When is a Beer Not a Beer: When it’s in your Twitter Avatar

Posted: July 28, 2009 in Advertising/Marketing, Business, PR, Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hey Guys. I’m sorry for the lack of new content in the past week; I’ve been swamped with end-of-the-month reports, last minute press conferences, and the usual chaos indigenous to PR & Social Media. I’ve got a few posts in the works that I’ll tell you about later – a teaser, if you will, but my topic today was inspired by my new Twitter Avatar & the resulting comments I received about its ramifications.

My New Twitter Avatar

My New Twitter Avatar

Basically, in the picture, I’m drinking a beer. I’m over 21 (24 in fact) and I was on vacation (not at work) at the time. I use Twitter for a variety of purposes including, but not limited to, professional networking, developing relationships with journalists and media personalities, personal branding, promoting by work & blog…etc, and of course, keeping in touch with friends (mostly those I’ve met through work or twitter).

So the question remains – Can a simple beer preclude employment opportunities? Will it damage my personal brand and growing reputation as a credible authority in my field? Will it drive away followers and readers?

I posed the question to my friends and followers and received a mixed bag of responses.

Beer in Avatar - Good or Bad?

Beer in Avatar - Good or Bad?

This isn’t like I’m at a recent grad looking for a job with pictures of me doing half-naked kegstands littering Facebook. There is nothing blatantly unprofessional about the picture, yet, to some, it evoked a weariness and sense of hesitation. My question is why? Yes, Twitter, for me, is primarily a professional tool – but professionals enjoy a beer every now and then – does admitting that really contaminate my hiring potential or personal brand in some way?

Please share your thoughts – weigh in. Should I change my Avatar? The consensus seems to be “I don’t think it’s bad, but you should probably change it just to be safe.” The thing is…I don’t like to do things to “be safe.” I base my actions and decisions on logic and reasons – and at this point, though I can acknowledge the potential for damage, I’m not convinced that there’s a significant chance, at least not enough for me to compromise my principals. Fear & the “just in case” mentality aren’t how I operate…at least not yet.

Also, I must credit Lauren Fernandez with opening this conversation, in her post:

The Line Between Professional and Friendly in the PR World

Thanks for listening & Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Furl | Newsvine

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

By The By –> Upcoming Posts Include: “My Blog is Your Blog – Comments vs. Content” & “Hoodies & Headphones – Hyperconected Youth Need an A/V Oasis”

  1. I still say: no reason to pretend we never drink and curse just because we’re professionals. Shocker! We all do it!

  2. Rachel Kay says:

    David – Interesting post and I hadn’t even thought about it when I noticed your new avatar yesterday. I personally like the avatar, but at the end of day I think your employer and clients would appreciate a picture minus the beer. If one of my staffers posted an avatar that showed them drinking a beer I’d be inclined to ask out of courtesy for my firm that it be changed.

    • Aerocles says:

      Hmm, I Didn’t consider that perspective. Generally, even if twitter is used for professional reasons, the employer/employee issues are avoided since the twitter account, at least in my case, is my own, not owned by the company. I suppose that since people know where I work, there are broader ramifications than I initially considered ala – how it makes the firm look. Thanks!

  3. I really do think it all depends on what you want to convey to your audience. I took down an avatar at one point because it cropped right under my neck – and made me look like I had no clothes on, even though I was wearing a tank top. If you’re trying to convey a fun brand, why not? If you’re ultra conservative and talk only about professional items, take it down.

    It’s all up to you – and your brand – in what you say.


    • Aerocles says:

      Which forces me to ask – what exactly is “My Brand?” Until now, it evolved naturally and organically. I was – Myself. But now I’m forced to consider the future of “my brand” and the “Aerocles” brand. Not as easy as it sounds…

  4. PR Cog says:

    I think you’re ok. You’re totally allowed to be yourself, etc.

    That being a said…a few more rhetorical questions —

    * Would the opinions change if you were just holding the beer rather than drinking?

    * If you were drinking it in front of the brewer’s facility (i.e. they’re a client)?

    * What if you were in a tux, holding a glass of scotch, obviously at a social (or client) event?

    * And yes, what about that hat 😉

    I’ve told a few recent grads I’ve seen w/ avatars of them holding the ubiquitous Red or Blue college party solo cup that they may want to lose the pic if they’re job hunting…

    Same would apply here – if you were unemployed I’d say drop it immediately as you don’t want to run the risk that someone thinks to themselves “If this is how he’s presenting himself how will he advise / act on behalf of our clients.”

