Twitter Avatars as Personal Branding

Twitter lets users choose an avatar, a small image that’s shown alongside their tweets in the user timeline via the web or a third-party client. Lately a lot of folks have been changing their avatar frequently, whether it’s for a color team, or superhero week, or which-side-of-town-is-better. Folks are having fun, and they’re certainly free to do as they wish… but the frequent avatar changes devalue the usefulness of the avatar as a personal, recognizable brand.

For me, the avatar provides a visual cue quickly as to the source of the tweet. For example, I quickly pick out the color tones and shapes in @turoczy‘s avatar, which has been consistent. Similarly, @tiesque‘s straightforward headshot photo quickly tells me who wrote the message. An avatar doesn’t have to be a personal photo… for example, @codinghorror (until recently) used the familiar “Coding Horror” icon made popular by his blog (and originating in Steve McConnell’s Code Complete book).

The important thing is that it’s consistent. Scanning my Twitter stream, I can quickly pick out particular authors… until they change avatars. An occasional change is fine, my brain isn’t quite old enough that it can’t adapt. But when folks switch to a new cartoon character a few times in a week, any usefulness the avatar could have provided is gone. The result? I miss things I probably should see… when I’m following a couple hundred folks, I can’t read the text descriptions for every tweet, but I can quickly pick out icons.

Do what you wish with your avatar… but from my perspective, if you want your followers to be able to easily recognize your material, there’s a definite advantage in a recognizable, consistent user icon. Here’s some quick examples of what I find as easily user-recognizable avatars, pulled from Twhirl tonight:

avatar examples

[tags]twitter, avatars, branding, personalbrand[/tags]

  • David Frey

    I agree and find value in giving the reader some control over how they choose to identify you–especially when Twitter relies so heavily on avatars in their own web interface. An epic clash of creative expression versus personal brand ubiquity. (did I just make that up?)

  • Rick Turoczy

    I completely agree. There are some folks who are admitted “avatar flippers,” and knowing that makes it easier. But these random “change your avatar” things drive me nuts in terms of information processing.

    The other one is the “Display Name” versus “User Name” conundrum.

    When I’m reading your tweets in Twitterrific, it’s your chosen name (e.g., Aaron Hockley), but when I’m reading tweets via RSS, it’s your user name (e.g., ahockley).

    Not a terribly difficult intuitive leap in your case. But some are a complete non sequitor.

    And then, it suddenly dawns on me how much I’ve shown my cards by obsessing over the minutiae of Twitter. So I’ll shut up.

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