadvantage.  Now I’m making a big assumption here — that your company WANTS to connect. If all you want to do is broadcast press releases, than go ahead and “go logo.” But if you want to create some authentic connection with your audience, I strongly recommend you put a face on the account.

Handling multiple stores/accounts

Here’s an example of how this can work to create brand loyalty, even on a local basis.

A regional manager for Chik-fil-a (a large U.S. restaurant chain) told me she was setting up individual Twitter accounts for her restaurants. She was thinking of putting pictures of the store front as the avatars. Umm … “No,” I said.  How about the iconographic cows used in the restaurant ads?  No again.  Why not feature the store managers who are actually doing the tweeting?  Wouldn’t it be cool to establish a Twitter relationship with a real person and then get to say hi to them when you visit? Wouldn’t this build a connection and loyalty? This seems like such a basic concept but it’s ignored by almost every company. Just puzzles me.

Tweets in transition

A logical next question is, what happens when your Twitter face-to-the-world leaves?

I think this is best answered through a comment from Bert DuMars, Vice President E-Business & Interactive Marketing at Newell Rubbermaid.  A few months ago, I wrote a post about Twitter branding, wondering what would happen when popular Susan Wassel, the wonderfully-entertaining Sharpie Susan on Twitter got a new job?  Here’s how Bert answered this:

“The ID @sharpiesusan is owned by Newell Rubbermaid and the Office Products Division. If Susan were ever to leave Newell Rubbermaid, we would keep that ID and she would be free to re-establish herself on Twitter or any other social network as herself.”

This is happening before our eyes at GE. Yes … Megan has a new job! To my horror, she was replaced on Twitter by:

Sean Gannon GE’s managing editor for digital media explained how they are handling the transition: “Megan is on another team, so we are now ‘tag-teaming’ our Twitter account. On any given day, it may be a different person tweeting. Rather that give the illusion that it’s one person, we went back to a logo until we hand over the Twitter keys to just one person.”

(sigh of relief)

Let’s look at personalization under one more scenario. A company such as Coca-Cola may choose to have one main corporate (and they do). Certainly they’ve earned that right because as one of the world’s great brands, people are interested in their tweets even if it is merely a broadcast of press releases.  One way to personalize is to add the initial of the Tweeter at the end like this:

Whether you’re a person or mega-brand, let’s move away from trying to create a personal connection with a picture of an office building or a truck.  It’s time to get personal.

Do you agree?

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  • Joey Strawn

    Mark, I agree totally with you. And there are a lot of clever ways to not only include your logo, but also a welcoming face and voice on Twitter. I talk a little about this idea in my post today (it’s nice to see we had similar ideas).

    I’ve seen a few where the person Tweeting is next to a sign with the logo on it, I’ve seen people insert their logo “We Are Nashville” style in the corner of their avatar, and many others, but the common thread is that there is a face, a person, that people can talk with.

  • Interesting!

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Definitely agree with you. That’s why I pushed my company to allow me to have my face on my work account. People like faces. Something that I learnt from a Techmap conference in London but should have considered all along. When I changed the photo we found that engagement went up and people were more willing to chat which created some valuable relationships.

  • Great case study Charlotte. Thanks!

  • Glad to do it Dan.

  • No argument with that. Joey was too modest to share his own post but here is a link to that really fine article:

  • Karen MW

    Heaven knows I preach everything you’ve said in this post, but there is still deep, palpable fear out in the Real World among businesses/non-profits of all sizes about Twitter and the transparency that social media promotes. Marketing approvals must frequently come from nervous non-users (CEO, Department or Board Chairs, etc.). An interesting poll would be to find the number of marketing mgrs who yearn to follow effective social media strategies but cannot.

  • I think you’ve tapped into something important Karen. I run across the same thing. Seems like there are enough success stories out there to make a pretty good case for getting personal though. Thanks for the insight.

  • Do you think it’s enough to have the bio state who’s behind the tweets or should the image also reflect the twitterer?

  • Modern office workers are no different -in the eyes of the corporation- than an assembly line worked of the yore. (remember when Americans used to make things?).

    We are all given a small piece of the assembly line to man (<-verb) and our "work" is documented and stored as a policy and a procedure by the knowledge keepers (mid-level managers).

    This way, if a worked-bee leaves, it can be easily replaced by another worker bee.

    THIS is the obstacle corporations need to (but dont want to) get over if they are to put a friendly face instead of their cold logo.

    But lets say that a corp does put a friendly face on their twitter feed. What is my incentive as a person handling that feed to actually connect and build relationships knowing that those relationships will be null and void once I leave the company.

    This issue can only be resolved by destroying the current foundations corporations are built on and creating a new, better, more social foundation. And Coca Cola, GM or any other corp mentioned, and not mentioned, in this article are simply not set up for it.

  • When a new person follows me, I check out their bio and follow them. If a company follows me and it’s a logo, I have to think twice before following. I mean, who is this person? Why would they follow me? I’m looking at your pleasant picture here in the comments. Yes, of course I would follow you back. You look friendly. If it was a logo that said J&T Industrial … I don’t know. If the bio is a person, why wouldn’t the pic be a person? Don;t see the risk. Sounds like you have a dilemma you are working through? : )

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Your company’s single biggest mistake on Twitter --

  • Funny. I thought that was the last one. Yes, the picture is much better. But the tagline is Zzzzz….

    Absolit is the one I would have clicked on. (out of curiosity.)

  • Karl Yeh

    So what happens when your organization has multiple tweeters using the same account. That would be tough. This happens to be the case for some organizations i know that use their account to further their brand but don’t need 3-4 tweeps running different twitter accounts

  • I was with you until the last sentence. I do think many of the major brands take social media marketing seriously and “get it.” That’s one of the reasons I think 2011 is going to be a break-through year for the field because companies — not bloggers — are running the show now and we should see a lot of progress and innovation. I thins companies are adapting to the needs of the channel but I certainly respect your opinion.