    That being said, you’re not, and anyone who actually knows and deals with you knows you’re a professional who occasionally likes to have a drink. And your employer is on twitter, so if they objected they’d let you know since you are part of their public face….

    • Aerocles says:

      See, I agree with your points, except that – why would it be ok for me to drink scotch at an event but have to hide it from the public…?

  5. david says:

    You definitely have to consider the context of your photo. Casually dressed in a casual setting, the beverage sends a different message than if you were holding a snifter or champagne flute while wearing a suit at a wedding. I often hear that you should dress for the job that you want, not the job you should have. Maybe the same applies in your avatar.

  6. kenwheaton says:

    I say replace the beer with a bottle of Jack Daniels and shoot the bird with your other hand.
    Who knows, you could end up being approached by a major liquor company?
    Then again, I highly doubt that clients are scouring Twitter to do an avatar check.
    Then again, I’m not a PR practitioner.

  7. Dorrine says:

    If Twitter is primarily a glimpse into your professional life, that should make the answer very clear. Loose the booze. Although I may drink with my co-workers, I don’t drink with them at work.
    I admire the risk-taking approach but I think an avatar represents your “first-impression” to many. I wouldn’t be opposed to you sharing the photo via twitpic or yfrog b/c that actually accomplishes your intention, to show you’re a real person who has a beer every now and then. But to have a drinking photo be your everyday image says something else entirely.

    • Aerocles says:

      That’s true – this is a permanent first impression, but I am a person and only representing myself and my personal brand – not a company or big brand…

  8. Get a new avatar. Despite whether you feel comfortable with it or not, it is polarizing. I have known people to lose jobs or not be considered for a job because of pics on facebook…it is all about another’s perception of you and that is a reality you cannot control.

    Scratch that…you CAN control it…don’t give someone the amo. Let them attack your principles, etc. not use your avatar as an excuse.

  9. Tom Foremski says:

    It’s fine if that’s what you want to convey. You are being provocative, which is fine, to start a conversation. My feeling is that’s not the image you want for yourself and that you’ll take it down soon.

    Overall, it’s not worth it to give people ammunition they could use. You could say it’s their problem but the truth is that it could come back and bite you.

  10. faris says:

    should you change it? I don’t see why.

    Will it stop you being considered for some jobs? Probably.

    Do you really want to work at those sort of places? Up to you 😉

    Public and Professional are blurring. Being a lawyer or school teacher basically prevents you from doing social media, because they are jobs where blurring can’t really happen.

  11. David Spinks says:

    Times are a changin. I say drink up, in your avatar, if that is what you do outside of your avatar. Look at @Drew, covered in tattoos, but that’s part of who he is. Look at Julien, coauthor of “Trust Agents” with Chris Brogan…a year ago he might have been shunned in a professional light for how he looks. There are few people who don’t enjoy a good drink once in a while, and for people to condemn you for showing that side of you, is ridiculous and becoming more hypocritical and professional and personal lines are blurring.

    The shitty part is that there are still companies that will condemn you for having an avatar with a beer. The good part is that those companies are quickly disappearing.

    This ties closely to my “Social Response to Corporate Indecency” post which was also inspired by Lauren’s post. I say be yourself and while you may still catch some slack for it, I think you’ll be much happier in the long run.

    I can’t wait to start my own company so that my own “lofty” ideals can be thrown back in my face if I’m wrong. I know that if I do start my own company, it’s going to look VERY different from “corporate America”.


    • Aerocles says:

      Thanks for the support David…I Agree the conservative, puritanical, Corporate image is dying…but it’s not dead yet and that’s what scares me.

  12. I say keep the pic if you like it and if you think it represents you! After all, it’s YOUR Twitter account. Plus, if in 5 years a company doesn’t hire you because you once had a beer in your Twitter avatar, it’s probably not a company you want to work for anyway! I’m all for being yourself, and honestly I don’t think that pic is bad…maybe if you were doing a key stand, I’d say take it down…but I don’t think a pic like that will make anyone think any differently of you…at least not anyone that matters.

