Is it Time to Break Up With Your Avatar?

candyheart.jpgAre 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 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 The risk here is there’s always a possibility you change jobs / careers and your avatar or user handle becomes outdated.


Microdesign Fat Gadget Ma.gnolia Andy Beard Jeremy Shoemaker Nowsourcing 5 Star Affiliate Programs

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:

Mad Hat Fantomaster Slightly Shady SEO Incredible Help Google Tutor OnReact 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.

Chris Hooley Rohit Bhargava Joost de Valk Barry Schwartz Andy Sernovitz Shawn Collins Zeldman

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.

SebastianWarren Duff

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.

Bill SlawskiMuhammad Saleemnanny612

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:

WiepMatt McGee

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

TinuXeni JardinTargeted Web MarketingScoble

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.

Technet SEOStefan Juhl

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).

TamarBart The BearMonkiniRumblepup SEO1976 DesignBlogger Skills

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.

Robert GorellSocial Media MomWingnutOne Take MediaEsteban PanzeraHandsome Rob

Want more inspiration? Check out more amazing avatars.


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28 Responses to “Is it Time to Break Up With Your Avatar?”

  1. It should just be a picture of you that you feel best represents your personal brand. Anything too artistic is just going to take away from it.

  2. James says:

    Thanks for the hat tip Linda! :) Our logo has evolved a bit…we simply use a very tiny piece of the laurel wreath now – but we are still very environmentally conscious.

  3. Dude – The red stilettos are Kristen Munson, not Wendy. :(

  4. My apologies to both Kristen and Wendy. It was a lot of work following the avatars to profiles to blogs to bios, and somewhere I fell off the trail on that one. Made the correction :)

  5. TheMadHat says:

    I personally believe you should stay consistent with your personal branding. The only problems with mine is if they don’t already know me they don’t know what I look like. Makes it a little more difficult at conferences and such.

    Thanks for the props!

  6. Breaking up with your avatar that is your face. Look in the mirror and say “No, its not your fault, I just think I can do better”

  7. HannahS says:

    Avatars are particularly useful if you use the same one consistently across a number of social networks – sometimes your prefered username isn’t available but your avatar will make it easier for your friends / colleagues / contacts to find you :)

  8. This is so true..^^..can’t argue more..avatar is very important especially when branding yourself..In my case, I always use the same avatar in all my social sites that way my friends from other sites when they visit other social sites and saw my avatar they can easily remember that it’s me..^^

  9. For me, I have made the mistake of selecting usernames based on:

    inside jokes / nicknames (pre-blogger days)
    blog name (later abandoned the blog, name sticks)
    companies I’ve worked for (these can change but your username can’t)

    Now I’m using my name all the time. Now I must keep my last name should I get married or it’s the same problem :)

  10. andymurd says:

    If you choose a caricature or logo, I’d recommend that you create a custom one. I read a blog yesterday where the (American) author had appropriated the logo of the British Liberal Democrat political party.

    The blog was not political but, as a brit, I couldn’t help but wonder why he’d chosen that avatar. Can’t remember the blog or author’s name today, but I can remember the poor avatar choice.

  11. Kristen says:

    No worries. I’ve made worse mistakes that I’ll share with you one day :) Thank you so much for the link and comment about my avatar. I for sure will wear those when I go to a conference one day….if I go to a conference.

  12. Last month I gave a talk on Stumbleupon to a group of women in broadcasting and showed them your signature shoes. They all loved it and even at the farewell dinner one woman was talking about it. Definitely one of the best on the list :)

    Do you wear those to events/conferences?

  13. It’s interesting how we get drawn to faces much more than other objects. Apparently we are hard-wired at birth to recognise and respond to faces.

  14. I must admit I like the interesting faces rather than objects.

  15. When I first created my avatar, I used the only digital picture of myself that I had at the time. Now I’m kinda stuck with it, because it’s the same picture I use for all the sites where I have a profile.

    Breaking up is hard to do.

  16. I guess you could have an avatar for each blog just to mix it up a bit. I know of Facebook and Myspace users who have created armies of virtual friends to link with.

  17. An army of virtual friends? There’s hope for me yet. What a great idea. If you need sources of avatar inspiration look no further than your favourite stock photo sites.

  18. Regardless of what you use for your logo, it’s important that you remain consistent across all of your social profiles.

    I look at the Shoemoney logo above and think this is one example of exceptional branding.

  19. @cool gadgets,

    Yep, and if you every see Shoemoney in person, he’s wearing his branded t-shirt ;)

  20. horoskop says:

    Avatars are particularly useful if you use the same one consistently across a number of social networks

  21. I like the idea of having a different avatar for different blogs and such. I just wish i would have thought of that a long time ago. I am now stuck with many of the same that I’m not fond of. lol.

    I have come to see how usefull they can be though.

  22. This is pretty good information. I never really thought about the importance of an avatar. It seems like consistency of avatar usage is important is so you can be identified. Having a different one was each blog or whatever won’t allow your followers to make a connection. If I aw the same unique avatar on two separate sites, I would know for sure that avatar belongs to the same person

  23. I dont normally use an avatar but I find myself paying more attention to the avatars that display a persons picture. It just seems more welcoming placing a face with someone you are conversing with.

    A brand logo would work as well to give brand association. Artistic avatars dont give enough space to really have an impact in my opinion.

  24. Avatars give people the ability to display their personal character or personality. Many times you can get a general idea for the person’s personality just by their avatar.

  25. Just pick an avatar that relates to you and stick with it. The avatar will tell a little something about you, but in time your character will shine through your avatar.

  26. Mennes says:

    The description of your personality should be revealed in your avatar.
    You can describe it as your identity image.

  27. Joshua says:

    This post is bit old, but just what I was looking for. I have been trying to learn the best ways to use avatars.

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