    BTW, it is always a trip to read your comments. You are a very entertaining writer! Also, for all readers, I would definitely recommend Dino’s inventive blog at

  • Interesting. That person has actually been following me for a long time but I don’t even know if ti’s a man or a woman. Bugs me. Thanks.

  • One option would be to do what Coke does in the last example. The tweeter adds initials. I happen to think multiple tweeters is helpful to an account. It spreads the connection in different ways. That’s Rubbermaid’s strategy with multiple people tweeting about Sharpie pens. If one person leaves, they still have 3-4 more on the job.

    Nice to see you in the comment stream Karl! Hope we can connect some time in 2011!

  • Thanks for the plug Mark. I had to re-read my last sentence to see what it is I was spouting lol

    So, heres the thing…

    I wish I was wrong regarding corps “getting it”. I wish I saw evidence to the contrary. Instead, here is what I do see…I see that the lingo is changing, and thats all.

    Corps are learning the lingo of Social Media and starting to use it effectively. But the fundamentals of their business are still the same. Im generalizing of course. Are there exceptions? Sure…

    And by the way Mark, I think we’re basically saying the same thing. The difference is in the focus and you choose to focus on whats right…which is probably a smarter thing to do anyways lol

  • Anonymous

    Agree! I also like the option that Coke offers of the initials of the person tweeting. You’re right, they’ve earned that brand, they should use it…just personalize it a bit like they’re doing. I always respond (i.e., follow or connect) when I see an engaging face and like Joey Strawn’s post today mentions, an engaging and realistic bio as well. Thanks for the post! Hot topic this week!

  • Yes, I think we do agree. I like to focus on best practices to try to shine a light on a path forward.

  • Hot topic always, I think! : )

    There is so much potential to Twitter and most companies miss it. The technology is the easy part. Assigning resources is fine if you have the bucks to do it. But what’s missing is the mindset … which will be covered in my upcoming book!

  • Anonymous

    Ah, the mindset. It is too often missing from the scenario and the reason so many tune out before a company can even begin to engage (assuming that was their goal all along and not just part of a checklist for ‘integrated’ marketing). Looking forward to that book!

  • Hi Karl,

    When I worked & tweeted for Golden Compass, we not only added initials at the end of the tweet, but also made a Twitter background with our photos on it. I believe I read this suggestion in The Twitter Book (Tim O’Reilly & Sarah Milstein). Harder to do now that the background real estate is limited. An alternative would be to have the one link you get in the bio area link to a page with pictures of the organization’s tweeters.


  • Michael Williams

    Intuitive Introduction – Cloud Computing – The cogs wont survive

    The cogs wont survive. The drawing above attempts to show how people have alwayed used their lizard mind to survive by using the Technology of its’ era and create something marvelous out of the Earth. Earth to the vCloud. All we need to survive is our lizard mind. Everyone has it to survive. People always used the technology that was available in the history of life. The technology always created out of need and the elements always come out of the Earth. Man created great marvelous marvels, pyramids, highways, freeways, bridges, shuttles to outer space, trains, weapons, skyscraper, building and etc, with the mind, networking, interpersonal skills, money, hands, muscles, bravery, great sacrifice…, and pride. Etcetera. These mechanical engineering marvels

  • A totally agree that the picture of a person is better than a company logo. You already said it, Mark: It’s all about personal connection.

    I can think of two conditions for using a human profile picture:

    1. It needs to be professional. Not in a stiff and boring corporate-head-shot-kind-of-way. It should be creative, and express personality. But when a picture, used for a professional profile, is low-quality, distorted, washed-out, blurred or inappropriate, I translate that carelessness and unprofessionalism directly to the quality of work I assume from that person and their company.

    2. A “corporate” tweeter with a human profile picture needs to find a clever way to reference the company they are tweeting for. A lot of people write it in their bio, but I actually really like the way Megan in your post is doing it with the Twitter name. Another idea I like is a profile picture that includes the company logo in a clever way (@ceoSteveJobs). When more than one person is tweeting for the same company, I like the idea of having a template: Using the same way of combining the pictures of the different people and the company logo. (Olivier Blanchard wrote a post that shows what I mean:

  • Perfect addition to the post Dagi. Every time you write I want start the post over. Love your writing and your thinking! Thank you!

  • Very interesting post. I have to lower my head in shame and admit I wasn’t aware and wasn’t thinking about this point until now, and yes, I also stumbled into this and used the company logo as our avatar. It is not due to fear of being exposed, but more in line of thinking this will help build brand awareness. When I first went on Twitter I looked at what other companies were doing and did the same. It was all look and learn for me and now I think maybe I took the wrong lesson.
    So, I have changed the avatar now and it will be interesting to see if there will be a change.

  • Awesome. I think that is a step in the right direction! Let me know how it goes. I guess if it doesn’t work better for you I will be a schmuck! Thanks so very much for commenting!

  • I am SO GLAD that I’m not the only person that thinks this! On the teeny-tiny screens, I have trouble differentiating some logos from others. I think faces are always your best bet.

  • LOL. I will give it some time and update. I love experiments 🙂

  • I’ve been feeling the same, and forwarded this article to colleagues to suggest doing this. Will see if they agree!

  • Mark, I wonder if the profile pic change for GE altered in any way its followers or growing stats? Do you know if suddenly it dropped, increased, or remained flat? That I think would be the interesting (and educational) way to look at this issue. I do agree the picture makes a difference vs. just a logo, but like Chelsea pointed out, the bio could be easily considered the deal maker (or breaker). Cheers! ~Paul

  • Thanks for the validation : )

  • Make sure they read the comment section too. Don’t just take my word for it : ) Thanks for commenting.

