One of the most unexpected experiences I had at JiveWorld was the single thing nearly every person I met mentioned to me: "I recognize you from your avatar." I certainly expected people to recognize me by name perhaps, having been active in the Jive Community for almost three years. But to specifically mention the avatar got me thinking. Then I remembered an online acquaintance who introduced himself to me earlier at the conference. I heard his name but it took me a while to recall who exactly he was - until I pictured his name next to his avatar and then everything clicked. The trick with this fellow (who I'll leave anonymous...) was that his avatar wasn't a photo of him but was let's just say something more conceptual. It was hard for me to make the connection.
So, let's talk about "best practices" for avatars.
One thing I hope we all agree upon is that some avatar, any avatar is better than then "gray man" system default. Nothing says "don't take this person seriously" than a generic avatar.
There's a very humorous entry on the Joy of Tech blog about avatars. The premise, used for humorous effect, is that your avatar tells us about your personality. Do you have a photo of your child, or a group shot with you and your spouse? Or a cartoon character? Either way, it definitely says something about yourself (even if the snarky example doesn't always apply to everyone with a cartoon avatar).
Avatar rules that might apply on Facebook or more socially-oriented communities are definitely different for business/professional communities such as the Jive Community or LinkedIn. On Facebook it can be fun to use the logo of your favorite sports team, but unless you work for the league or team it probably isn't the place inside a business community. Twitter is a unique example since for many it is definitely very business-oriented (for those trying to expand their reach as experts in the field), whereas others treat it very much like Facebook where there isn't much business talk. So, depending on how you use Twitter the best practices might vary.
Portraits for Avatars on Business-Oriented Communities
My opinion is that for business-oriented communities you will never go wrong using a portrait of yourself as your avatar. A good tight shot of your face at a fairly direct angle is best. Smiling if you want to project optimism, or a thoughtful look if you want a more serious tone. Either way, a good photo says "I know what I'm doing and I want you to get to know me." And, despite a little snark, Joy of Tech agrees:
We all want to have good taste, right?
Now I'm sure some of you are saying "But, Kevin, I don't take good photos. Where do I get a good photo of myself?" And I for one definitely understand this. I wouldn't say I've loved a lot photos of myself. But, this is still no excuse. With digital photography as pervasive and inexpensive as it has gotten, if you don't have at least a single fairly good photo of yourself you really aren't trying very hard. If a good avatar is important enough it even might be worth paying for; my avatar was taken at MacWorld Expo and the digital rights were $15 for a screen-resolution sized photo. I thought maybe it was a bit expensive but I'll tell you I've never regretted spending a few bucks to get one of the best photos of me ever taken.
For those of us who've attended JiveWorld over the years, this process is made even easier since Jive has provided professional photography sittings. These can definitely be a great way to get that special photo of yourself, suitable for "framing" inside your avatar in the Jive Community.
Here are some examples of avatars that I think show of the personality of the people in question, but also make it easy to learn someone's face for those times when you meet in person (all avatars used with permission from Gia Lyons Deirdre Walsh Tracy Mauer and Trisha Liu).
Kevin Crossman is the Enterprise Community Manager at Juniper Networks and a Jive Champion. He helped launch Juniper's Jive SBS based environment and supports other content management and collaboration tools at Juniper.
Kevin is a proud member of the Social Business Council, a collection of managers in large enterprises that are charting the course for 2.0 adoption.
The views expressed here are my personal opinions, have not been reviewed or authorized by Juniper Networks and do not necessarily represent the views of Juniper Networks.