In contrast to corporate or business avatars, personal ones are simple: crop a photograph you like and that’s it. It doesn’t matter whether people like it or not. That avatar represents who you are, and since you don’t care about branding that much you don’t need to worry about what’s in that little picture that will be associated with your name in the social network you’re using. Besides, if you use social networking just for personal reasons, changing that avatar every now and then could be fun and it will also attract some attention from your followers.
Corporate avatars however are somehow more complicated. I always advise against using logos as avatars. They are cold and somehow insinuate that the ones using them are not there to communicate, but to sell.
People in social networks respond better to human faces than to iconic avatars. It’s in human nature to trust more the face behind a business than the business logo. Even more: statistics show that people tend to click more on banners depicting human faces than anything else. If this is true for banner advertising, then it is logically true for social networks, right? (See “The Five Golden Rules of Online Branding” – pdf)
So, what should you use as your avatar if your focus is not entirely personal? A company logo is a good branding tool, but on a social network, like Twitter for example, it’s simply inappropriate. When it comes to brands, the “consumers” simply prefer to know who they are talking to.
The ideal way to present yourself in a corporate branded avatar would be a combination of human face combined with corporate logo, but you have to do it right. For example, @WomensCouncil has a company avatar with human faces and a logo, but it still remains a mystery who the person behind Women’s Council Realtors is.
Faces and Logos – An Ideal Approach
Luckily there are some good examples of how to use a combination of human faces and logos to create a good, brand consistent and recognizable avatar.
First, , Gunnar Skeid, Gord Weisflock, David Pethrick, and Dot Design (who doesn’t have a name, but at least he has a face). There are surely many more, but it took me more than one hour to find even these, so if you find any, feel free to share them please. As for my own avatar… I had to change it today, so I wouldn’t appear hypocritical. :)
The moral of the story is: not many of the companies that make social profiles on various networks (I am not talking only Twitter here, I am merely using it as an example) know how to approach branding within social media. Traditional methods of displaying a logo and hoping for the best will not attract followers. People are tired of trusts and large corporations pitching them incessantly. If anything, they want to connect with real company staff members who are able to answer real questions, and in the case of Twitter, in real time. Somehow, no one can envision the Nike logo being animated or warm enough to engage a conversation or listen to a gripe.