Twitter Background
Online Marketing

The Twitter Background Conundrum

May 27, 2009

What is it about social media that has even the most sophisticated adults in a tizzy about establishing their online identities through proven tactics such as…tiling an arbitrary image across a virtual profile page?

I find it pretty intriguing to say the least and to my chagrin, we’ve been exposed to this oddity a lot lately in the form of calls from our clients requesting custom Twitter backgrounds. The oddity in question is not the need for a custom background, it’s the urgency with which it’s requested.

One client recently went so far as to take matters into his own hands and pay some online hack $35 to create a real mess of a background before talking to us. It was not pretty, to say the least. I still have nightmares of one day logging on with a browser that hasn’t updated since having loaded his new background, only to find the dreaded, misshaped image staring back at me. Seriously, when all you can see is the top 15% of your head in your photo, it’s probably safe to say that something hasn’t gone as planned. [Quick fix: If you’re in this situation and don’t know what to do, go back to the standard background immediately! You can get there by clicking settings –> Design –> Change background –> Don’t use a background image –> Save changes.] Crisis averted.

Before we get any further though, let’s give this phenomenon its due diligence: When MySpace first entered the scene, I remember reading an interview with a marketing professional who self-righteously declared, “I really doubt people are going to waste their time decorating their profiles like they would their teenage bedrooms.”

Well, we all know what happened next, of course. Sparkles. Lots of them.

Facebook got rid of all that nonsense when it introduced a sterile and unified platform–a welcome change to those of us who were sick of logging into the MySpace flea market only to witness the sad reality that was our fellow man’s virtual wallpaper choices. Instantly, everyone appreciated the Catholic school uniform approach just a little bit more and subsequently pondered how their childhoods might have been improved had they not been responsible for expressing themselves outright through outfit choices on a daily basis.

LinkedIn, like Facebook, chose to focus on the content of the man’s character, rather than the color of his…profile background. Users choose their connections based on what others bring to the table, which is a good thing or a bad thing depending on your view of capitalism, I guess. I’m not a huge fan of LinkedIn, but I dig capitalism. You know, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, back to Twitter and the case of the fully customizable background. I’m all for it if it’s done right, so when clients express interest in customizing their pages (or, rather, threaten to never tweet again until their background “represents me!”), I get it. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary considering that most dedicated users–those who are most likely to get the majority of their updates from this particular platform–are using “Twitter “clients” such as Tweetdeck or Twhirl to manage their friends and updates. Reason being, Tweetdeck, Twhirl, and other such technologies eliminate the need to ever login to Twitter.com again. At the same time, you never know who’s going to stumble upon your page through an online keyword search or even as part of some deluded background check before doing business with you. (The nerve of these people to want to know who they’re working with, right?)

So, long story short: Those who use Twitter primarily for business should definitely consider a custom background that offers information that won’t fit into the 140-character bio line rationed to them. At the same time, don’t stress yourself out over it. Providing quality updates is your biggest concern on this platform.

That said, if you do decided to customize your background, consider adding things like:

  • URLs to other social networking profiles
  • URL to a site or personal blog that gives your contacts more insight into your non-work life
  • URLs to work-related sites such as a company blog
  • Your email address

If you’re working with a diverse audience, try to stay away from staunch “I am” statements that can work to pigeonhole you into a solitary category when, most likely, your expertise reaches far beyond that declaration. Also, keep in mind that the URLs will be images rather than active links, so don’t expect to see a ton of traffic come in directly from your profile page.

Some quick tips on imagery:

  • Don’t tile one image a million times-find one that’s fitting and enlarge it or incorporate it into a larger design. Admittedly, this is just a personal preference but it does reveal your lack of Twitter savvy.
  • Remember that people will likely notice your background before they even read your first update. Be subtle unless you’re boring and your image is really the only thing you have going for you (in which case, perhaps you shouldn’t be broadcasting your thoughts to the world in the first place).
  • Any information provided in the left sidebar (the standard area for any extra information you want to provide) will remain fixed so if you can’t fit all of your information above the fold, know that no one will see anything beneath it as they scroll down your page.
  • The dimensions of your background should be either 1600×1200 or 2048×1600pixels (although you can technically go smaller if you like).
  • Don’t hire an online hack for $35.

Oh, and to those who use Twitter for personal reasons…remember what you did to MySpace.

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