In social media, your avatar is the first thing we see. It can build or destroy credibility. Bad avatars are the halitosis of the social Internet – everybody notices, nobody says anything. So here are my completely subjective opinions about your avatar.
- Use a photo of yourself. I don’t care how cute your dog or kid is. Let ’em get their own Facebook, Twitter or Google+ account (and deal with the shame if they get more followers than you do). I have occasionally violated this rule by using a photo of my then-three-year-old son playing drums, but that was OK because he’s John Bonham reincarnated. If you don’t believe that, you’ve never had to clean up after him at a Holiday Inn.
- Use a good photo of yourself. LinkedIn is your public resume. It’s how recruiters and potential employers, employees, and business partners will first see you. Do they want to do business with Mr. Out-of-Focus? You don’t need a professional headshot. You do need decent lighting, good focus and a non-distracting background. If you can’t solve something that simple with a sunny day, an outside wall, and a smartphone camera, I’m not hiring you to solve a complex business problem.
- No microphones. There are two reasons for choosing a picture of you on a panel or at a speaking engagement. Maybe you’re so pathetically friendless that no one takes a picture of you in any other context. Or, more likely, you’d like to look like an industry thought leader. And you think that picture of you speaking at Patheticon in 2003 conveys the image. (A photo of a d-bag may be a simpler way to convey “I think I’m really important because I spoke once.”) Chris Brogan likely speaks publicly more than you do. Yet he found a fleeting moment to have a photo snapped off-mic, despite his raging karaoke addiction (there is help, Chris*). You can and should do the same.
- Leave the spouse or significant other out of it. This doesn’t apply to Facebook or other social networks that are about oversharing your personal life. I’m talking about LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks that are about oversharing your professional life. (And what is Google+ about? Right now, I think it’s about oversharing your early-adopter hipster cred. Oh wait, that might be turntable.fm and spotify, except they’ll become passe’ by the time I hit ‘publish’).
- Don’t look like a stalker or a serial killer. Unless you are one, in which case we appreciate the warning and won’t be attending your Facebook event “Leaving Dismembered Bodies on the Side of the Interstate in Hefty Brand Trash Bags.” OK, this is an addendum to #2. But it’s important. I’ve seen some scary-looking LinkedIn and Twitter avatars.
- What’s with fishing photos on LinkedIn? I keep seeing professionals that I respect that have photos of themselves holding up a big ol’ trout in their profile pictures. (I hope it’s a trout, or at least some kind of fish). Unless you’re the star of “Deadliest Catch”, that has little do do with your professional credibility. Although if you combine this with #3 and have a picture of yourself holding a trout in front of a microphone while speaking at Patheticon ’03, I’d give you points for a creative mashup.
- Ignore these tips. Think about who you are. Think about what message you want to convey to your audience. You may indeed be a fisherman. You may indeed want to say “I’m a microphone-wielding d-bag”. Use a photo that honestly gives that impression. Because isn’t an avatar really about being who you are and clearly representing that in picture form?
*I don’t know Chris Brogan, I’m just picking on him because he’s a public speaker. So far as I know he’s not addicted to karaoke or anything else.