  • It literally just happened within the last couple of weeks so I don’t know if you could really apply a valid statistical measure to that change. However, I will send an email to GE and ask them to give you an answer if there is one.

  • I think the main reason we haven’t put a face on our avatar for the company I run social for IS that chance of me no longer being there. In the beginning, we didn’t know what that would look like. With that said, I feel we’ve still done a decent job humanizing, even behind a logo. Most people address our Twitter handle to my first name (“Thanks for the RT Drew” etc). I think humanizing goes beyond just the avatar…although the avatar is that first impression.

  • Well said. The picture is just the first impression. Thanks Drew!

  • I totally agree with this social is all about coming out from behind the logo. In discussions we have had on this topic there has been a recurring theme (for us anyway) – a fear that the company’s community will follow the face when they leave the company, perhaps for a competitor. Would be really interested to know how you would respond

  • How interesting.

    While I don’t disagree about the use of images in relation to company Twitter accounts, I will say that a few months ago (year?) when Google Buzz was the “next big thing” that many, many, MANY people following Mashable on Buzz complained about the use of Pete’s image accompanying the account and were crabbing that they’d rather see the company logo than his smiling face.

    I took the opposite stance but I think it goes to show that it’s something that not everyone will be on board with: followers or corporate bigwigs. It’s a personal preference and while it might work for some people, it won’t work on everyone–it’s just another social media “best practice” to argue about. 😉

    Jessica Nunemaker
    Social Media Cupcake/Writer

  • Interesting post Mark. I cannot yet tell if I agree or disagree with you on this one. But I’m curious about something else.. I you think this is the single biggest mistake, what is the biggest?

  • As a small business owner I’m all about establishing my BRAND. To that end, my approach is to use my logo AND have a personality in my tweets. I don’t think it needs to be an either/or proposition. I want to have my cake and eat it, too!

  • Sally Hogshead has an interesting section on this in “Fascinate.” She says, “The link between transportation and faces isn’t limited to sports cars. Anthropomorphization–ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things–is a common way to create bonds. The more something resembles a human face, the more emotional attachment we feel for it.”

    Of course I take the nerdy route but it’s definitely proven that faces work.

    We’ve created a background with our team’s faces and use initials occasionally. I’m going to bring up your post though, I’ve always liked faces better. Perhaps a nice group shot…

    Thanks Mark!

    One last thing, bring your smile with you everywhere!

  • Peter that is a legitimate question, a vital question I think. I think there will definitely be a day when some of these Twitter and blogging personalities eclipse the popularity of the brands themselves! I addressed this, at least in part in this post:

    ..but I still think it is a risk and perhaps an open-ended question. There are some good comments on this post by the way. One commenter likens this to losing your star salesperson who takes their rolodex file with them. Certainly a business risk.

    Thanks for the excellent question. The debate is open on that one!

  • I don´t know Mark. I´ve lerned that what it´s good for a huge company it´s bad for a medium/small and what it´s good for an US/EU company it´s not for a company from other place (like Southamerica, Argentina,like my case).

    I´ve seen cases of big companies using a logo and achieve a great relationship through social networks with their users/costumers and the opposite case.

    I think and believe that, like all that includes human relationships, all depends on who is on charge, who is doing the action and also who is on the other side.

    In the tweeter case i think that not depends on the avatar, all depends in who do it and more important, HOW is do it

    Greeting from Ar


  • This is a superb point Jessica, In that case, I think the big issue was the OPPOSITE of what we’re talking about here. They had a picture of Pete, but Pete wasn’t tweeting! : )

    I think that’s the other extreme of the problem! It would like having a picture of Steve Jobs for Apple but he never does the tweeting. That’s just silly.

    Great question for the debate. Thank you!!

  • I’m sorry, when I wrote that headline I may not have been culturally senstive. So hard to do. WHen I call something the “single biggest mistake,” in American English that does mean it is THE biggest mistake, at least in my opinion.

    I think that hiding behind a logo represents a lot of sins, a symbol that a company doesn’t understand the channel, or maybe they do and they’re afraid of it!

    Sorry I was not more clear and thank you for bringing this to my attention!

  • I’m glad to have a dissenting view. Thanks for contributing this perspective. I will say that I don;t think there is one single Twitter account I engage with that has a company logo for it’s picture. There have been a few and when I know the people, I have chastised them and they have all changed! : )

    Any way, something to think about.

    A brand exists in somebody else’s head. It’s the story you create for them. How best to create this story? Through a personal connection or a cool logo? I’m open to ideas but I think generally business is about personal connections and you have a better chance to accomplish that when you’re a real face in my opinion.

    Thank you very much for taking a stand. Well done Samson Media Net — whoever you are : )

  • Fascinating points. Damn this community is smart!! Always full of surprises.

    Persoanlly I get bugged when there is too mcuh going on in a Twitter avatar and I can;t tell what it’s supposed to be. A nice smiling face just seems to do the trick in most cases.

    Here’s what you have to remember — EVERYTHING you do reflects on your brand. So if your picture is silly, nerdy or out of focus, that sends a vibe about you and your company. Your picture is your front door to the world and you shouldn’t take it lightly!

    Thanks for the very interesting comment Drew!

  • This is an excellent point Claudio. I think we do have to consider cross-cultural factors and respect how companies relate to consumers and customers in different parts of the world. I have had the good fortune to work all over the world and have experienced these vast differences first hand. I have no reason to believe that does not apply to social media too.

    A lesson for me here is that I need keep those factors in mind. I know sometimes my blog is too U.S.-centric while my readership is now coming from many parts of the world. Thanks for this reminder and thank you for caring enough to leave a comment about it. Much appreciated!

