Have you ever followed someone just because you liked their avatar? Call me shallow, but I follow a lot of people based on that factor. Then I realize that I actually like what they tweet about and I’m glad I was so superficial. It’s kind of like how I shop for books; if the cover is sweet, i buy it, and 8 out of 10 times it is a pretty good book. (BLAH, BLAH I KNOW THE SAYING, DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER, I’M NOT DUMB)
Sometimes though, if you’re lucky, there is that slight feeling that you get where your mind says, “Wow I really like chatting with this person, and their picture is pretty nice…maybe there is something there?” So you decide to move your @ tweets to DMs, then maybe to GChat, and then if you’re really ready to venture out of the safe haven of the chat bubble you may even Facebook each other.
However, as most PR professionals know, we can only ‘Spin’ ourselves so much. I asked a wide range of people who have met people online about their experience. Below are some of the top themes that were brought up while discussing the Avatar Effect. From what I’ve learned people, sometimes it’s just better to keep it all online…
The ”Touched Up” Effect – 8 out of 10 people’s avatars depict a skewed version of themselves. They use that one picture that was taken by someone else, which just so happened to catch them at an amazing angle (one not usually physically possible) and make them look incredible. Or they manipulate the picture themselves, holding the camera from up above so that they look as skinny as Lindsay Lohan. You’re not fooling anyone.
False Impressions – Some people don’t even put their own picture in their profile. This is understandable in some cases (anonymity, protection, just flat out ugly, etc). However, the avatar that they choose gives people the assumption that they are somehow connected to what they are showing. For example, Jaguar134 (fictional name) has a sweet jaguar as their Avatar. One would think that it’s a picture of what they drive, or what they work with. Think again, Jaguar134 actually drives a ’92 Ford Taurus and only uses that picture to get girls to talk to him.
Some people even use pictures of themselves with a group of other people. “Wait, you’re which one??? Oh, I totally thought you were the cute one on the left.” I’m sorry, but if you need to put yourself in a picture with someone else, please make yourself stand out somehow. Paint a circle, put a star next to you, write the words, “THIS ONE” above your head…
Avatars Don’t Talk – As stated in a previous post of mine, portraying emotion over the Internet is very difficult. When we observe people’s conversations through Twitter or e-mail, we can definitely get an impression about someone. Reading conversations online is kind of like reading about a character in a book. We all picture them in a certain way, but when the movie is made, sometimes it’s like “I didn’t expect them to sound like that!” Avatars are the same. Maybe they have a seductive, sexy, deep voice that is irresistible in your mind when chatting with them, but in reality, they have an unattractive voice and can’t hold a conversation in person because they lack confidence to talk to people.
So what does this matter to us as PR professionals? Our persona and personalities are our business. Building a personal brand is what makes someone stand out and be successful. You don’t want to have that disconnect between your online identity and your real one. What happens when a potential client wants to hire you because they enjoy your interaction online, and when they meet you are not what they expected?
In conclusion, you should definitely think twice before picking an avatar. With the amount of people that you are interacting with online, it’s important to decide how you want to be portrayed and perceived. Ask yourself: Does this Avatar represent me? Am I really that hot in real life? Who am I fooling?
These are just three important things to consider when choosing an avatar, but I’m sure there are more. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and any great stories you have about meeting someone that you thought you “knew” online!
Disclaimer: The above thoughts were discovered personally by members of the PR Breakfast Club.