Social Media Avatars: Pan & Scan for a New Generation

avatar-badMy very first job back in the mid-1990’s was at a local entertainment retail store, back before the advent of DVD.  Toward the end the lifespan of VHS, many studios started releasing movies in “letterbox,” where a widescreen movie was sandwiched between thick black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.  This allowed the viewer to experience the full frame of a movie seen in a theater to appear on their standard square television.

Many new release films like Braveheart were available in both letterbox and “pan and scan,” which was a term for when a widescreen movie had its sides clipped off in order to fit the full square frame of your TV.  Many customers unwittingly purchased “letterbox” versions of these movies, and quickly returned them for the tried-and-true “pan and scan” versions they’ve known for years.

Jump ahead 15 years, and widescreen HDTVs are the norm.  It’s hard to find a DVD in the “pan and scan” format anymore, as DVD players can do the cropping inside the player in order to fill older square TV screens.

avatar-skylineToday, there’s a whole new “pan and scan” phenomenon occurring, and it’s affecting social media.  Sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook allow users to upload pictures which serve as “avatars” on their tweets and profiles.  In most cases, however, the displayed picture is square in width-to-height ratio, but not everything used as an avatar is formatted that way.  This is especially true with company logos.  Many are more rectangular and landscape-oriented.  Uploaded as is, they’re often clipped off on both sides, revealing only a fraction of the total image.

While Facebook and LinkedIn offer users the ability to pan and crop an uploaded image at will, Twitter avatars are resized for display as-is, cropping the sides off your rectangular logo and leaving your company image virtually unrecognizable.

So what can you do about this?

  • Create a social media avatar with a 1×1 aspect ratio.  This can be easily accomplished in Photoshop or other less-expensive image-manipulation programs.  Create a blank image with matching width and height dimensions, such as 500×500 pixels for example.  Then paste your picture or logo into that square image, resizing to fit the entire width inside that space.  You may have blank space on the top and bottom, but at least you’ll have a more recognizable image attached to your social media postings.  Be careful not to crowd the edges of that square image frame to, as some social media sites may also trim a little off all four sides of the image.  Fit it in the frame, and give it a little room to breathe!
  • Create a new “stacked” version of your logo.  Depending on who created your logo and how, this may not be as feasible an option.  However, if you have the ability to play with the design and orientation of your company logo, try creating one that is oriented in more of a portrait layout than a landscape one.  Having different layouts in different compositions allow your logo to be used flexibly in a variety of media, while retaining the overall look.  Having a “stacked” version of your logo is great especially for social media, where square images are the norm.
  • Drop the text.  Does your company logo have a defined and recognizable symbol in addition to the company name or other text?  Consider dropping the company name and text from your social media logo and putting the symbol front and center.  If you have a logo where the company name expands the width of your overall logo, focusing on the symbol of the logo could be the way to go.  Users will see your company name in your profile or username anyways, so why clog your image with text that is probably too small to read anyways?  Putting the symbol of your company front and center not only makes your brand stand out in a crowded Twitter timeline, and may just enhance the overall recognition of your brand to new followers.

Your social media avatar is your face and your calling card in social media circles.  If the cropping of your avatar is clipping off the sides of your logo, you’re only exposing a fraction of your brand to your audience.  Don’t let social media “pan and scan” trim the effectiveness of your message.  This may be the only occasion where it pays to be a square!  

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