  • Your welcome Mark.
    i know it´s difficult but if sometimesyou come to thi part of the world you are most welcome to my beautifull city, San Luis.

    Regards from San Luis, Argentina

  • Let’s plan on it! I have never been to Argentina but is on my short-list of places to visit.

  • I keep reading the post and the answers and realized a couple of points..

    * you really need start to thinking this blog more “wolrdwide”
    * the “comunity manager” is every day more and more important

  • * I do not agree in the Anthropomorphization of a tweeter account or a comunication way between a company and it´s clients. what i do believe is that you should do what is possible to show that BEHIND that avatar is a human being.
    I know it may sound like the same but ITS NOT

  • The reference I was referring to is about Thomas the Tank Engine [with a face] (I probably should have included that) and when I read the post, I thought of that. I was hoping to get across that there’s a reason why we’re more attracted to faces rather than logos, scientifically speaking.

    Claudio, I definitely agree with you to show behind the avatar is a human being.

    Hopefully that clears it up, apologies on the miss-communication.

  • Thanks for the feedback. : )

    I did share your post with my partner and we both came to the conclusion that the avatar is too small for a group shot. Sometimes I get ambitious… (Good call)

    Your consideration is always outstanding and appreciated Mark.

  • Some companies can run multiple accounts, have a logo account that just posts deals/news/etc, and “personal” accounts that actually have some personality and correspond with people. I have found this to be very effective.

  • I have to agree with you Mark. In fact, with 3 of the twitter accounts that I oversee, we are trying to transition from a logo to a face. I think we associate a face with a personality too much for a logo to work as a substitute.

    I come from a computer animation background and one of the biggest challenges the industry faces in realistic facial simulation, is that the audiences can catch even the most subtle discrepancy in facial expressions. The whole illusion of realism then falls apart.
    If you have seen ‘Tron’ and ‘young’ Jeff Bridge’s face…you will know what I mean. My 9 yr could tell that the face was CG in spite of the many motion-capture sensors they had on the actor to capture nuances of facial movement. It was not ‘human’ enough. We are all ‘experts’ in reading faces and have been trained to do so from early birth. In fact, recognition of facial nuances, is probably a skill that has been passed down the evolutionary stream.

    We connect faces with ‘individual personality’ and ‘humanity’. Since social media is about connecting on an individual ‘human’ basis, a face will win over a logo almost every time. In a year or two, in all probability, almost everyone will recognize this fact.

  • Rick Short

    Mark – I’d like to see the data that supports your position.

  • There are no data that support my position. It’s just my position.

  • Really insightful comment Jacob, thanks!

  • Certainly a viable alternative, especially if they are serving a specific audience that really wantes to see the news releases. Nothing wrong with that. Thanks Eric!

  • or may have the opposite effect.
    What will you think of a person/company who say different things?
    Multiple accounts are complicated to run and confuse the target besides the fact that split the audience.
    It´s simple, before to run a tweeter account you should do a research of the target audience and it´s cultural background. I understand that (example) Coca Cola run multiple accounts but you will see that those are divided by cultural or regional bases

  • A letter to Mark’s readers:

    I am case study number 103 and a successful one. This summer I was still using this same Avatar as my Twitter handle because my Brand Fiction and Company is based on being cute aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy.

    Mark and I got to know each other last summer and we had a nice rapport and we both come from a more B2B leave the ‘hype’ behind mindset. Eventually Mark approached me that I should change to a photo of myself and went over the same reasons above during a phone call he was kind enough to have with me. It wasn’t because he needed to be right, it is because I felt he sincerely liked me and was interested in my success, not just on Twitter.

    I made the change to overwhelming positive feedback. My followers and connections grew faster and people were much quicker to engage with me. The surprising thing was I did not have to change from my alien/brand fiction persona. I could still make comments of that nature and have people ‘get’ them. I am still known as a friendly Alien who looks after my clients.

    Now I will admit his talk with me did not cover my Disqus account! LOL But this is really good advice. And you know who also ‘gets’ it even though they aren’t Twitter rockstars? McDonalds. whom I have had wonderful exchanges with and is smart as a whip (btw if you are in Chicago you should hire her!)
    But check out what McDonald’s has done: Put a face on their Twitter Presence!

  • Hurray for the home team Howie. Thanks for sharing this “case study” and the information from McDonalds as well!

  • My pleasure Drew. I’m glad I could help!

  • Excellent insight Claudio. The international perspective you’re bringing to the conversation is valuable. Well said.

  • You’re welcome. Glad I could help.

  • Perhaps your students chose GE because it’s in blue while the others are in gray.

    On a serious note, though, as a consumer I actually pay very little attention to the Avatar. The Twitter feeds I find myself removing from my list are those that are heavily filled with @, RT, and all the other Twitter hash marks that turn it into a hieroglyphics contest. In that vein, then, I actually would follow a feed like absolit. I prefer a tweet that accepts the 140 limit as a command to keep the soul of wit in place, and not a guideline to keep the same amount of content but just cram it into symbols and abbreviations. That’s a visually messy feed, and I remove them. Takes too much time to process all of that.

  • Beautifully stated, elegantly argued. You comment is a gift and I thank you!

  • Hey, Mark! Been missing the fun here at {grow} … darn work stuff gets in the way of my social visiting! 😉

    Just read through the comments and – as usual – so much great stuff here.
    I stand squarely in the “Social should be social” camp and agree that an avatar should be of a real, live person … not a logo, building, or truck.

    I did a guest post called “11 TIps to Make Your Brand Social”
    ( and that was right up there on the list.

    There are lots of ways to use social tools, but if you’re only looking at them as publishing and distribution channels, you’re really missing the boat. The real value in social is in actually connecting with people – exchanging ideas, sharing information, having a laugh. Those things only happen between two people who are behaving as people and not as embodiments of some corporate entity.

