In a blog post It’s All About The Faces, Brad Feld talked about the impact on his readers after changing from his normal portrait style avatar to a more artistic version. Followers commented how he seem so much less accessible, resulting in Brad changing back to his orginal picture.
That blog post immediately reminded me of a somewhat releted experience I had that same day. While creating a new group on Facebook, I ran into some challenges when trying to invite some of my Facebook friends to the group. For some reason my web browser would only display my friends avatars, and not their names, so I could only identify them by the avatar they'd selected. Many friends were easy to recognize, I was shocked by how many I was unable to recognize only having an avatar to go by.
Why? The friends I couldn't immediately identify all had something other than a picture of themselves for their avatar. Examples included bears in a field, pictures of their babies and kids, scenary from a vacation or favorite location, far off shots that basically showed the person in sillotte, or they were just difficult to make out in the picture.
Now, I'm not saying it's bad to be creative with your Facebook, Twitter or other social networking avatar. But the avatar you chose may impact friends and followers and the connection they feel with you. Some of my friend's avatars have the person's face front and center. I really like those because I immediately feel I know who I'm talking to, and in some esoteric way it refreshes for me a small part of the relationship I have with them.
The Facebook experience caused me to think about my own choice of avatars. I rotate primarily between three pictures; the first two are more "professional" in nature with one being based on the same picture you see in the heading of this blog, and another taken from a video interview I did a while back with Network World. The third is a little more distant shot of me playing my project Strat guitar, which I use for my music and personal posts. Those first two are pretty clear pictures of me, and should make it easy to recognize me from my mug shot. The third is not as easy to make out, though playing music is a deep passion of mine and I do enjoy showing off my guitar. I suppose showing me in that way does present my connection with music, and that's something most who have non-professional relationship with me know if an important part of who I am.
In any case, I think the important thing here is to recognize that your choice in the pictures you use to represent yourself via an avatar does influence both people's ability to recognize you, and more importantly, to establish and re-establish their connection with you. Unless you're twittering under an account used for your business, your choice in avatars is more than just your badge or logo, it's you we're talking about. After all, isn't that what social networking is all about... enabling interpersonal relationships, and building communities with others based on interests, topics, events, work, pop culture and social causes?
So take 2 minites and go check out the avatars you're using. If they don't help others relate or connect with you, maybe it's worth considering a new avatar or dusting off that avatar you set aside in favor of some new, more artistic but less personal version. Remember that ultimately, social networking is about you and the connections you build with others. Some cool new Facebook survey you completed may say you relate to the world as a bear, but that doesn't mean the rest of the world should see you that way or that you want them to.