It feels like Facebook is constantly changing, leaving us to Google “what is the right size for a Facebook profile photo” and also “Is Facebook even worth out time anymore?” But, despite the frustration, Facebook is, in fact, still worth it — it’s the most-used social network, and, if you’re a small business, it remains a great, mostly-free way to reach your clients as well as friends and family. So how do you make sure your Facebook profile is doing everything it can for you?
Mobile Web Design for Dummies author Janine Warner explains that the key to having a great profile photo is to worth within the confines that Facebook provides, but know when you can push the limits, like with the dimensions for cover photos and profile pictures. And, she says, it’s important that your profile accurately represent you and what you’re about, whether it be with a photo that actually looks like you, or a method of use that maintains the appearance of professionalism and savvy.
Here are just a few of her tips:
Look like you: Obscured photos are popular…but they aren’t very effective. Whether it’s excessive Photoshopping, a completely blown-out photo, or a photo with shades and a big hat, obscured profile photos aren’t helpful for your clients or your business. Use a picture of your face that is clear enough that a stranger who follows you could easily tell that it’s you if they run into you in public. The same goes for using celebrities, drawings, or other non-photographic images — your audience wants to see your face!
…And only you: Group photos are great shares, but for most of us, they aren’t great user photos, because it’s not clear who the user is! “The thing I keep coming back to,” says Janine, “is ‘can I tell who you are?'” Save your brunch-with-the-gals photos for a Sunday afternoon share. The same goes for photographers, who often like to use photos they’ve taken, even as the profile photo. Instead, use one really great photo of your own face for the profile photo, and use the photos you’ve taken as cover photos and album fodder.
You can go bigger: Although Facebook recommends you use a horizontally-oriented photo as your cover image (they recommend 851 pixels wide by 315 pixels tall), you can actually use a much larger picture that reveals a whole lot more when viewers click through. Just make sure you stick with the optimum aspect ration as the recommended image, and you’ll be able to go way bigger than the platform tells you.
Selfies are okay!: Despite the fact that self-portraits have become fairly maligned, a creative selfie — one that includes environmental elements in the background or on the side of the photo, or with a close friend (or an celeb you met!) — can actually be a great alternative to stuffy headshots, which can easily become outdated if you haven’t had time to sit for a portrait lately. They also make great, easy shares with your followers, who are probably interested in your daily happenings.
Be aware of different presentations: Gimmicky images — like those which use the cover photo and the user photo in a very precise, interactive way — are popular and playful…but unfortunately, they don’t work for mobile. And when an estimated nearly 80% of US Facebook users are accessing the site from their phones, your Facebook profile needs to be scalable. Desktops, tablets, and Android and iPhone apps all display Facebook differently, so unless you’re testing the images on every device, you may end up with something that looks unusual.
Feel free to have fun with your image and even theme your cover and user photo together, but don’t bother with the perfectly-aligned profile and cover photos, because they may not be so perfectly synchronized on mobile devices. And f you’re using multiple photos stitched together as your cover photo, make sure that you put the one you want to be seen across platforms as the center photo, or the one which will appear above and to the right of your user photo. Here’s Janine’s template for perfect Facebook profile photos and covers:
Be consistent: You may be tempted to use different photos across platforms, but when someone, say, goes from your Twitter to your Facebook page and wants to be friends, it makes it much easier if you have the same or a similar image. This is especially true if you’ve recently changed your name, or if you have a very common name.
Know what you want your profile to say: Are you a small business, a pet-lover, a photographer, or a public speaker? Make sure your cover photo and user photo represent who you are and what you’re good at. “If there’s something distinctive about your personality, then being a little playful with your profile image once in a while can be great.” But otherwise? “That can be problematic.” And if you’re still in doubt, ask a friend to tell you whether or not they think your online presentation is being true to you.
Remember: Your experiments might be public: “When you update things on Facebook, they get posted,” reminds Janine. This is just a cautionary user tale, but it’s still important. Changing your profile picture or cover photo can be a good way to remind people that you exist and make sure you wind up in their feed, but if you do it a lot because you’re trying out something new, each attempt will generate a new post, and “that really can look spammy.”
Get more great tips for rocking your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest profiles and pages — including free templates for fool-proof cover photos — from Janine’s course, The Social Media Design Toolkit.