  • I think the hardest part is helping clients truly understand that their social media needs that personal voice. It can still be a branded personal voice, but without that humanization social media is lacking. Perhaps it is relinquishing control over every word that gets posted that makes the transition to social media and to humanized social media the hardest for clients. Somehow we have to show how the benefits outweigh the positives. Without an ROI to show, sometimes that can be even more difficult. However, we as agencies, social marketing specialists and consultants must press on. We all know the importance of social media these days. Companies just cannot afford to go without it.

  • It’s funny I was just thinking about you. Have missed you around here! You are definitely one of the founders and cornerstones of {grow} Jamie!!

    As always your contribution is spot-on and much appreciated. Thanks for sharing the link!

  • Gosh Leslie you bring up so many important points here. This whole thing about adopting a social media mindset is key and so difficult for small businesses. Here is the irony — the big brands get it, but the small companies who are closer to the customers are in a far better position to leverage these channels! I appreciate your frustrations!

  • This is a great piece, Mark!! We hear all the time from clients or potential clients that they like that we use personal pics on our two twitter accounts as well as having personal pics and information on our website about our entire team. We hear things like, it gives us a trusting image, its nice to put a name with a face, it makes you seem more genuine and so on!

    I think having the main person responsible for the tweets photo as the avatar adds to the customer service you provide. When you call a company, and actually speak to someone, you generally get their name, and they get yours and you address each other as such. So, it only makes sense to carry out your social media conversations in the same format, I think!

  • This presents an interesting dilemma for higher ed. Most institutional accounts use the institutional logo for their Twitter avatar (, though many staff members have personal Twitter accounts and use them to communicate about personal and institutional issues. And the list of alumni association Twitter accounts maintained @alumnifutures (!/alumnifutures/alumni-orgs) shows a clear preference for logos.

    My sense is that this is common only because .edu is focused on adopting and using Twitter and has yet to consider best practices. And, in fact, a logo may be best practice in this case because there are normally warmer & deeper associations with a .edu brand than with commercial brands.

  • Thanks for this very cool variation on a theme. You’ve got my wheels turning on this one! Very cool graphics.

  • Always nice to have some validation. I take my share of slams too but nice to hear this post resonated with you Jennifer. Thanks for caring enough to comment!

  • Anonymous


    Piggybacking off your main assumption for the post: “your company WANTS to connect. If all you want to do is broadcast press releases, than go ahead and ‘go logo.’ But if you want to create some authentic connection with your audience, I strongly recommend you put a face on the account.”

    I’d like to offer my thoughts on those in the middle — the companies that want to establish themselves on Twitter, but either A) do not have the internal resources/buy-in to have a full-time party committed to the corporate account, or B) want to showcase industry expertise, but also empower individual employees to have a voice that may or may not always be associated with the organization.

    For these situations, I feel that using a logo can be effective, if the feed is used more as a way to share industry information (self-published or from other sources), without a promise for active engagement. I mean sure, a “thanks-for-the-RT” note is one thing, but I guess I’m hung up on the question: Can people REALLY engage with most brands? And, do they want to?

    This may be more relevant in B2B than B2C, but personally, I’d rather follow a branded account (with a logo) that acts as a news source, and doesn’t have any personal-conversation clutter, and then engage with its individual employees on their own personal accounts.

    For an example, look at some publications on Twitter (NY Times, CNN, TechCrunch, Lifehacker, etc.): Most use their logo, and they share the news that their followers expect. And for followers who are interested in what they cover, that’s enough — that’s what they go to them for. But, to get to know more about the publication’s writers, maybe a little inside scoop, and to make a more personal connection with their favorite writers, people can follow individual journalists.

    I see the most value in brands (again, maybe this is more B2B) that take a similar approach.

  • Hi Mark – Great post, as usual.

    I’d like to add one more thing. When I went to check out someone who’d recently followed me on Twitter, I did a double take at their avatar. It was actually a stock photo that I happen to have purchased digital rights to and have used in webinar slide decks. Seriously – not kidding. It was not only creepy, but made me wonder why on earth they’d choose to do that. Needless to say, I didn’t follow them back. I still wonder if they realize that people could recognize their avatar as a stock photo and have considered what message that says about them?

  • Wow, you really plucked a conversational string on this one! I have been on both sides of the fence on this, as I had a business then closed it down. At first, I wanted to purvey a readily recognizable logo for people to remember, but realized the trust factor. I didn’t want to sell my business, I wanted to sell me. At that point I adjusted the screen name to include my name and the company name, leaving the logo in tact. It enhanced my responses, but it wasn’t quite enough. When I closed the business, I added my picture, a seemingly obvious change that would need to be made, but I noticed a huge response! My voice was the same, I discussed the same topics (for the most part), but the personalization was amplified. I have gotten amazing responses. I can see the quandry when there is the possibility of changing personnel or inherent transfers, but I think there is definitely something to putting a face with a name. You simply cannot force someone to buy a product, but if you are human (voice-wise) and display yourself, you will make a much bigger impact on others. They will buy you. Maybe a tactic would be similar to a company badge? Place your face in conjunction with the logo or similar.

  • I can see the appeal of using a face instead of a logo as a company’s Twitter avatar. I work for a non-profit managing all their social media, so I would like to see what my boss would think of trying this out.

    My question is: What do you think about taking this idea to the Facebook platform as well? If you are the same person managing a company’s Twitter and Facebook, should your company’s Facebook Page have a personal avatar instead of logo too?

  • Marcia M. Maia

    Very good point, Mark. I had never thought about that – couldn’t imagine a company such as GE using an employee face instead of its logo. Perhaps in this particular case it works very well, because the logo itself and the brand are already very strong worldwide. And a face has the power to soften the relationship. But for a smaller company with only 20 years of existence (such as the one I work for), the avatar is an importt way to strengthen the logo and the brand. Very good point to think about anyway.

