Is Your Photo Avatar Making You Look OLD?

Is Your Photo Avatar Making You Look OLD?

Meeting people who you network with online for the first time face to face is always an amazing moment because your mind has created a mental picture of them based on your interactions. Unfortunately the online identity you develop for yourself and how it appears to you may not match what your online friends expect when they meet you, f2f, in real life.

Take for example KerryJ (who I had the great pleasure of meeting this week for dinner with Kathyrn Greenhill). KerryJ and I’ve been networking online for awhile, both share a wicked (evil) sense of humour.

Let me say I’m glad KerryJ told me this (& thanks KerreJ for letting me tell the story) — but apparently my photo avatar is making me look OLD. She pictured me a a much older looking person compared to the person standing in front of her. Now with my birthday tomorrow there is no way I want to look my AGE. She said in person I looked in my 30’s (which many people take me for) but my photo avatar makes me look in my 40’s (which unfortunately I am).

So here’s the offending picture:


I liked it because to be honest there are not many photos of me because I’m one of those people whose photos turn out like crap. And at least the photo looked okay.

This was my previous photo which I liked but felt made me look too bland:


Here’s what I looked like at dinner:


Developing Your Online Identity

Developing our own unique identity is an important part of being online which we don’t always appreciate when we first start setting up our online accounts. Personal connection is really important for interacting online. The better others can visualize you as a real person the more likely they will be to want connect and network with you.

1. Branding

Having the one online identity across all your accounts makes it easier for others to connect and relate to you. When starting out we often feel nervous about using our own identity but there are many long term benefits. Read Vicki Davis’s advice to educators on the value of using their own identity (take the time to read the comments also).

It’s amazing how often I network with people using sites like twitter, and their username is so unusual that it can take me months to realise “Oh that’s really John from John’s Blog and I love reading his blog.”

2. Sharing Your Human Side

Giving people a glimpse of your human side, warts and all, is important — this makes you human as opposed to a machine. Show people that you have a sense of humour, that stuff upsets you, that something exciting has happened….. Help them connect with you.

Take for example my post Vacation Without Internet Access? What The? — those readers who network with me a lot, know how addicted I am, were laughing at the idea of me not coping well without Internet access and know in reality that a break would be healthy for me. Others could relate because they’ve faced similar situations themselves.

3. Build Your Identity Using Variety

Text can convey your feelings, emotions and to some extent your personality but won’t help others build the visual picture of what you look like. Your photos means others can visualise what you look like to some extent e.g. no sense of height (I’m 167 cm).

I find twitter gives others a much deeper insight into my personality than blog posts; because I tend express more sides of my emotions and my interactions with others can be synchronous.

A voice to go with a photo helps further to create the mental image. But video is even better as it adds an entirely different dimension again — it helps complete the image. Kate Foy showed me the power of this at the end of the 31 Days to Build A Better Blog — thanks Kate.

I’ve created a quick video of me talking so you can check it out. If you are reading this in your feed reader — you might prefer to watch it on my blog — just press the play on the Edublogs image.

Check out Michele Martin’s post which has lots of great links to Tools and Resources for Managing Your Online Reputation.


So what do you think? Should I change my photo to the one from dinner? Perhaps I should mix them up to keep you guessing?

How do you create your online identity? Have you found mental images you have created been considerably different from the real person when you’ve meet?

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36 thoughts on “Is Your Photo Avatar Making You Look OLD?

  1. This is so true Sue! I’ve heard you speak on a few online things, but to see the video as well really helps to make you a ‘real’ person. 😛

    I think that if you took a photo from that video, that would be one of the nicest photos. 🙂

    I have a photo page, and try to add lots of photos to my facebook and link to them, so that people can access images of me. And I have a flickr roll on my personal blog as well. 🙂

  2. Thanks Lisa – isn’t it funny how we see the image differently from others.

    I’m glad you like the video Talia — it definitely helps to visualise the person. I like the idea of the image from the video – I think I took some photos the other day so I will check them out.

