Is it Time to Break Up With Your Avatar?

Linda Bustos

Are you in a mono-"logo"s relationship, or play the field when it comes to social network avatars? Many of us take a number of images for a spin before we settle on "the one." Some have joined themselves to one and will never look back. While others seem to have a new photo every week. If you're tired of the avatar-scene and are looking for a long-term commitment, perhaps it's time to settle down with a single avatar. Or if you feel your avatar is going nowhere - maybe it's time to break up. Decisions, decisions. There are a few questions you must ask yourself:

  • Is this just a relationship of convenience? Maybe you selected your profile from the social network's default. You really gotta believe there is a better avatar out there, even for you.

  • Is it purely sentimental? Have you had the same avatar since 2001? Familiarity is comfortable, but you may have outgrown your avatar. I mean, I've had many lovely walks along the beach with my Discman, but come on.
  • Is your avatar a cheat? It seemed all fine and dandy when you turned yourself into a South Park character, but now you see your picture in other places, wearing other clothes, and with slightly different hairstyles...and you're beginning to get suspicious.
  • Does your avatar share your interests and future goals? An avatar is a personal brand, don't waste your time if you're not compatible. Eventually there will come a time when you will inevitably move on.
  • Do your friends like your avatar? In a way, your avatar is a reflection of you - your avatar shouldn't be boring or rude. In fact, if you have an outgoing avatar, it can introduce you to a LOT of new people.
  • Can you bring your avatar home to mother? I think this is self-explanatory.
  • Is your avatar high-maintenance? Does your picture need constant fussing and resizing for it to look good every time you take it somewhere new?

If you answered yes or no to one or more of the above questions, you may or may not need to break up with your avatar. But if you've read this far, please read on for some tips on what makes attractive, long-term avatars:

Logos

Logos are a great way to brand your blog or business, for obvious reasons. If you're familiar with a blog or company, you'll recognize the logo as a representative of that brand right off the bat. The risk here is there's always a possibility you change jobs / careers and your avatar or user handle becomes outdated. Examples SEMvironment and Ecogeek's logos communicate the green focus of their businesses. If your avatar somehow ties into what you do, that can be even more effective.

Another downside of using your logo is if your company has multiple people, it's confusing if more than one person uses the logo. Who gets to use the logo? How will others in the company brand themselves? I have yet to see this, but think it would be a neat idea if a company that gets its team to take similar avatar photos. Perhaps all wearing funny hats, tuxedos, team jerseys, doctor's uniforms or even bobbleheads...

Characterize Yourself

I don't mean Simpsonize yourself. I mean create a persona like The Mad Hat, Fantomaster, Slightly Shady SEO, Google Tutor, Incredible Help, OnReact or John Cow:

Caricaturize Yourself

Chris Hooley, Rohit Bhargava, Joost de Valk, Barry Schwartz, Andy Sernovitz, Shawn Collins and Jeffrey Zeldman are a few examples of personal caricatures.

Brand Yourself as a Celebrity Character

If you're lucky enough to share a name with a popular cartoon character like Sebastian or Duff Man, you can go this route.

If you don't have a name-connection, it's less effective just to borrow a character. Chances are there are six or seven or eight others who had the same bright idea.

Use an Unusual Headshot

Black and white headshots can stand out because they're less common, but stand out more with any interesting angle of your head. Examples from Bill Slawski, Muhammad Saleem and Shana Albert.

Bright colored backgrounds work, too. Examples from Ciaran Norris and Lyndon Antcliff:

Lyndoman also uses a half-head, a great technique shared by Wiep Knol and Matt McGee:

Or turn your head, touch your face, rotate your photo, paint your face...or use a prop!

Combine Logo with Photo

Best of both worlds. Robert Raught and Stefan Juhl do this well. Their choice of white background also makes it easier to see. In Robert's case, you also know his occupation without clicking through to his profile page.

Adopt a Pet

Advertising execs know you can't go wrong with baby animals. In social media, monkeys are particularly effective (perhaps because they're almost people?) The pros are that animals are memorable and often funny. The downside is an animal doesn't say anything about you or your business, unless it ties in with your name (maybe your name is Cat or your nickname is Bart the Bear).

Use an Inanimate Object

Attention-grabbing, stands out amongst the sea of faces and easy for people to remember, a single object can be a good avatar choice. Robert Gorell goes retro with a cassette tape (although this will alienate anyone born after 1985), Kristen Munson has her red stillettos (would be neat to where those to the conference!) and "Wingnut" has his...wingnut.

Want more inspiration? Check out more amazing avatars.

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Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.