Does your avatar matter?

We all have an avatar on our social network accounts. Some of us took a while before changing the default, others selected one and have stuck to it over the years. But what does your avatar say about you?

For many this was what people remember me on Twitter for, despite the fact he wasn’t my first avatar:

David Hopkins

Remember him? I used him for about 3 years, and was happy. Scrolling through the status updates made it easy to see and identify tweets or links or shares coming from myself. At the time he was useful as few people used illustrations, favouring more social and personal photos. He was used everywhere, except LinkedIn. For LinkedIn I used a (slightly) more professional, but stylised, B&W photo.

I fought against changing it for quite a long while, against all the posts and articles suggesting I was unprofessional or lacking in integrity or ability to be trusted for not having a ‘proper’ avatar. He is/was my brand, and it was how people knew me and how I’d grown my PLN. I was all too aware of how it could be viewed, and how it could affect how others viewed me, but I am more interested in people judging me for my actions or ability to do my job than how my avatar looked or what shirt I wear. Judge me by my posts, tweets, and what I share, not my avatar or shirts or car I drive.

When we started the BYOD4L (Bring Your Own Device for Learning, January 2014) course I wanted people to actually see me this time, not an illustration, on the course and in the tweet-chats. So, for the duration of the BYOD4L course I changed my Twitter avatar to the same as my LinkedIn one (for no other reason than I liked it):

David Hopkins

But then I realised that I didn’t need or want to hide behind an illustration any more. I kept this avatar for Twitter, and started to update my other social channels to use this one too (SlideShare, Klout,, Google+, etc. After a few months I wanted something a little less obscure and something a little more professional, so I tweaked it and started using this one:

David Hopkins

Same image, but actually showing me, not half of me!

Then, Christmas 2014 I made one final change. It was originally a selfie I took and messed around with in different Apps for colour, blur, etc., but I ended up liking it … and it’s stuck for the last 6 months:

avatar festive

Note: I’ve not mentioned Facebook or avatars that I’ve used. There’s a good reason, I don’t use Facebook for work or my professional activity. I have used many different avatars that often reflect where I’ve been or people I’ve met, as well as using pics of one or both of my boys. I keep my Facebook account separate to my other online activities, this is part of how I choose to use social networks.

For those of you interested, this was my first ever avatar!Muppet

So … what does your avatar say about you? Or, what makes a good avatar?

  • Real photo vs illustration / cartoon: Obviously I’d ignored this advice for many years, and i don’t think it harmed my online persona, but I have had more positive activity and engagements since showing people who I really am.
  • Show yourself: Again I didn’t do this very well, as one avatar only showed half of me, not my full face. It’s also worth noting to avoid obscure angles or facing away from the camera, or looking too far away.
  • Smile? Do avatars of people smiling make you want to find out more about them, or not? Does it matter? Some reports say a smile is better, but it depends on whether you’re a comfortable smiler (I’m not, too many chins!) or a slight smile (see above) is enough.
  • Colour? Does colour matter, are B&W avatars OK? I like the B&W look, it doesn’t bother me, but for some it’s not ‘right’ or ‘professional’ enough.
  • Staged vs natural: I have never liked staged, stock photos, anywhere. While they may suit the contact details on a website, they look out of place on social networks (note, these are social channels, the staged photos are more corporate, and this is why I tend to ignore shares or tweets from corporate looking accounts.
  • Consistency: If you use different channels then help your followers out by using the same avatar across them all. It’s not always possible to use the same account name or handle, which can make finding people difficult, but if the avatar is the same, it’s so much easier!
  • New avatars: Avoid changing your avatar too often, if at all. You’re in the process of building your brand, your outwardly-facing image of yourself (whether it’s as a teacher, cyclist, author, coffee-drinker, etc.) is what people will start to relate to. Change it too often and your audience, your PLN, have to learn how to see your avatar in a crowded twitter-stream all over again!

Quite frankly, does it actually matter? If you’re happy with yourself and how you ‘appear’ online, then surely you choose your avatar to match you.

What about you, what do you look for in people’s avatars?

Image source: Chris Christian (CC BY-SA 2.0)