Twitter Background: Don’t Do It!

February 28, 2009



Twitter LogoDespite numerous articles to the contrary, Twitter backgrounds are generally a bad idea. In my previous article about setting your profile to make a good first impression, I deliberately omitted any mention of your profile’s background image. Here’s why:

All sorts of articles out there offer advice and templates for backgrounds. When I first set up my profile, I chose a simple template and edited it in Photoshop. I used a title, a tagline, a photo, a welcome message, and listed my various online contacts. This is what I had on the left side:

Twitter background: desired

A little garish, but OK for a simple start. I set it as my background image. Here’s what I got:

twitter-background-actual.png

Whoa, what happened? Half of it is being covered over, making it look terrible. I could resize my browser window to make it wide enough to make my design attractive, and for a while I did. But I didn’t like how it took over my screen and changed the layout of other sites I was used to.

There was nothing unusual about the template I chose. Even do-it-yourself instructions tell you will have so much room in the left margin for a given display size. But that’s not true, because I don’t want my window filling the entire display!

This is probably more of an issue for Mac users. Windows users often hit the “maximize” button to make the window take over the entire display. But I use Safari on a Mac, where the green “expand” button makes the window just wide enough to show a particular page. I set my windows to be wide enough for cnn.com, and that is the size I use for almost all of my browsing.

So my advice is don’t do it. Besides, who is really going to take that contact info I put in my design and type all those numbers to get to my Facebook profile? Because it’s an image, not text, you can’t click on it. We live in a point-and-click age, and putting text in an image runs counter to that. Instead, anyone who wants to click to learn more about me will go to my designated web site. In my case, that happens to be this blog, but you might consider making a “landing page” with your contact info—with real clickable links.

Another type of background image I see in people’s profiles is the large image. This, too, is generally a bad idea, because the the center of the photo will be covered up! I could show some bad examples, but don’t want to embarrass anyone. An example of one that does work is Mike Todd’s profile. There is interesting content along the margins, and it immediately gives you a sense of what Mike values.

So I still see value in using something other than the generic Twitter backgrounds to differentiate yourself and offer another clue of who you are as a first impression. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Use an abstract image that can be tiled. Or,
  • Use a photograph with content along the margins. Or,
  • Understanding the risks, create an image with a much narrower left margin than usual. My window leaves you a margin width of just 119 pixels. But that’s my window; I would go narrower still to be safe.

I have kept a generic background for some time. But I just took my own advice and made a new custom image for my profile which should work for nearly everyone. It resembles the blog banner above in order to unify the two. The edges of the image go smoothly into black so that when Twitter continues with a background color of black, the effect is seamless.

But if you’re just getting started in your Twitter adventures, don’t bother! Just select one of the Twitter presets and be done with it. You won’t look special, but your profile won’t make assumptions about window width and annoy people!

Was this helpful? Perhaps you completely disagree? What other recommendations would you make about backgrounds? Please share in the comments below!

Before You Sign Up for Twitter series:

  1. How to Choose Good Twitter Names
  2. Your Twitter Profile and First Impressions
  3. Twitter Background: Don’t Do It!
  4. Tweet Before You Follow

More Twitter resources:



Jon Reid

Posts Twitter Google+

As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

2 responses to Twitter Background: Don’t Do It!

  1. Very helpful and informative. Am a beginner and don’t want to B left out of the Online world. Didn’t know when to use an @ or #. Do now, thanks 2 U. Is Twitter owned by someone like Face owned by Mark Z? Tks Jon.

    • Susan,

      Glad it was helpful. One piece of advice: It’s OK to use real words on the Intarwebs. Abbreviations can be helpful with the 140-character limit of Twitter, but even there, I usually type what I want first, then find ways to shorten it as I need to.

      One key difference between Twitter and Facebook is that on Facebook, the features are decided for you. Whereas Twitter started without almost no features other than the tweet. It’s been users who have learned how to use that in creative ways (some of which became built-in features). …I think this may also reflect the differing philosophies (and personalities) of Twitter’s founders vs. Facebook’s founders.