My Smiling Avatar

Almost 2 years ago I signed up for Twitter and needed a picture for my avatar. I took the picture on the left, made it black and white, cropped it and went with it. I am not a huge fan of posed pictures, and when people smile in pictures I prefer it to be natural, rather than posed. So I used a picture where I was not smiling. It was fine at the time. I did not want to be smiling.

As I joined other social networks, I used the same picture. I understand branding and this picture was part of my personal brand I was building. My twitter name and many other profiles referred back to the name of this site, Digital Papercuts. Twitter did not let me have enough characters, and I actually delayed joining Twitter for about 3 months until I was happy with my abbreviated username, @dgtlpapercuts. Friends still struggle to spell it after all this time. What letters are left out, they would ask for the umpteenth time.

Time went on and this picture became more and more ingrained as my personal identity. As other people who knew me joined my online communities, they would comment on the picture. You look so serious, they would say. But it was my personal brand and I was unwilling to change it. The best comment I ever received about my avatar was via Twitter. I was speaking at a Triangle Tweetup event and someone tweeted, “@dgtlpapercuts is not as badass in person as his Twitter avatar.”

And not only did I never change pictures, I never decorated my avatar either. I never wore a Santa hat or a red nose, and I never turned it green.

It became such a brand statement that I even put the picture on my business card. There is nothing more cheesy to me than a picture on a business card. But every time I was ready to revise the card and remove the picture, someone would remark upon receiving my business card, Oh I know who you are from Twitter. It meant I had succeeded in creating a personal brand that people recognized.

Well, recently I have heard the rumblings about my avatar. Why aren’t you smiling? It’s not a good picture of you. You should take a new picture. You look so serious. Want me to take a new picture of you?

Last week I did a survey of my followers, asking if they were smiling in their avatars. The response, although small, was convincing. People smile in their avatars because they are happy. People would rather engage with a smiling, happy person, even over the internet. The social aspect of social networking overwhelms everything else and many people eschew the traditional business portrait look in their avatar.

I interviewed my friend and business partner, Wayne Sutton, last week and asked him the smiling avatar question. He is not smiling, but he is trying to create a professional impression after transitioning from a caricature avatar.

I took a new picture where I am smiling. Since I take a picture of myself every day, I take lots of different kinds of pictures. Sometimes I even smile. I made it black and white for consistency, but I did not crop it as tightly as the old picture. For the time being I am only changing my Twitter avatar and background, so I can get used to the new look. If this new photo seems to work, and resonate with my followers, I will begin to change the picture on my other social networks.

And if major brands can change their logo, I can change mine too. Let me know what you think of this change in the comments. And let me know if you change your avatar frequently, occasionally or never.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen