Reflecting on my own participation on Twitter, Facebook, and other online communities, I have noticed that I associate people by their personal image icons or Avatars. Avatars are unique opportunities that online participants have to establish personal brands as well as projecting our comfort level with social media. It is fascinating to reflect back on how my own avatar has changed through the years as my own use of social media has grown and evolved.
By thinking of my own usage and looking at how others use these icons, on Twitter, Facebook and various Prospero-hosted communities, I have come up with the following categories:
The Default: staying with the default image icon shows a lack of commitment to the service and identifies the user as a lurker or just an initial tester
The Provided Icons: as an individual gets more comfortable in the medium and usage increases they want to establish a look. An initial step will likely be a range of the typically cartoonish figures that are provided by the social media application to represent their online personae.
The Alter-Ego: These are custom images that the individual identifies with and wants to be associated with. Glancing at my own list of friends, examples that I see include: company logos, graphics, photos of their children and vacation spots.
The Self-Image: It is clear that social media is a great spot to establish a personal brand to be recognized. As such, those that are very comfortable in the medium are using close ups of their faces so that they are visible and potentially recognizable if met in the real-world.
How can this help community managers? While it should be noted that there are exceptions to all rules, this is an easy way to identify how people behave within your community. Participants with the default avatars are likely to be new and should be given encouragement to participate. Members that have taken the time to change their icon to one in the range that is provided readily within the community are starting to explore and are likely to be looking for more information on what else they can do. The Alter-egos and Self-Image avatar members are likely to be the key contributors to your community and should be cultivated and encouraged.
I hope you find this as a handy rule of thumb for effectively encouraging discussions and participation in your communities. Please let me know what you think below.