10 Ways to Make Your Avatar Sell

If you include social media marketing as part of your online marketing strategy, give a little thought to your avatar. Actually, give a lot of thought. Overlooked as they are, they can be crucial to your branding strategy.

Avatars are those little images that go beside each post you author at websites like Digg, Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace and even beside comments in this blog. In some places, they are called profile pictures or something like that. But look at all the variety of choices you have…

Twitter @SteveatLFPressTwitter @ForwardStepsTwitter @johnchowTwitter @foodtvdotcaTwitter @PublicityHoundTwitter @thegypsyTwitter @feydakin
Twitter @PRsarahevansTwitter @bwelfordTwitter @cnnTwitter @MrJavoTwitter @XurxoVidalTwitter @zoomitTwitter @MarketingProfs

Why avatars are so crucial is because they are like your online logo on every social media website you participate in. If you Tweet or connect for fun and recreation, who cares? But if marketing and business is important to you, below are 10 guidelines on how to optimize your avatars for maximum affect.

Note that these are “guidelines”, not rules. It might not make sense for you, in your particular situation, to follow all of them, but if you follow none of them, you are probably blowing it big time. Not all the avatars above follow all the guidelines, but they all follow most of them. As you read the list below, let your cursor slide over the images; I have added some notes in the alt and title attributes.

    Default avatar at MyBlogLog...boring

  1. Let’s start with the basics. Don’t leave your avatar blank or go with a default avatar. The image it will leave people with is that you don’t know what you are doing, that you might just be a spammer, that you have something to hide or, perhaps worst of all, no impression – you’ve wasted a chance to brand yourself.
  2. Daiv Rawks' face at Twitter2. Your face is the ideal logo. In social media, people don’t want to interact with a company; they want to interact with a real person. Remember that social media is like a fusion of all the occasions when you might be speaking informally with people – around the water cooler, at trade show receptions, at the pub down the street, at networking meetings. In the real world, nobody wants to speak with a faceless company; they want to speak with a human being. Online people are still people; they want to speak with real people. See what people think of face avatars here.
  3. The previous guideline is one that you might want to break in one very specific situation. If your social media strategy is strictly to broadcast information, you might want your avatar to be your company logo. Very few organizations can get away with this strategy, but some information-rich companies, such as newspapers or radio stations, do this very effectively. Here are avatars from two different media outlets, reflecting very different apporoaches to social media marketing:
  4. CNN broadcasts on Twitter The London Free Press participates at Twitter

    John Chow is easy and pleasant to see on Twitter

  5. 4. Make your face pleasant and easy to view. Some people try to get attention with avatars where their face is half showing, on some kind of angle, or contorted. Others pick a cute photo where some object is partially obscuring their faces. Nice pictures for friendship; not ideal for networking.
  6. Even in tiny form at Digg, you can see mklopez's avatar

  7. Remember that your avatar will show very, very small. That means your face really needs to fill the avatar. If it looks like you are far away, people won’t be able to recognize you when the avatar appears in tiny format (like on a Digg submission or even on a tweet). I can think of one Twitter avatar that I always assumed included a baby’s head…until I saw the photo at larger size in another program and I realized it was just the way her hair falls. (Bet she doesn’t know she has a baby!)
  8. Oops. Seems like this face is hard to make out even in a large avatar format

  9. 6. Also, because avatars show up small, it is ill advised to have too much cluttering up your avatar. Is that a photo of your arms behind your head, or are you picking your nose. Is that a pet, or an oxygen mask or a mutant mushroom in front of your face? Is that a person way back there in the middle of that 20-pixel-wide landscape?
  10. All these guidelines makes for a possibly very dull photo. If everyone follows all these rules, then everyone will look the same and nobody gets branded, right? It does make it more challenging. You can create a distinct background, perhaps a bright color. You can change the color of your face…or post in black-and-white (rare on the Internet) as two of the examples above do. You can become a caricature of yourself or of your expertise (think Statue-of-Liberty for a freedom blogger, thinkBob-the-Builder for a home renovator) – I did say people like to deal with real people, not faceless corporations, but I also said these are guidelines, not rules. You can add a letter to the avatar to represent your username, but be careful that when shrunk it does not look like something strange. Here are examples of three strategies to make avatars stand out:
  11. Mr. Javo's cartoon self actually looks like him, but it stands out as a cartoon Search Engine Guy used cropping to make his image memorable Look how Steve 'Feydakin' Gerencser uses color to stand out from the crowd.

