Superstar Avatars

Mr. Vaynerchuk has several avatars. His Twitter has him looking scruffy and bathed in a blue, computer-screen light. His personal home page includes a picture of him sitting on a brown leather couch, pointing to the camera with a little smirk on his face. On his Facebook profile, he’s drinking wine from the bottle. Different pictures for different social networking sites are fine, according to Mr. Vaynerchuk, as long as they are consistently your face; your personal brand.

“At first, people did have some hesitancy to put their photo online because they weren’t sure that they wanted to be recognized,” Ms. Hess, the social media expert, explained. “But people have realized that the benefit outweighs the costs. There’s a much greater sense of openness on the Web now, and as the mainstream becomes involved in social media, online communication and using the Web to facilitate offline communication will become the norm.”

Think of email addresses. In the ’90s, so many of us picked e-names with silly pop culture references (mine involved my favorite bands) or location indicators like IloveNY21@aol.com. Now most email addresses include some version of your real name. Choosing an email address seems simple now.

Picking an avatar? That’s trickier.

Of course, Cosmo has the answers! The British edition of Cosmopolitan recently asked social psychologist Dr. Asi Sharabi to interpret a selection of Facebook profile pictures. In the article, he concluded that pouting “indicates someone who wishes to be acknowledged in a sexual way.” Your friend holding their cat in the photo? They’re “capable of caring and nurturing.” If you’re a woman and you post up a picture of yourself with a mysterious male friend who is not your boyfriend, you’re a gossip. “[A] picture with a potentially ambiguous meaning shows a love of creating stories, and playing games with the social fabric,” according to Mr. Sharabi. If you’re looking away from the camera? “An unwillingness to be caught and posed in the conventional way is indicative of someone headstrong and confident in their approach to life.” Hey, that’s you, Ms. Clinton!

And if you aren’t sure what your avatar is saying about you out there in the world, you can also test it on FaceStat.com, which works like a more detailed version of HotorNot.com. Your avatar will be evaluated by 10 strangers, and they’ll give it to you straight: how old they think you are, how drunk you look, even what your political persuasion might be. They’ll also be asked to describe you in their own words. I was horrified when my judges evaluated me in my Twitter avatar as “drunk,” “emo” and “quirky.” Yikes! Time to change pictures!

Just remember … while your basic information, over-curated TV and film favorites, and embarrassing high-school pictures might all be out there on your myriad social networks, most people will never see all of that information—just your avatar. Flip through your Flickr and figure out what you want to say about yourself. Hillary Clinton did. In her current avatar, her black suit fades into the black backdrop. But now that she’s heading back to the White House, maybe it’s time for her to emerge from the background.

greagan@observer.com

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