  13. CT says:

    Responses so far assume drive-by Web surfers are going to delve into the context and subtlties; that never happens, online or in any media. People operate on surface impressions, and that surface impression is beer=partyboy=not serious. Just how it is. I’d change the avi, perhaps to a headshot with just a stern, straight-ahead look (conveying that you’re pissed to have had to ditch the brewski 😉

    • Aerocles says:

      lol, I like that…I wish i could have two avatars – one for first impressions, and another for people that know me!

      • CT says:

        I guess what it really comes down to: Does it create extra work for you, in terms of you having to explain/justify it repeatedly? If so, then you have to question how much it’s worth it for you to maintain, versus a more safe/neutral avi.

  14. Meg says:

    As stated by all the great minds above me – if it’s a conflict of interest, leave it. It’s fun and shows personality. Who wants to stare at the same old promo head shots as twitter avatars all day everyday. At least it’s not a horrible brand of beer too (I’ll refrain from naming names, but we all know who I’m talking about…)

    PS you ARE 21, right ?? 😛

  15. Abby says:

    As someone who’s actively searching for a job (yes, I’m the recent grad you spoke of, minus the half-naked keg stand photos), I definitely would not use a photo like this for any of my public social networking sites. I am constantly considering what potential employers may think before I do anything on the web.

    Since you’re already employed (assumption), it’s another story. If your employer is okay with it – as it inevitably represents the company to some extent – I say it’s fine. You’ll still run into people who may think you’re less professional because of it and may choose not to connect with you, but that seems to be a risk you’re willing to take. I think it shows your personality, but someone who’s more conservative may disagree.

  16. Allie Mac says:

    I agree with Lauren about determining how you want to brand yourself. But branching off of that I think it’s worth looking at generational branding differences. I know even from my own work experience (sure.. I only graduated in May, but hey, internships count!) that there are definitely significant differences about the way I brand myself versus the way some of my more ‘experienced’ co-workers do.

    Not saying one way is right or wrong I’ve just noticed that I tend to integrate my personal life and interests into my professional environment much more than my older counterparts. Talking with old classmates and others in their early to mid 20s, I hear the same thing.

    It seems like we expand our boundaries for what is and isn’t work appropriate much more than generations before us did (not really new news..). For instance, as you said, a beer in an avatar seems way different than a keg stand at a frat party. But to some, it isn’t.

    I guess it’s important to know your audience and try to feel out whether it would go over well with the kind of environment your current place of employment has.

  17. John Haydon says:

    The brew works in at least two situations:

    You are trying to get a job at a microbrewery.
    You are filthy rich and could give two shits what people think.

    Final thought: Find another way to demonstrate that your human. A plain picture with a great smile goes a long way.

  18. Sue Bailey says:

    My thought would be this: if someone would not want to work with me because I was drinking a beer in a Twitter avatar, they wouldn’t be the sort of person/company I’d want to work with anyway.

    FWIW, your avatar says “fun, a little unorthodox, doesn’t take himself too seriously” to me – and that would be exactly the sort of person I’d want to work with. If you put on a suit and tie and looked straight at the camera without a hint of a smile, that might be a proper promo head and look more professional – but it’d also say “dull, dull, dull”. Is that what you want?

    I didn’t think so 😉

  19. Maria says:

    When I first saw your new profile pic, the first thing I thought was, “That’s unprofessional.” Do I think you’re not allowed to show personality? Or course not. But, as CT said above, beer = party boy = not serious. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter.

    Bottom line: If you wouldn’t do it in the office, don’t do it on Twitter, especially if you’re representing your employer in some way.

    Just my $.02 🙂

  20. Steven Melfi says:

    My Facebook picture currently is me with a Corona while I was on vacation in Mexico. I have no problem with posting a picture like that or like yours as an avatar. If an employer doesn’t want to hire you because you have a beer in your hand in an avatar picture, do you really want to work at a place that uptight anyway?

    I thought this was America, people. What happened to freedom of expression?

    • Steven Melfi says:

      And as a follow up, if someone were to say something to me about the picture being unprofessional, I probably remind them that the past three Presidents all admitted to partaking in illegal drugs. Somehow they were still qualified (with the exception of W.) to hold the highest office in the land, so you having a legal drink shouldn’t be an issue.