  • Very interesting. Just shows how businesses can stagnate without new ideas that work.

  • It seems like the obvious is being overlooked: a Photoshop overlay of a headshot where the company logo is still decipherable. Plus, with this approach, a staff change keeps the familiar logo and swaps out the headshot. Specific person gone, but a real person connected to that company still tweeting, and the company branding remains intact throughout.

    At the higher ed institution I’m at we’ve ran contests like this, where part of the contest involves a headshot overlay of our college logo as a Facebook profile picture. The result is that our “brand” is connected with real people, and friends of these people notice 🙂

  • Absolutely Mark. You’re spot on.

    I’ll go even further.

    We like non-professional avatars. We associate with Megan because she’s happy, relaxed, and human. It’s hard to look like this in the studio, when they’re trying to take a professional photo of us.

    Being that your avatar is professional, I’m going to leave here quickly before you throw something at me… 🙂

  • I don’t have data to back this up, so we’ll have to ask those involved 😉 But, my feeling is that Zappos approach to letting employees be their own brand ambassadors works somewhat like this…although, I don’t know if they really have a logo account that has zero personality. Additionally, organizations like CNN, in my opinion, do a great job of having show accounts that just auto-tweet the news and then talent accounts that are actually the individuals. @AdamNaide could probably let us know if that is actually true though.

    Claudio makes a good point about splitting the audience, but if an organization has a plan in place for how to let those multiple accounts do their jobs, I don’t know that it would matter how large or small the audience for each account would be since the follower could gravitate to whatever interest (the auto-tweeter, the funny guy, the CS person, etc) he had.

  • Tom

    Another option to companies who have many people tweeting on the same account is to use the persons name and role in hashtags. This is how @SiteSell does it, pretty cool i think.

  • Laurel, this is a very well-thought-out and relevant response. One thing I have learned about business, there are few absolutes. I think many of the cases you provide here make sense. Thanks for the superb contribution to the community!

  • Nate Sanders

    I’m glad this post was written though because it shows who actually understands marketing and who writes something based on assumptions with no analytical data to back it up.

    If you want to be taken as a credible authority in marketing you need acquire, process and analyze data but that’s probably too much work for you and you’ve got some speaking engagements to attend.

  • Oh gosh you have me laughing Ardath!! I’ve noticed the same thing. In fact there is one silver-haired guy that has shown up a couple of times. He must be the icon for middle-aged professionals or something! What’s the giveaway on stock photos? Probably the hair.

  • Another compelling case study in favor of faces. Thanks for taking your valuable time to share this story Brandon!

  • That’s a great question. For some reason my gut is telling me people expect companies to be companies on Facebook. They’re becoming a fan of a brand. Probably don;t expect engagement in most cases — just coupons : ) I don’t know. I’d have to ponder that. Thanks for the excellent question! Let me know how it goes with your boss!

  • It depends on your goals. The way I look at it, your people can strengthen a brand through their convicted and engaged communications better than a logo — big company or small. Just my take on it. Thanks Marcia!

  • Thanks for the comment Doug.

  • Love the idea if you can pull it off. That’s a lot of information in a small amount of real estate. But I have seen it done effectively. Super comment.

  • Hey, it’s only right you came on here and scalded me here today! : ) Fair is fair Martyn.

    As the dad in the family, I’m always on the other side of the camera. I don’t have many pictures of myself at all unless it is sweaty in a tent or something! I needed a professional shot for my website and have just used the same shot. I tried to look friendly but maybe I need to take my own medicine if you disagree!

    Thanks for coming aboard today.

  • Thanks for the helpful reference Tom.

  • Why be hateful Nate? It’s my opinion nothing more. I’m trying to be helpful. I’ve been in global sales and marketing for almost 30 years, have two advanced degrees, and teach marketing at several colleges including Rutgers University. I’m sorry if that’s inadequate experience for you. I realize I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, but no reason to be vile.

  • In principle I agree with this notion…let’s face it, we all rather talk to a person rather than a brand. But be practical, not every business can or should have a personal face to their brand. Look at Ford for example. They have numerous Twitter accounts…Scott Monty does a great job putting a face to the brand but then they have their brand feeds that still have good followings that just push info. I think the problem with this notion is assuming everyone’s social media goals are the same, which to be fair, isn’t always the case. I think the execution of using Twitter and it’s best practices have to be put in the context of a larger social media and communications plan. This is the beauty of social media, as the space evolves, somebody is always showing a new and great way to execute effectively.

    That said, great post – this is a big issue for a number of brands. Enjoyed being part of the debate. Cheers!

  • I don’t think Mark needs defending because his work speaks for itself, but I’m going to do it anyways. He is one of the most credible authorities in marketing I know. I assure you that he understands marketing. In a lot of cases, it makes sense to back up what you’re saying with numbers and statistics. I know that Mark himself is a huge advocate for proper research. Here, he was writing from experience; so were most of the people commenting. I’m curious: What analytical data would you have liked to see in this post?

  • Claudio Quiroga

    and we must to believe that u understand Marketing just because post in this “im the marketing god” way? and because you are to much critic of everyone opinon?

    You fail to add something to the debate that a lot of people is taking to a very profesional level, you fail to show your “skills” in this small community, you made a huge mistake being agresive and above all you put yourself into a position that shows how small in your mind.

    I asume that you only works on the US and are of those peoples that, when someone ask about the rest f the world, know nothing about it.

    what are your credentials to be such a bad person and profesional? because i believe that, with the level of inteligence you show us, you can´t even speak another language..

    P.D.: Sory about my mistakes with the language, it´s hard to mix the spanish, english, german and russian, languages that im using at this moment

  • Claudio Quiroga

    Hi tom, nice to read you.. don´t you think that using hashtags may confuse the Target and clients?

