I have always just used a random photograph or self-portrait for my website and avatars on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. My Facebook profile picture is a photo snapped by a coworker in downtown LaGrange. It’s not bad, but definitely out of date and not really “me.” I’ve been considering having professional portraits/headshots taken and was curious… How important is a professional portrait in business? I decided to do a little digging, and was surprised at what I’d found.

Of the top 20 Twitter users (according to Twitterholic), 6 of them are companies or use a company logo or graphic (Twitter, CNN, Barack Obama, etc.). Of the remaining 14 people, 8 of them have professional photos. The remaining 6 include Wil Wheaton (cartoon drawing) and several self portraits (Kevin Rose, Alex Albrecht, Michael Arrington). And Jason Calcanis has a photo of his dogs.

So is a professional portait important? The top 20 might be a bad group to evaluate, because most of them had a strong personal brand before Twitter.

I can honestly say that a user’s avatar does have some importance in whether I follow them. I subscribe to several searches in TweetDeck, and the users with professional, well lit portraits stand out… especially if they are well cropped. I think the best portraits are zoomed especially tight (even to cut off part of the face or forehead) and well lit with very light or no shadows on the face.

I don’t have hard evidence to prove it, but if you want to increase your followers and friends a professional portrait would certainly not be a bad idea.