Becoming Professional: A Blog

Cartoon Icons & Logo Twitter Debate

Posted on: August 26, 2010


John's Twitter Avatars

John's possible cartoon avatar and current avatar

First a bit of background to why I’m discussing photo versus non-photo Twitter avatars: My friend @JohnAntonios mentioned me in his blog post Personal Branding – Your Avatar is Important, Stick to It. He was discussing how it is important not to just randomly change your Twitter icon or your handle since that is often how your followers know you. All great points. John used myself and another non-photo avatar user (@MrWordsWorth) as examples. Then SuperAvatar.com developed John a cartoon avatar that he is thinking of using as opposed to the photo he currently has. He asked me which I prefer. This made me think of a debate that is currently raging amongst marketers that is profiled in the book I’m reading, Twitterville. I just had to respond with a blog post instead of a simple Tweet.

The debate is about whether or not branded/logo avatar Twitter accounts are better than company spokespeople accounts. I think this applies to personal cartoon accounts as well.

Muppet Twitter Avatar

@MrWordsWorth's Twitter Avatar

Now in the book, author Shel Israel (@shelisrael) is unashamedly biased in preferring spokespeople accounts, like Dell’s policy of having employees use Twitter handles using the @NameatDell template and real photos for their avatars (here’s an example). This is opposed to having accounts like the @Starbucks account which is entirely business and has a logo for an avatar. Israel does a good job of showing the other side of the argument, however, through interviews with “branded tweeters,” or the folk behind such accounts as @Starbucks. (Full book review coming)

But how does this apply to personal accounts? Does it? The arguments for businesses using a logo account are not the same as for an individual using what I’ll call a cartoon account, or a cartoon/non-human avatar. Businesses use logo accounts usually to maintain a consistent, branded message, which would get diluted if people used their personal accounts and talked about baseball games. Individuals use cartoon accounts to better display their personality, perhaps as a part of their personal branding strategy. If their personal brand is best served by a picture of dandelions, then that’s what they would use, according to this argument.

Cartoon Twitter Avatar

My Twitter Avatar

The argument against logo accounts does apply to personal cartoon accounts. Social media is all about interacting with people, not logos. What about to dandelions? Or Muppets, like @MrWordsWorth? Or cartoon faces, like my own avatar. @BryanRicard left a comment on John’s original post saying, “In @KateDavids case, her real picture is used in her Twitter background, so if she wants to use a cartoon image for her profile picture, why not.” But my background is not visible in people’s personal Twitter streams, and many people use 3rd party apps like TweetDeck. They only see my cartoon. Your avatar is your face and what people interact with.

So, in response to my friend John’s question, yes, I like the new avatar. But I like the real picture of him better because his face is more expressive in the photo than in the cartoon. Does that mean that I don’t think people should use cartoons? No, I use a cartoon avatar, after all. But I think that the logo avatar debate applies to personal accounts and must be considered in making an avatar choice. Personally, I think that a dandelion avatar isn’t good if you want to attract followers, but as long as there is a face, cartoon, Muppet, or otherwise, that people can identify with, then the avatar works.

What do you think? Do you think that the logo account debate applies to personal accounts? Do you not distinguish between cartoon accounts and photo accounts? Do you follow brands?

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14 Responses to "Cartoon Icons & Logo Twitter Debate"

I’m not sure how to dub this, should i call this a great reply, or a great comment, or a great post – i think i’ll go for it’s a great reply post! I completely agree with you Kate – an avatar should represent you. it should reflect the attributes you want others to see in you. You found that my real avatar is more expressive of my personality and i completely agree with you – this is not to say the http://www.superavatar.com didn’t do a great cartoon of me (in fact, i have it as my blackberry instant messaging avatar).
it would be very interesting to have someone we both know write a post and include your avatar and mine and also maybe someone else’s, and ask readers to express in 3 words what they can say about the person behind the avatar – it would really be interesting. I didn’t suggest we do it because I suspect that the opinion of our readers is skewed based on their previous interaction with us. so what do you think?

I think you’re right, that our readers know us too well to judge based simply on the avatars. That said, we could still write the post and poll our readers… using some volunteers’ avatars!

So I think the next challenge is to see who would like to volunteer their avatars for the poll. Maybe @MrWordsWorth as one?

i like that idea, but how would we evaluate the results? I guess we’d be picking out people we actually know, but not necessarily known to the rest of our readers. this being said, i guess we’ll have to seek friends from completely different circles. Do you have any volunteers?
I would go for @MrWordsWorth, but my readers know him since we’re all on #brandchat – so i’m not sure it would be completely unbiased.
I have to insist on how much i love the idea, we can eventually write the post together 🙂 co-authoring – wohoo!

oooh, I got it. I have a lot of contacts who are are graphic designers and work in the cartoon industry. They can make new avatars for themselves and we can as folk to judge. Unless you think that the avatars have to be in current use?

As for evaluating, yes, i think that it would be tough. We’d have to know the folk well. Perhaps we can continue this discussion on Skype?

I think it’s most important that your avatar represents and expresses you well, and, as you say, that it is consistent. I don’t think a cartoon (or muppet) avatar detracts from an account.

Here’s something to throw in the mix: does it matter between personal and professional accounts (if you distinguish them)? I have a protected personal account with just my close friends on it so I can say what I want and share random articles and videos. That account (@ansalong) has a more fun photo, and I change it more often since I’m confident that my friends know who I am. My open professional account has my name as my handle and my actual photo as my avatar, because not everyone who follows me on that account knows who I am in person and I’d like to be consistent.

Thoughts?

I personally just have one account that I use for both professional and personal communications. I consider it part of my personal branding that I sometimes share Star Wars geek articles right alongside marketing statistics. I also like to transfer personal friends into my professional work, and vice versa, so separating the two would be hard. I use Facebook as my more intimate forum, since I don’t really use it professionally, though I make a point to never post anything that would embarrass me if my grandmother saw it (my rule for reputation security).

What I find more interesting is that you change your avatar for your personal account often, since your friends know who you are. Wouldn’t it be great if that were true of your professional contacts? Your relationship with them would be closer and more stable/useful. The question is, how does one achieve that level of familiarity? I think Chris Brogan has it (if he changed his picture, I think I’d adapt very quickly).

As an artist I am always drawn toward the represented image rather than the photograph. It’s my preference but I agree also with Kate that it should be very representative of the user’s personality. I also see that John might have had his done by David Lanham, the new expert in avatar illustration. http://www.dlanham.com. Very good likeness.

I didn’t know that there was a growing industry of avatar creators! I guess it makes sense, since more and more folk are online using avatars. Thanks for the window into the world 😀

It depends what are you trying to accomplish on twitter. If it is business or personal.

That is true. If you don’t care about attracting followers, then this isn’t really pertinent.

[…] is obviously pro-spokesperson. (I take the discussion further by applying it to personal accounts here). But he is balanced and fair in discussing why businesses would opt with a logo account rather […]

How to make your cartoon avator?

I used a program on the Man Men website. I don’t know if they still have it up.

Thank you for your reply!
I like your cartoon avatar by the way.

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Who Am I?

I am a Digital Native who is trying to puzzle out what exactly that means. I share my thoughts on social media, digital business models, and PR here on this blog.

I am currently getting my Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School, having gotten my B.S. in Marketing from Arizona State University. Everything is on track and I am making headway towards my dream: World Domination... or being a productive, helpful citizen and marketer. Whichever comes first.

Don't hesitate to get in touch. I Tweet daily at @KateDavids and also have a science fiction and fantasy blog (maskedgeek.wordpress.com) and Twitter (@Masked_Geek).

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