  21. Seems innocent enough to me.

  22. Alexis says:

    When I read this post, I already knew which side of the fence I was on — my avatar (which is closely cropped for Twitter) is me, holding a beer in front of the Pyramid Brewery in Seattle (there’s your brewery association, Cog!)

    I suppose I cropped it “to be safe,” as everyone else is saying. Some of my company’s clients are on Twitter, and given that I really have one shot to visually present myself to someone, I went a little more conservative. If you’re not inclined to be conservative and your company is okay with it — why not keep it?

    That being said, on my Facebook account, I still have photos from my 21st birthday. They’re tamer than most, but you bet alcohol is still involved … and I’ve no intention of taking them down. I never thought of the relationship between those photos, and my profile picture/avatar before, but it’s an interesting question.


  23. Marianne says:

    Im a little out of your age bracket but I can tell you that I have discussed it with my daughters. My oldest is 23 and just entering the business world. Even though she has never posted anything inappropriate or embarrassing, I have advised her to be careful who and what she posts on her social media sites. As expected, I got the rolled eyes until she applied to, and got, her dream job. At the interview they asked for her Facebook, Twitter and Myspace info. Clearly future employers are looking.

    Do I personally think a 24 year old having a bear on his avatar is looking for trouble? No

    Do I think inappropriate – provocative photos will eventually bite you in the ass. Absolutely.

  24. I feel the more we are expected to not work your typical “9-5” hours, the more our personal and professional lives blend. I am by no means saying drink on the job, but if you sit down with your laptop for a couple hours on a Sunday, you can have a drink or two after work, too. This picture says you like to relax and have fun, but your bio, blog and tweets also speak volumes to how you are as a professional, which people should really be looking at. Don’t judge a book by its cover? Don’t judge a person by their picture.


  25. The image is comical in nature, throwing back a beer, wearing a snazzy hat. It is meant to be light-hearted.

    Do people want to see you giving CPR to an endangered animal? Buying Girl Scout cookies? On the phone? Typing an e-mail?

    I see absolutely nothing wrong with the picture. It’s fun, it’s funny and if it represents you, isn’t that what an avatar is for?

  26. Ellen Rossano says:

    Hi David,

    And here I am, worrying because I am wearing a sweater and not a suit in my Twitter pic! I saw your new avatar during the weekend and thought it was cute – you are clearly having fun and I think you said you were at a party.

    As far a business goes, “If you have to ask…” you probably shouldn’t. I have this discussion with women about business attire – what’s appropriate? Too old? Too young? Too low? Too short? It’s a gut-check thing.

    I think the bigger issue I have with it is that the viewer can’t really see your entire face – I think I’d rather see a picture of a smiling face (and like prcog noted, what’s with the hat?)

    My gut says no beer in the avatar, but I’ll buy you one next time I’m in NY!

  27. I may have been chastised once by a manager for drinking beer out of a bottle at a client event, but I was never photographed doing it! 😉

    I think it’s all about balance. If this part of who you are – but not all it – then sharing this avatar for a bit shouldn’t be an issue (though it probably will be with some folks). You know this photo will annoy some and engage others. If you’re not worried about losing business or potential connections because of it, you should keep it as long as you feel good about it.

    If you’re looking for a way to convey a rounder image of yourself, well done. A way to temper it, if you’re worries, is to acknowledge it in your bio. Maybe you can start a rotating avatar bug for your blog so people can see all the “yous.”

  28. It’s a beer.

    I guess if you’re looking for work in Utah it might hurt, but sheesh, you’re an adult drinking a beer on vacation.

    Are you a school teacher? Cuz that would sorta suck…

  29. Steven Melfi says:

    Two last thoughst; I’d like to remind our hiring managers, the Boomers, that their parents used to drink in the office during the work day.

    Also, I work on Wall St. I believe the culture here, when the Boomers were our age, was that of cocaine all day, every day. If a drink in an avatar is an issue, they need to take a long hard look into the mirror.

  30. alanmills405 says:

    children, children.

    blogs are microcosms of our inflated egos. the avatar is the crystallized window to the world.

    so you enjoy a beer. who cares? you think you look good in that hat. great.

    what worries more is the immensity of your worries about what those approaching your thoughts will think on their way in.

    go for the beer, get rid of the hat

  31. Arik Hanson says:


    Interesting post and an issue I’ve been curious about lately, too. I tend to agree with Mr. Fleet here. I’d change it. Not that it reflects poorly on you, but what is the photo communicating to folks?

