Think Twice Before Changing Your Avatar!

I’ve been on Twitter daily for many months now and my photo was becoming outdated. I decided to update it with a recent photo since I look drastically different now.

It was a split second decision. I didn’t think about it much, after all, it’s just a picture, right? While I was eating lunch at my desk, I took thirty seconds and changed the photo.

I was not at all prepared for the backlash I received as a result of that decision.

I received many tweets and direct messages from my followers who were not happy with the change. It was obvious in some of the tweets I received that people were perplexed and confused. It felt almost like I was no longer a “twitter friend” – I suddenly felt like a stranger to people I have known for a long time.

These messages said things like:
“Oh, I don’t like this, now it’s strange to talk to you.”
“Now I can’t find your tweets in my steam.”
“This is going to take some getting used to.”
The list goes on and on.

After four hours of these kinds of messages, I conceded and put my picture back to the original one.

Here are the two different avatars so you can see the contrast:

Why did that happen? My friend, Einar Rice @EinarRice and I had an interesting exchange about this. He suggested that I write this article.

Is it possible that our personal brand is locked into our avatar? Is it possible that you can lose your following when you have a different look?

I consulted my “brandologist” friend, Shelly Kramer @ShellyKramer, who refuses to be called an expert, about the topic. Shelly explained, “Think about when some big brand, something that you’ve known, loved, used, etc., for years, changes its look. When that happens, people love it or hate it, but they usually have strong feelings rather than ambivalence. It’s because as humans, we really and truly loathe change. Our avatars are very much our brands.”

According to this very interesting article entitled Why Coca Cola Really Won The Cola Wars – One of the reasons Coke won the cola war with Pepsi is because Pepsi kept changing their logo, meanwhile tampering with brand loyalty. Coke, on the other hand, also updated their logo many times, but always used a version very similar to the original.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Anna Obrien @AnnaOBrien is an example of someone who drastically changed her avatar and it worked well. Anna went from a blonde conservative look to a brunette nerdy look. Check out the contrast:

According to Anna, “I think when I switched to the nerdier avatar, I got more respect. It’s sad to say, but true. I feel once I was more consistent with my avatar (blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc..) people were more willing to trust my overall brand. When you first change it, people forget who you are.”

What I’ve learned from this whole experience is exactly what Shelly said, “People get attached to avatars.” It’s true.

Bottom line, if you are new to Twitter, choose your avatar wisely. If you are a twitter veteran, think twice before changing your avatar. Your current avatar has built relationships, built trust and built a reputation. Think twice before tampering with your own “brand loyalty.”