    Who can resist Jill Whelan's smiling avatar at MyBlogLog?

  12. Smile. Yes, a smile is inviting. People are more likely to add you as a fan or follow you or befriend you if you appear pleasant and inviting. Yes, I know you are above that; basic psychology applies to the other 99.99999% of humanity.
  13. You'll see Marko's StumbleUpon avatar at Sphinn, Digg, Twitter, etc.

  14. 9. Now that you have chosen an avatar, use the same one across all social media platforms where you hold an account. Many people flit from one social media platform to another, and you want to be instantly recognized. I have recognized Twitter friends on Digg, and Digg friends on Sphinn, and Sphinn friends on…exactly. And thanks to Gravatar, I have seen many of my online friends and acquaintances in numerous blog comments. Each time I see a familiar face, that face – and by extension, that person – becomes more familiar. You can see my same avatar on Digg, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Mixx, Sphinn, Zoomit, etc. Interestingly, Lee Oden did a quick Twitter survey just when I was first contemplating this post, so I thought I would share it with you.
  15. I'd know that face anywhere.  Barry Welford's avatar is a constant.

  16. Once you pick your avatar, stick with it. I know several folks I really respect who break this rule, so hopefully they won’t hate me (and if they hate me, hopefully they don’t have any voodoo dolls of me kicking around). But every time you change your avatar, you break your branding momentum. From a psychological perspective, your avatar is your logo, and people relate it to you. Imagine if Amazon.com or Toyota or Apple Computers or Target Stores changed their logos several times a year. Exactly. Many people who follow you in social media don’t necessarily remember your name (Yes, I know, your friends do, but many of the people you are trying to reach for marketing purposes don’t) or even your username, but they will know your image, because that is your most powerful representation. They will relate your image to your style/topic of posts; your target market pays attention when it sees your avatar because it’s on their radar. From a more practical perspective, as people flit quickly through recent posts, they will tend to gloss over an unfamiliar avatar. Each time you change your avatar, you lose also their attention.

Let me stress once more that these are just guidelines. If you have good reason to do otherwise, be my guest. When it comes to social media, or any other social situation, there are no hard and fast rules…and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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  1. David, thanks so much for explaining this.

    Of all the tips above, #2 is most important. On Twitter, in particular, a large number of people I follow use annoying cartoon-character avatars that give the reader no clue whatsoever about who they are, what they do, or their personality.

    As a publicity expert, I advise my Publicity Hounds to ALWAYS offer your photo every place you possibly can—even when sending a routine press release, for example. When I send a press release to the local newspaper and include my photo, it's often printed. What do I hear from people who read the press release and see my photo?

    "I saw your picture in the paper!"

    Not "I saw your press release in the paper!"

    P.S. Thanks for using my avatar above (top row, third from the right) and giving me additional publicity.

  2. Thanks for including me in the article. I always wonder how people would react if I used my personal avatar rather than my 'business' avatar though.


  3. Your professional one looks more friendly…like after brushing teeth in the morning.

  4. Well done, David. I absolutely agree that reaching out as a person is key to success for small businesses attempting to leverage social media for social networking and social marketing. To attempt to "brand" oneself with an image of anything OTHER than one's self is simply too pompous for most people to accept.

    Even Kinko's – MAJOR name – harkens back to the kinky haired owner of the company who reached out to his clientele and made a personal connection.

    – Daiv http://Twitter.com/DaivRawks

  5. I have actually considered changing my Avatar in the past, but came to the conclusion – as you did in #10 above – that keeping the image people were already familiar with was a better way to go. I even posed the question to my Twitterverse as I was pondering doing so and the advice was almost unanimous that I should keep my current picture, rather than changing it over to a logo.

    As it applies to social media, my avatar – or in my case, my face – is a part of my online brand. Not to mention the fact that changing would mean having to change it everywhere…and who has time for that. 🙂

  6. Great article. I find that caricature of yourself can work very well as they're distinctive and don't
    give the impression of being a spammer as effort does need to go into them. I completely agree with point number 10 as well – changing your avatar could be likened to changing your brand image or logo. When you do it you're almost starting from scratch again so it's worth spending some time at the start to make sure you choose the right one.

  7. Very astute of you. However, my intention is to lure people with mystery and let their curiosity do the work.

  8. As for me, I want my profile to be more personal that's why I prefer having my own photo as avatar. But I really like this idea of having an avatar, sometimes, avatar is one of the factors why I add somebody into my social communities.