    I tend to think the whole avatar issue is undersold. Since we typically don’t meet many of our friends online face-to-face, all we have to go on is the avatar. So, it immediately takes on a larger importance. I think you want that first impression to really drive home what you’re all about. From what I know you of you David, you’re a hard worker, nice guy, witty and smart. Hate to say it, but not of those things come through with this avatar.

    Just my two cents.


  32. Maria says:

    One of the first things I learned in journalism school was, “When in doubt, leave it out.”

    If you have to ask if the picture’s appropriate, you should change it.

  33. Tbeffs says:

    Hi David,

    Great post and debate. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses as well, but quite frankly, no one here has said anything I haven’t thought about, heard, or read already. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’m on the job hunt. I definitely see the remifications for not considering this, so here’s my bit.

    Maybe the real questions you should be asking are, why is it this way? Do I need to conform to survive in this environment,the way I want to? Will it ever change?

    All of the points made above are extremely valid, but I can also see your struggle with this. But the reality, for the most part, is that our society and corporate culture do live by certain rules, beliefs, and values. They are the expected and accepted norms of behavior. The lines are blurring alright,the mindsets are shifting as the space changes, just not at our yours and my speed.

    I do get the whole corp-culture p.o.v too. The first 5 years of my career was spent working in Europe for a large Global Brand. Therefore those telling you to choose another pic have a point worth considering.

    It might also help if you realize that there is something to be said about your logic and reasoning, as you pointed out. I’m also of the “Gen Y-Millennial” group. We grew up reasoning and navigating this world through the internet. Discovering, experimenting, and borrowing judgement in a way totally foreign to those before us. We have a different cognitive make-up, so we approach things differently, often socially, and learning and accepting from each other. Hence the reason you have the battles you have with upper mgmt and them not “getting you”. Word to the wise though,don’t mistake your cognitive make-up and way of doing things, from that of the experience and knowledge that our Seniors have over us, two totally different things.

    There is no right or wrong answer. Know who you are and it’s a win, just know what you are up against. Like you, I’m also trying not to compromise my principals, it’s not how I like to operate. Time, life experience and age are definitely weighing in though.
    ( I’m leaning towards Melfi,Nicole,and DSpinks 2 cents )

    And a little food for thought for everyone talking about the booze and pic representation. In Europe, you actually put your picture on your CV/Resume. Yeppers, a professional pic is a must if you want to be considered. It’s the norm. Blew me away. And booze at the office, also pretty normal in most places. Hell, I even have a friend whose cafeteria offers Beer at lunch. All about the social norms, of which we create!


  34. […] @Aerocles’ Avatar 2009 July 30 by @mikeschaffer After much deliberation and discussion, @Aerocles photoshopped the image of an adult beverage with choice hops out of his Twitter […]

  35. Sawyer Finn says:

    I recently was scolded by my employer for this very reason. My Twitter avatar had me holding a shot. Not only was I asked to change it, but my CEO told me he was “disappointed that I wouldn’t know that this was wrong.” I felt like a bad person for a while and now I’m just mad that my employer is trying to control my life. My profile never mentioned where I work and I never tweeted on behalf of the org. Needless to say, I’m looking to leave my “Big Brother” organization as soon as possible.

    When are we allowed to be real people who do legal things on our personal time? Do I really have to pretend I have no life outside of work and I’m a drone? Didn’t you hire me because my personality and character fit well with my roles?

  36. I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday, when you posted it. Reason being, I like the avatar. I think it’s fun and it elicited a response from me when I saw it earlier this week.


    If I didn’t know you and you sent us your resume, and I went to find you on the social networks, I would be put off by your avatar. I know it doesn’t make sense, but we have a very defined culture (that does include wine:thirty on Fridays) that is fun, but also professional. We’d like the fun part of your avatar, but we wouldn’t call you in for an interview because it doesn’t exude confidence on the professional side.

  37. Wow, ton of comments here and I’m late to the party. Personally I think it’s fine if that’s what you want to show, but it also screams “frat boy” – and I should know, I live in NYC’s Murray Hill area, where frat boys go to finish off any parts of their liver they didn’t kill in college. People will make snap judgments, which you can accept or ignore.

  38. […] When a Beer is Not a Beer – When It’s in your Twitter Profile […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s