Since starting this blog, I’ve joined several social networking sites. Some for bloggers, some for bookmarking, and some for “twittering.” Most of these sites allow you to upload an avatar, usually a 90×90 image you can use to represent yourself.
I used to be really paranoid about putting my picture anywhere online, except for Facebook where I have complete control over privacy settings. I always used a little blonde Simpsons-style avatar. But now I’m attaching my real name to my blog, and I want to establish my web presence across all the different social media sites. So I uploaded a real picture of me taken last week to all the different sites. It also appears on U Stand Out whenever I make a comment.
Still, I question whether or not it’s a risk to have my real picture up there. On one hand, the thumbnail is so teeny tiny it couldn’t possibly make that much of a difference. Then again, it will display every time I make a comment, and since I’m looking for big traffic numbers, I’ll lose that privacy of identity, and there’s no going back. But here’s why I decided to stick with my real image.
People can relate better to a human face
When browsing blog comments and sites like MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog, I saw that it’s about a 30/30/30 ratio. A third of people display their real photo, a third have a random graphic that means something to them, and a third use the standard community avatar. And some blogs don’t allow for avatars at all.
In this ocean of avatars and blank boxes, your comments stand out if there’s a face to go with the name. People will be able to relate to you more, be more likely listen to you, and more likely to take you seriously. They’ll also be more inclined to reply to your comment or click on the link to your website if they become curious about who you are. So simply having a friendly icon can generate traffic and make you a more active member of the blogging community. And as Chris Brogan demonstrates at his blog, people have more of an emotional connection to avatar images.
You become recognized
Having an icon helps to brand yourself. It’s a part of your online persona, and it’s best to use the same imageon every networking site that you associate with your blog, professional identity, or whatever it is you’re trying to promote. And since my blog topic is also my profession, I figure this will be useful. Gravatar makes having a universal icon really easy; you basically attach an icon to your email address. So every time you post a comment on someone’s blog with that email address, that icon you selected will automatically appear next to your comment.
Once you start posting in communities, people will start to recognize you. They’ll start to trust you, and want to interact with you more. Stephan Spencer talks about this in his blog post, Avatar Importance. It makes it m
ore difficult to gain traction in your network if you don’t attach an image to yourself.
You might want to make a distinction between sites where you use your real name, and one where you use a screen name. If there’s a site that you don’t want connected to your blog or name, like that Harry Potter fanfiction site you’re secretly a member of, you might want to use a graphic that represents you instead or your picture. And no, I’m not a member of a Harry Potter fanfiction site. Anymore. (Hey, there was big gap between the 5th and 6th books…).
You could be considered more trustworthy
Spam accounts usually don’t have icons, so whenever I see a blank icon or generic community icon, I question what’s behind the comment rather than who’s behind the comment. Unless it’s a really in-depth or insightful comment. Still, I tend to trust users on social networking and bookmarking sites when they have a graphic attached to their comments, and I want to be trusted the same way. I also don’t like spam, or “shameless self-promotion.” I would rather get visitors who are genuinely interested in social media, will be active commentors, and will come back when I publish new posts, than people who will come to the site, click around for 5 seconds, and never come back.
Reasons to be wary
Crazy people, stalkers, being recognized (if traffic ever gets big, who knows?), etc. I don’t need to add any more drama to my life. I also second guessed displaying my photo because I’m trying to promote my blog’s content, not myself as a person. And mainly, I’ll lose my anonymity. Then again, since this is a “professional” blog, I think that’s ok, and my name’s already connected to this blog so just doing a quick Google search of me will bring up pictures.
Reasons to be wary of other icons
There’s an issues out there called link baiting. Apparently, it’s not too uncommon for people to go on sites like Flickr, find an attractive photo of a stranger, and claim it for the fake identity they’ve created. This strategy is used to gain more traffic, because it’s thought that humans are more inclined to interact with pretty people. Disturbing, right? Sometimes, it’s previous obvious when an icon is a fake. For example, if you’re a bikini-clad girl or a topless guy in your blog icon, I’m not going to take you very seriously. And if your blog gets big, and you use a picture of a stranger that looks legit, someone is bound to find a real picture of you or recognize the person in the image as being someone they know. And it will get out.