  3. Love the post! I think the video is great – there is a plug-in that allows commenters to leave video comments too that I want to look into.

    There is so much potential for misunderstanding online as we all have our unique logic bubbles. Knowing the speech patterns of the writers with whom we correspond brings the text to life and helps make better connections.

  4. I prefer the dinner photo, Sue. I loved the video-you are much younger in that than I have thought of you.

    I haven’t managed to do more than slidecasts to give my work a human touch. But I would like to get into video-did you use a video camera? Is it digital? What would you recommend to do this?
    cheers Sarah

  5. @KerryJ There is definitely so much opportunity for misunderstanding because we don’t realise how much of our social interaction comes from visual and verbal cues. I’ve had students with visual impairments i.e. can barely see and they miss many of the social cues.

    @Sarah I will change my avatar over but before I do I will try a shoot using my Mac and then you can all vote on your preferred photo. I got a Mac so am able to record directly using the inbuilt webcam. However grab your normal digital camera – switch it to video mode and get your hubby to hold it while you quickly record. Ideally you want a camera that records in .avi format as it is easier to work with – if you need to edit. Canon’s are great that way as they record in .avi. Cameras normally break the video into clips so you may need to use MovieMaker to put it back together. If your camera records in .mov or .mp4 format you will need to convert to .avi before you can edit using MovieMaker. Alternatively you can use a digital video recorder. Shoot the footage and if you get stuck contact me and I will walk you through the process — I’ve instructions on my wiki for MovieMaker.

  6. Sue, I like your original photo because that is how I got to know you in Twitter. I liked to click on that avatar to see what you had been posting lately. But, compared to your current photo, the colour did look a little washed out – perhaps the blue top you were wearing was a little pale for a STAND OUT statement. Now your current photo – that’s you. Stronger colours, and a dangerous look in your eye.

    I chose my usual avatar after I hadn’t shaved for a week during Easter last year. My students commented that I looked ‘grotty’ so I decided to keep it. I changed my Twitter picture to include Janet & Lucy, giving my distant friends an insight into my family life.

  7. Sue,
    Yes, the new photo. Not because of age, but because the background of the other photo leads the eye off to the right rather than to your face.

  8. @Simon like that … dangerous look in the eyes. Cam definitely live with it. So you saying your normally clean shaven? You’ve spoiled all my thoughts.

    @Stephen Thanks I started changing my photo but will take some time. Hadn’t thought about it in terms of posed and not posed.

    @Christine There is so much to consider with visuals – I hadn’t even spotted this aspect.

    @Sarah your videos are excellent. I love the humour of the first video — which is such classic Sarah — like the free gloves. The second video is better quality but doesn’t have the standard Sarah wicked humour

  9. Hi, just posting a comment as per twitter request.

    It does this:

    1) You click on name field. The cursor appears a few lines above the field

    2) You start to type. The cursor jumps to this comment text box.

    3) You click on name field. The cursor finally goes there.

    4) There is a check box below this comment box with no label on it.

    This is all FF2, Windows.

  10. checking in Firefox- slow loading, but eventually got here to post comment from Twitter. I like the photo you have now…

  11. I like the dinner photo better, too. I don’t like pics of myself either, and the ones taken w/the webcam on my macbook…oooh, ick. That would be an issue for me w/video, too, but I guess I should stop being so vain and just get over it.
    This is all very helpful for me, a new blogger trying to develop my online persona. In twitter I use a non-photo avatar (that I love but have no rights to), on my blog I have a photo of myself that is several years old and on other sites I have various combos of the two (and more). I was thinking of asking my 7 yr. old to draw a picture of me and using that as my avatar, but you’ve made me re-think the value of trying to get a halfway decent picture of myself to use.

  12. Just checked your video. Thanks for the example. I love your existing avatar as it’s slightly quirky and gives the impression of someone with lots of ‘tricks up their sleeve’ which it seems you have.

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