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A Cliché With Additional Significance ©
By Art Samansky

The cliché says a picture is worth a thousand words, an expression taking on additional significance in the social media world.

Beyond thinking through the wording of a post on social media accounts, and before hitting “send,” everyone, especially anyone in a leadership role (public or corporate), must give thought to the profile picture/icon being used in association with the post.

On social media sites, such as Twitter, many posters include a personal photo, a corporate logo, or idiosyncratic icon, rather than using the new-member or silhouette icon provided by the site.

Recently, several individuals posted on Twitter (or had posted on their behalf by their social media teams) messages related to a horrific, very sad and important situation in the United States. The words in the posts were absolutely appropriate and unquestionably sincere.

But, the photo attached to each message was the person’s existing profile photo — showing the person in a hearty laugh or broad, friendly smile. These were poses selected for excellent reasons when the accounts were opened. And, day-to-day, they probably worked well.

But, in this case, the optics were terrible given the circumstances and were, at minimum, the visual opposite of the heartfelt words posted. Surely, given the situation on which these individuals were commenting, it is inconceivable that if any of them went in front of television cameras or gave a speech with a similar verbal message the idea of a laugh or smile would even cross their mind let alone actually surface on their face.

Options Should Be Considered

It isn’t currently possible to post a single-time-use profile photo on Twitter to match a specific message without the new profile photo automatically replacing and becoming part of all earlier posts as well. The same is true of many other sites, too.

Of course, changing a profile photo to match the specific current message (knowing all previous message-photos also will change) and at a future time reverting to the favored-photo is an option. But that “reverting” approach has obvious potential drawbacks if the special message is “researched” well beyond its posting date as the “special” photo will be gone.

Consideration should be given to other options. The easiest solution is to embed an always-to-be-used neutral profile photo that doesn’t suggest a smile or frown. Equally viable options include only using a corporate logo rather than an individual’s photo, or attaching an always-to-be-used facial-expression-free personalized icon. Another option, especially for sites such as Twitter, is to set up multiple accounts, using different profile photo attachments to meet specific needs; there are “tools” that enable management of these multiple accounts.

If the latter option is selected, it is essential to adhere to Twitter guidelines on the subject (https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311#) to avoid account suspension. In addition, users of multiple sites should recognize followers of one “account” won’t automatically receive the second “account”—notification to followers will be necessary.

Regardless of the option chosen, heed must be paid to profile photos to avoid embarrassment or misunderstanding.

Perception counts.

(June 2015)