  • Claudio Quiroga

    you have a point here.. it may be truth that non professionals may feel better or have a better relationship with non-logo accounts so that makes us think that we must to thnk in to have 2 different accounts? a professional one and one for those who are not professionals?

  • Yes. Consumers prefer a connection with a person rather than with a logo on Twitter. They cannot converse with a logo.


  • Yes. Consumers prefer a connection with a person rather than with a logo on Twitter. They cannot converse with a logo.


  • No believe me, you look friendly Mark. It’s MY unsmiling avatar that needs a little updating. 🙂

    Funny. I listen to the Mitch Joel podcast on my iPod touch while I’m painting and drawing, so I never think about checking out the guest’s sites afterwards. It took you commenting at Spin Sucks for me to find you. I’m lazy, aren’t I?

    Especially loved that Twitter Snob debate. (That was you, right?)

    Glad to be aboard!

  • I’m the first to say that everybody has different goals and the first caveat in the article was that I assumed your company WANTS to engage. I think the Ford example supports my theory. They have numerous people actively engaging and proving a face to the company. In fact, Scott Monty has become famous just for doing that! A separate account broadcasts news. I’m totally fine with that if that is the goal. I think your example supports what I am saying. Thanks for the great comment Jason!

  • Your new nickname is Ms. Succinct. Well done Carol!

  • Robin’s idea is what I have on my @WebinarListings account, and I think it’s a GREAT combo effect. The best of both worlds. Others tweeting from my account use the co-tags when appropriate. Two of my other clients do the same: @KettleCuisine and @MerrimackPharma. Thoughts?

    I’m still dying to see a STUDY that shows what you’re saying above. I know I agree, but would love to see research that proves that a photo is better.

  • Thank you.

  • I’ve seen both sides of this being employed, I know of a multinational organization who tweets and posts on Facebook with their first names tagged at the end, I have also seen the individual photo as well. I am more leery to wonder in the initial follow, if I am actually following a representative of the company if it is simply a picture of a person, without any other sign of the company aside from a link. However, I do believe that should a company be trying to connect with its twitter followers, they should be active in their responses as well as willing to RT a good tweet regardless of what followers twitter handle is…

  • Very valid perspective Seth. Thanks for taking the time to contribute!

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  • GuyisaGeek

    Our social media consulting group used this post in our meeting today and it helped the client see value, ended up helping streamline their Twitter strategy! Thanks

  • ”A logical next question is, what happens when your Twitter face-to-the-world leaves?”

    A logical question would be: Why promote a spokesperson of unknown staying power? Why not just invent a spokesperson as the Washburn Crosby Company did in 1921? They needed a way to giver a personalized response to consumer product questions. The name Betty was selected because it was viewed as a cheery, all-American name. It was paired with the last name Crocker, in honor of William Crocker, a Washburn Crosby Company director. Betty Crocker was born.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. When I first started working with Synthesio I was only tweeting with the corporate account. Shortly after starting, however, I knew I had to have my own account, too, for just the reasons you point out. Almost 2 years later, people can easily identify me with the company (its written directly in my bio and I talk with people from both accounts, often signaling people to the existence of the other and signing DMs from Synthesio with ^Michelle) so they can choose, not us.
    Good article, Mark 🙂

    Ps its been far too long since ive left netvibes to comment–I like the new look of the blog!

  • Awesome. Thanks for taking the time to pass this along!

  • Interesting perspective. Of course this wold only work if the character is known to be a character, which may take a lot of time and promotional effort. Certainly an interesting idea but I’m not sure if it would fit across a broad number of companies. Thanks very much Raymond!

  • Great case study and I know you have had wonderful success in your role there. I’m so glad to have you back in the community too. You’re one of the founding members!

  • Anonymous

    It’s been far too long 🙂
    Truth be told, you really have built a community here and it’s one of my favorites

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  • Well, Mark, I finally followed your advice. It took two weeks – I think mostly becuase I’m photogenically challenged 😉 – but Claris Networks’ twitter account is now sporting my face. Thanks for the great post. It got our social media team thinking, and we’re adjusting our strategy (not just the picture) as a result.

  • Funny, I just mentioned this last week — I encountered two social media “companies” (quotes a must because they don’t deserve to call themselves SM companies) that had no faces and no names. Just company name and logo. I even went to their websites to see if they had an about page. They do… still no names or faces. Anyone who hires them isn’t going to get results.

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  • I think the de-logizing of companys’ twitter presence will be a trend of 2011 as they gradually realise it simply doesn’t work, (with the exception of mega brands). Can I enquire Mark why you have instead of your twitter handle or username as the URL suffix – was that a conscious decision (you still get the chance of setting the URL if you use your name) – just curious.

  • I think there’s a middle ground on this.

    Check out what CoTweet does. The icon is their logo. But any @replies by folks running the Twitter account are attributed to a real person’s Twitter account. It’s a clever way of using Twitter’s contributor feature.!/cotweet/status/36142828144828416 . Starbucks does something very similar too.

    It allows a brand to maintain their presence and have a real face and person behind it all.

  • Gerard – i’ve see that a fair bit, Disqus does similar, infact i think they have something like @disqus_support account for replies which is less personal than @meg_cotweet Vertical Response do similar

    my beef with that though is that when you take a glance at the main account, it does not look like the brand is engaging with the public. OK, so it might say so in the bio (that is has a support account) or bured in the now less than visible background, but that’s not always visible when using mobile apps so where is the main advantage of that over humanization of the main account. Contrast this with the acclaimed customer service oriented mobile phone network in the UK @o2 (that’s O as in OJ simpson not zero as in Coke)

    The best customer service is defacto branding on Twitter

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always said I would rather people recognize my work rather than my face but after reading your post, I will consider putting up a photo …although my followers enjoy deciphering what they see in the mini image of my tile – kind of like a Rorschach test.