  9. Sometimes though you don't want your photo made public. Maybe your just shy or have other reasons. So a good pic that is associated with you can used to good effect. make it relates to your business, etc.

  10. I didn't know that there are guidelines for avatar too!For your guideline number 6. I have see lots of people uploading their photos with that image and its difficult to tell their looks!I would rather they have uploaded their company logo if they think they are that hideous.

  11. I have to admit that I recently started going into all my accounts and adding an avatar of me close up with a big smile – It has made a noticeable improvement, especially to twitter follows – so maybe I'm not that goaddamed ugly afterall.

  12. Now, I have to get another picture of me with a bigger smile. The smile I have in several social sites is not big enough. Thanks for the tip.

  13. I completely agree with point number 10 as well – changing your avatar could be likened to changing your brand image or logo. When you do it you're almost starting from scratch again so it's worth spending some time at the start to make sure you choose the right one.

  14. Avitars are very important now with forums and twitter. I will be using your advice to my advantage. Thanks

  15. Totally great points! I think it is really important to make sure you're getting the most out of your avatar. Still, I don't have one so what is my opinion worth?! Haha.

  16. ye.As for me, I want my profile to be more personal that's why I prefer having my own photo as avatar.Thank you.

  17. Nice article! I have always thought about the attention getting aspect of avatars and that is why I have traditionally always used hot chicks. I'm not kidding either, it get's your attention. Besides, who wants to look at a balding, potbellied schmuck?

  18. i absolutely agree on this post. Avatars are now the representations of the personality, interests, thought patterns, beliefs etc of an online forum. Three dimensional avatars are mostly animated ones. Avatars help create an individuality to an otherwise faceless blogger.

  19. I agree with you that avatar is strong for ourselves branding. For Consultant or Blogger this is good way to sell ourselves. However sometimes avatar created by employee of the company that don't really like to show themselves. I also don't use my avatar currently.

  20. what an interesting topic–i always take for granted my avatar image and usually use some random pic of myself for everybody to see…reading this article shed some new light on how i can use it as my billboard for marketing… thank you thank you thank you…

  21. When I choose an avatar for my facebook and twitter accounts, I make sure that the photo I am using can show my cheerful personality. Sometimes, I also choose photos that can reflect my current mood such as mad, sad, happy, etc. Whichever I pick, I see to it that the will be able to tell that the person in the photo is me.

  22. I certainly agree with all your points, especially as they relate to setting any type of small business marketing or branding page.

    Even though you’re setting up a business presence, the social media driven audience still demands a personal appearance for people to connect with so the picture you choose, how it looks and invites (or turns off) is very important to the page

  23. I have to be honest, I never gave much thought to optimizing your avatar to maximize sales. But it makes perfect sense now. With the growth of social media, making that visual connection between your “content” and your appearance (in whatever form you choose to make it) if key.

    Thanks for giving me a whole new perspective on this. Now… should I show my real self or one or those model pictures that comes with the frame 🙂

  24. Great detail in this article, I really learned a lot of new stuff!

    You said: “Remember that your avatar will show very, very small. That means your face really needs to fill the avatar. If it looks like you are far away, people won’t be able to recognize you when the avatar appears in tiny format”

    I couldn’t agree more to this. I’ve been registred and active on some forums since 2003, most people don’t recognize me based on my name, they recognize me by my avatar.

    At one forum, we hand an IRL meeting. When most people asked me who I was it was something like “Hey your that guy with the “super mario” avatar right?

    Kind of funny

    // Caspar

  25. Caspar, what forum was that? IRL meetings are always fun and exciting, I would know! Also… this comment section doesn’t show avatars. Guess there’s no point to getting one here then!

  26. @ Dave

    The forum I mentioned is a Swedish computer forum called Sweclockers.com 🙂

    // Caspar

  27. I think sometimes people don’t like using their faces because they just hate pictures of themselves! I’m one of them. Fortunately, I knew a cartoonist one time and he did a drawing of me which I use for my avatar. Agree it’s not as effective as a real photo, but it’s unique and doesn’t make me cringe as much!

  28. Great article, thanks for posting. I totally agree, avatar’s are an important part of marketing yourself online. For my business social media and online uses, I had professional pictures taken, including one that could feature mostly just my face for avatar purposes. If you want to be taken seriously and make more professional online connections, you should use a professional-looking avatar. It’s not that hard to do! Great tips David.

    Writer, Enviroselects.com