Leigh Caraccioli considers herself a hybrid, a social-write-tographer spending most of her time doing brand, portrait and wedding photography for her company fleur de leigh photography as well as social media consulting. She is passionate that her lifestyle photojournalism tells an authentic story for her clients and their brand. Leigh also blogs regularly, helps companies geo-target social networks and speaks on social media. Website: http://atfleurdeleigh.com/ Main blog: http://blog.atfleurdeleigh.com/.

Let’s face it. The first brand message you offer up in social media comes from that little square icon that represents you in cyberspace, your avatar. Whether you know it or not, everyone who sees your image forms an impression of you and/or your personal brand instantly. What do your brand images say about you?  Are you one of the millions afflicted with…Avataritis?  Take this yes or no test to find out:

  • Do you have half of your ex-girlfriend’s arm around your neck in your cropped down image?
  • Was your image snapped on a smart phone by your overserved BFF at last week’s big kegger?
  • Does you photo scream 1995?
  • You use the boilerplate Twitter birdy or Facebook silhouette.
  • Is there a greyish, orangeish, yellowish swishy backdrop and a contrived smile on your face?
  • Is it just your eyeball?
  • Do you looked even a little bit wasted?
  • Is your image actually not you but instead an image of your fluffy dog, porche carrera or new born babe?
  • Are you masquerading as a celebrity or Homer Simpson?
  • If you answered yes to any of the above you’re not alone. Say it with me… “Oh Crap!! I have Avataritis!”  Prognosis: your social media picture is crap.  Worry not. There is a remedy.

    Know your brand. 
Take a critical minute to define your personal brand. This exercise it very important and is the first step to curing Avataritis if you have it. Many people find that their personal and professional selves have morphed into one, myself included, so only one brand is represented. You may represent your professional self differently and therefore may need to make two lists. Describe yourself in three words.  You avatar should say those three words about you.  If it doesn’t, scrap it and start anew with your three personal brand words in mind. While the majority of these avatars work and are impactful, can you see a few examples of the afflicted?

    Be clear
. When creating your new avatar, opt for simple. Crisp, close-ups, black and white or vibrant color work very well.  Don’t worry if the top of your head is cropped off. (Bonus: maybe this is a way to fix a poofy hair day or thinning top.)  There are no points awarded for being within the bulls-eye in the small square.  Don’t be afraid to crop in closely. I prepare client’s avatars to 250 px by 250.  Many avatars include company logos bolstering company reach and brand cohesion. Others are graced with causes the person promotes like 12 for 12K, a charity near and dear to my heart.  Be careful not to overdo your logos/causes/political stances on your logo. Create a blog if you have that much to say.

    Quick change. Don’t be afraid to change it up every now and then.  New avatars can generate some much needed buzz if your social media experience feels a little stale.

    Heck, @armano has a revolving door of cool avatars which represents his highly relevant brand well.  

Hire a photographer
    Your message is worth it really.  Brand Photography is growing but it’s still not a common term. Unlike portraits, brand images carry an intentional message about the subject that helps you understand it more clearly. A thousand words are not needed, but an immediate good impression is critical. I help individuals and businesses properly represent their brand in images clearly and succinctly knowing that with the speed of social networking their avatar has to grab someone tightly less than 10 seconds.

    Savvy people are investing in professional photography for social media brand impact. 

So now that you know how to recognize Avataritis, don’t let it kill your brand. Remember that when choosing to follow or friend you, your audience has a fleeting few seconds to size you up.

    Make yourself clear, brand aligned and marketable and do the same for your avatar photo.