On changing my avatar

I joined twitter around early 2007 and during those early months I toyed with a number of different avatars. At some point I settled on the avatar I have now – just a quick snap of me in front of my desktop.

However, as the years went on, I got chubbier, I usually sport a light beard and I have longer hair. When people meet me in reality they quickly realise I don’t look like my avatar.

So I changed it and it worked badly against me.

Disclaimer: sorry folks, this is a very me post, I’m not mad on them – but really it’s here because I’ll forget in another 3 years, and this post will be a reminder of why I don’t change my mugshot too often!

I’ve tweeted around 14,000 messages. That’s not to say it’s alot, but people following me have a certain unspoken agreement with me: I’ll tweet about tech and a few personal things, and they’ll recognise me as the guy in the white tee.

It doesn’t really matter what my avatar looks like, but what I had done, without realising, is create a brand around my own name, and my brand image was my avatar. This is marketing 101 to most people, but I’m just a developer, and I wanted to update my avatar to represent myself a little more honestly.

It’s like salt & vinegar vs. cheese & onion. Walkers, some time ago, used to have salt & vinegar in blue packets and cheese & onion in green. Some point along my life they swapped the colours. Ever since I’d always grab the wrong packet if I didn’t carefully read the packaging.

By changing my avatar to what is mostly white, pink and black, to a mostly dark colours, when I tweeted announcing my new workshop tour project, I couldn’t work out why the reception was so poor. Then I realised: most folks didn’t spot my tweet because it came from a brand they didn’t recognise. My tweet was filtered out as noise via the native RT in twitter because folks didn’t recognise me – rightly so.

So I changed it back within 24 hours of changing my avatar.

The lesson here is that, even without knowing it, nor actively trying to do it, we’re creating a brand, and on twitter our brand is our avatar. That doesn’t mean you can’t change it – I’ve heard of some people who constantly change their avatar, but that’s their brand – it just means if you use twitter for both personal and business, just be careful to maintain a consistent appearance.

Almost 6 months later, I’ve tried again, this time I’m going to try to stick to it. I’ve purposely tried to keep the position of my head and the shapes in the image the same as the previous image, but it’s not easy – old face just ain’t the new thing it used to be!

Remy 2008 Remy 2011

17 Responses to “On changing my avatar”

  1. Any reason why after ensuring you had the same composition as the old photo you picked the complete opposite shirt colour, even after you identified that people “recognise me as the guy in the white tee”?

  2. @Aaron – I didn’t give changing my avatar much thought today. I just did it, but decided I’d try to get roughly the same shapes. I did consider donning my old white t-shirt, but what makes the old avatar work well is the dark background contrast, and that’s something I’ve been unable to replicate. Plus, I’m still the developer, not the marketeer :)

  3. I so don’t want to be the person who posts this, but…

    Walkers have always had Cheese & Onion in blue and Salt & Vinegar in green packets. It was other brands such as Golden Wonder, Smiths and KP that had the colours of those two flavours the other way round.

    Here’s a gallery of 1970s crisp packets on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=134674699909705&v=photos&so=0 You’ll see that Walkers don’t appear, as they weren’t a national brand until the 1980s; but I lived in their catchment area from the early 1970s and they always had those two the wrong way round.

  4. @Nick – in a way, that proves my point. We don’t notice the detail when we’re used to something. There was some kind of (not quite) but muscle memory, something that told me that blue was salt & vinegar. No idea what (then if you’re telling me what I think you’re telling me), but it’s that recognition in the corner of your eye.

    That’s what I lost when I switch to the darker avatar some time ago. I’m kinda hoping this new one isn’t too much of a departure that it gets to stick :)

  5. A few personal trainer sessions and a trip to GAP: identity crisis solved!

    However, I, for one, welcome our new Keke Rosberg lookalike overlord.

  6. p.s. I’m not only porkier, but also balder than my gravatar. Fuck my life.

  7. Maybe you should drop this guy an email and get him to merge the two for a while – to break everyone in gradually.


    Nick’s absolutely right about the crisps; I never liked Golden Wonder ;-)

  8. I’ve noticed this effect quite often. I get used to certain people having certain avatars, and when they change it, I often think “Okay who on earth is this again?”. I was actually once recognized in real life “Oh you’re that guy whose photo is at a 45 degree angle” (my twitter avatar is tilted 40′ish degrees)

    I had a fun idea that what if you used some software to create a “tween” between your old avatar and new avatar. Then, gradually change it across maybe a few weeks to the new one. I wonder whether this would help :D

  9. I think as long as you can manage to stop aging and evolving, you’ll be fine :D

  10. I’ve done something similar. For years my avatar was me in red glasses and I became known by them. I fancied a change but needed to keep to something colorful so now I’m the guy in blue glasses! Same pose, etc, though.. in fact, I cheated and Photoshopped the image to blue glasses (though I do wear blue glasses in real life now).

  11. I understand what you mean about people I follow changing their avatar and I don’t immediately recognize who the post is from anymore. However, that only lasts for a short while. Eventually, I get used to the new avatar and all is right with the world again.

    It makes sense that it wouldn’t be an ideal time for you to have that kind of disconnect with your followers if you are trying to promote something (like a conference or book release), but if you have a moment when that isn’t the case, that’s probably the better time to make the switch. That gives your followers the chance to adjust to the change.

  12. Well, individuals don’t evolve (populations do), so that’s one covered.
    And Aubrey de Grey says we might solve the second point pretty soon too: http://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_aging.html

    There’s hope for Remy’s avatar never to have to change again! :D

  13. People don’t like change, but if they change is gradual enough, they won’t notice it happening. If you still want to change your avatar, you should do one of those all-the-rage-in-the-90s face morphs.

    Simply generate, say, 10 in-between snapshots gradually transitioning from your old mugshot to your new one. If you switch to the next image every 3 days, it’ll only take a month to rebrand yourself.

  14. When I opened my twitter account I needed an avatar in a hurry and didn’t have any decent coloured/sized pictures of me available. So I did a google image search and found a good looking cow – which I used instead.

    Talk about branding! Now I’m well and truly stuck with it. About a year ago I felt I needed to swap it for my real mug shot. Responses went way down and besides the colours were too dark for a small frame. 48 hours later the cow was back (but a new cow because I never saved the original) I even got compliments on the new cow!

    I think, by accident, the cow proved a nice, neutral, highly recognizable solution

  15. Careful, Remy – I can hear the brand experts quaking with “Your logo is not your brand!”

  16. everyone has bolder face by the global crisis & new versions of jQuery.. ;)

  17. Has anyone figured out some other solutions to this? I’ve been wanting to change my avatar for a while, but I’m terrified to do so, and not really wanting to pump out the photoshop to make a new photo look like the old one.

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