  • Another happy customer : )

  • I personally prefer a face as most logos don’t grab me. It does depend though. If the person tweeting has lots of interaction with other people then I’ll tend to follow regardless. I work with a lot of small businesses who are trying to get their logo and brand out there and for some a logo works.

    As someone who has multiple accounts and businesses, I currently use my photo on two accounts and logo on two. Should I have my photo on all? If so, will it confuse people if they see many different photos of me?

  • I think the main point is — companies are trying to “get their brand out there.” That is not the most effective way to show up on the social web. You need to get your “people” out there! Hope that helps.

  • Changing lots of strategies (and avatars and backgrounds! ) after reading this Mark.Outstanding!

  • I have seen this strategy work for a lot of people. It has really helped so let me know how it goes for you Michael!

  • I belong to the local chapter of Social Media Club (Buffalo, NY) and I brought up the idea of using a face as an avatar on Twitter and people were completely against the idea! I was surprised at how strong the reaction here was compared to the blog responses. There is a local organization here that DOES use the Twitter Admin’s picture and it seems to be working out for them so far. I guess it’s trial and error and perhaps I should do my own experiment – change our default picture & see what happens!

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  • Gosh, what a post and what a debate. I deliberately created a new twitter account just for my architectural practice as I started to feel my tweeting was sometimes too personal. I duly created a logo based on our initials and hey presto I could rub shoulders with the bigger, more established organisations.

    On reflection and with a few more months of tweeting confidence perhaps I need to return to a photo. considering the many good points on this post and how I find myself drawn to some users rather than others I think a clear set of twitter rules might suit better than a shiny logo.


  • Rather than add initials to the tweet (which is not universally understood) apply for a Twitter Business Account and use Contributors. The person tweeting as the brand will be identified in the metadata.

    Here’s an example of a brand (@Rackspace) using the Contributor feature:!/rackspace/statuses/62961409486618624

    Currently, Twitter web and CoTweet (free & Enterprise) make use of the Contributor feature.

  • Sounds like a plan! Most people who have switched to a photo have seen a big difference in their followers and levels of engagement. Hope it works out for you!

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  • Insanely great post which I send people back to again and again. How is the GE SM doing nowadays? Last week I changed my biz Twitter account pic from a logo to a face. It has gone from dormant to exploding

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  • I like the combo approach.  Human picture PLUS logo the way that @kodakcb and 
    @ ScottMonty do.  It keeps it human, but also branded…both are important!  Here are 2 great articles that I’ve read at least 5 times that really discuss this debate in depth:The Art of the Corporate Avatar: to Manage an Enterprise Twitter Presence:

  • I tend not to notice the Avatar when I recognize the name (brand loyalty) – but for new contacts – no doubt this holds true (and I guess the avatar probably helps me recognise the name too….).  Personalization is huge for everything and should only increase (everyone wants the personal touch).
    Enjoying ready your posts Mark – always thought provoking.Just written my own slant on Brand vs Logo – I guess the Avatar falls into that somewhere –

    Anyway – off to change my own Avatar – I need to get my face back in it!!!

  • I think that ComcastCares is a perfect example of this. They have a few comcast personalities like   ComcastBill, among others. They all have their headshots as their avatars and they are a great contact point for Comcast. In fact, I have sometimes had quicker success getting issues resolved through them than on the phone. 

    I didn’t like seeing ComcastBonnie go but there were other personalities to fill her spot with just as much competency. 

  • Great point Brian. Very good example. Thanks!

  • Ha! Time to go put your face on. Good one Nic. Good luck!

  • Super additions to the conversation Leah! Great to have you stop by and comment!

  • Anonymous

    I notice @WebinarListings went to a logo graphic. I do like the “branded headshots” of @KettleCuisine and @MerrimackPharma


  • Anonymous

    VERY observant.  I actually sold the company, and the new owner didn’t have a headshot, so we just moved to the logo for now.  But check out @JstMilitaryLoan — that’s me too 🙂

  • Anonymous

    There you are. Thanks for the update.


  • That is a big difference, when you look at Megan and then the GE logo. I have never thought about this too much, but I rather connect with faces than logos. 
    When it comes to Chickafila I think nothing can beat those cows, I mean everyone knows of the image of three cows holding the sign “Eat more chickin” even if they don’t know what it is about. Definitely would not go with store front images. 

  • Yes, I do love those cows. They mooove me.

  • Great post Mark! I may grab that for screenshot for my class this fall as well. I think some companies are afraid to take the personnel risk of assigning an actual *person* to the account. A funny aside – I have also caught a few companies using stock photos of people. I look at enough stock photos that I recognize some of the models. This is a funny way to fake the personal thing.

  • Good strategy if you can pull it off and still be visually appealing. The folks over at Likeable Media tend to do this well.

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  • Hi Mark,
    Just revisiting this post ! Might be interesting to hear your take on how students / high school students should present themselves on Twitter in terms of their profile pic.

  • JDOG

    this whole post makes me think you’ve never worked for a company with employee turnover…hence are unemployed.

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  • Couldn’t agree more. This is something I’m consulting a company on now.
    When I represented social for Griffin Technology, I insisted we use my photo and name in the bio. Our customers got to know me personally, and better yet, I got to know them.

    When I attended conferences on Griffin’s behalf, I would often be recognized by customers I had communicated with on Twitter. Using a face is always a smart approach to “social” media.

    Sorry I’m a little (lot) late to this party. 🙂

  • MovingToNevada

    And to this day…the GE logo is still up there.

  • Probably the account should be named as the company, and just put the face of the person currently handling it.

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