Avatar: Putting Your Best Face Forward

4577289814_494a759e61_mIn today’s business world, we spend less and less time meeting face-to-face. The tools that we use make it much easier to work virtually. Because of this, your co-workers often become nothing more than an on-line persona, “The man behind the curtain,” even if you work in the same office. Choosing the right avatar can lead to many extremely rich interactions via an online tool; the key is to pick one that enables this to happen. Avatars are very personal for many people; this can make a discussion about a person’s avatar as insulting as telling someone they’re ugly.
First, let’s define what an Avatar is.



[av-uh-tahr, av-uh-tahr] -noun
1. Hindu Mythology: the descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form or some manifest shape, the incarnation of a god.
2.    An embodiment or personification, as of a principle, attitude,or view of life.
3.    Computers: a graphical image that represents a person, as on the internet.
definition courtesy of dictionary.com


I see this all the time on Facebook: people use their pets, kids, photos of hobbies, cartoon characters, etc for their avatar. Hopefully these are people you know, have met, or have some personal connection with — so you know what they look like. Otherwise, it can get a little disorienting. Let’s take that into the business context. Especially in a globally distributed company, you may work, even extensively so, with people you have never meet in person. Or perhaps, there are people you see every day, but you just don’t quite know who they are. There have been times when I collaborated with a colleague online and proceeded to stand next to him / her in the lunch line without knowing who he / she is. These are just some of the opportunities that you may be missing because of your avatar or the lack thereof.
Even when you are using a great photo of yourself as an avatar, if it includes your whole body, chances are you are unrecognizable. Most avatars represent themselves in <= 100 pixels. You should ensure that your avatar is as clear as possible.
100x100-box Here’s an example: Yammer-Shirt-100px 

Guidelines for a good avatar:
  • Try to make your face the focus
  • Fill most of the frame with your face
  • Smile
  • Be yourself
  • Avoid Sunglasses
  • Avoid hats that cast shadows over your face
  • Avoid shots where you’re looking into the sun
  • Crop High Resolution shots to get the best quality possible
Many sites will automatically crop/resize your image. I’d recommend starting with a large image. In the event that your image isn’t acceptable or may not be exactly how you like it, there are sites that can help you and crop based on the specific site’s limitations. One of my favorites is: http://mypictr.com/
Greg Yammer 100px
What do I use for my work avatar? I use this picture that was taken by a former colleague (@dpanyikdale).  It’s not very exciting (some might even say a little “corporate”), but it does help me get recognized when I’m in the office.


Greg2dot0-Profile-Picture 100pxI expect that most people won’t want to just go with the standard “corporate headshot,” and that’s perfectly understandable. Another alternative is to use your avatar to show yourself in a more natural environment, having fun. More important than the background, is to ensure that you are recognized. Here is another avatar I use on Twitter that is a little less “corporate.”
By having an easily recognizable avatar, you stand a better chance of taking advantage of face-2-face encounters, which can more often lead to deeper discussions and other business opportunities. Not only that, but people who consume your content (and or your collaborators) tend to take your content more seriously when there’s a real human on the other end of the message. This happens because the image of your face portrays a sense of accountability.
Are there other tips I’ve forgotten? Share them with everyone so we can all learn.

Image source: mario_d