Here are the best practices to using avatars in reinforcing your personal brand online.
What is the goal of your personal avatar?
If your avatar is meant to help people recognize you online only, the choice of image isn't as important as the necessity to use the same image wherever you can.
However, if your avatar is meant to help people recognize you on AND offline, you should use a portrait photo of yourself for the avatar image, and that's the case I'll focus on here.
11 Rules for best results
1. Use a picture of yourself, not a logo
Considering that we're discussing “personal branding”, the avatar image should be a person – you. Most people say they never forget a face; help them by showing your face.
2. Use the same picture everywhere
This is key. An avatar is your personal logo online, and every appearance should reinforce your personal brand's identity. If repetition is reinforcement, this single concept may have the most impact on your personal brand's success. The best part of this is that reusing the same picture everywhere is just simpler to manage too.
3. Full head shot only
A consequence of using the same picture everywhere is that the image will appear in different sizes. If people are to recognize you, your face should appear as prominently as possible wherever it will be displayed. Considering that avatars can be seen as small as 16 x 16 pixels, only a full face image will give you any chance of being recognized universally.
4. Use a professional self-portrait
This is a no-brainer. Make the best impression with a picture of the best quality.
5. The picture should resemble your real face as much as possible
While trying to look as good as possible in the picture, don't go so far with makeup or Photoshop touch-ups that you're barely recognizable in reality, defeating the whole purpose of the avatar. On the other hand, do cover up or digitally remove any temporary facial blemishes that were visible on the day of your photo shoot.
6. Only use special effects for shock value
For some people, it's more important that the image be memorable than an accurate portrayal, such as a professional clown who's trying to make you laugh. In that case, it's ok to use special effects (facial distortions, etc.) to further your goal. For everyone else- special effects will only make you less recognizable in real life.
7. Have your picture taken when you're feeling fine
Sleep well the night before or even the few nights before. Also, avoid a photo shoot when you're sick. It's a bad sign if the pictures haven't been taken yet and you already know that Photoshop will be needed.
8. Keep makeup understated unless you have a good reason
If you only want people to recognize you when you have makeup on, use slightly more makeup than usual for the picture. Otherwise, keep it understated so that people can still make the connection if you're not wearing any makeup at all when you meet.
9. Your facial expression should inspire the right emotions
Most people will want to inspire confidence and professionalism with their avatar. The quickest way to make a good impression is with a nice smile or slight grin, something we grew accustomed to seeing as babies. For other people, like boxers or prison wardens, a grim face is better to show toughness.
10. The photo background should contrast well
A background that contrasts well with your head or face will make it easy to look at the image online. Another reason to get a professional photographer to take the picture for the avatar, but a simple tip that almost always works well is to take your picture outside. Just be careful of shadows and try using a flash.
11. Only use images in the jpg format
Most social networks like LinkedIn or Facebook will let you upload gif, png or jpg images but of those 3, only the jpg standard compresses photo quality images well.
If you take the time and thought to create the best avatar for your personal brand just once, you can multiply the benefits with every view your avatar gets online.
I originally published this article on the terrific Personal Branding Blog.