What is an Avatar and Why Does it Matter?

avatarOver the past few months, we’ve talked a lot about using social media to grow your online business. But there’s one thing we haven’t yet covered: your avatar.

If you only know the word “avatar” in relation to the movie, that’s ok. According to Wikipedia, an avatar is:

“…a computer user’s representation of himself/herself or alter ego whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon (picture) or a one-dimensional username used on Internet forums and other communities.”

So, kind of like how in the movie Jake is represented by his blue Na’vi character, you can use an image and a name to represent yourself online in social media environments like Facebook or Twitter.

How to Choose an Avatar

Your avatar is literally an online representation of you or your business, so choosing one should be done with a little thought. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun with it, but you should keep in mind how the image you choose might impact you or your business in real life.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

1.    Use a clear “headshot”.
Social media and online communication is about establishing relationships – people want to know who you are. The exception to this rule is if you are participating as a company, where multiple people will be handling the account. For example, a few of us manage the CityMax.com Facebook and Twitter accounts, so we use our mascot “Max” for our avatar.

2.    Consider the size.
Avatar images are generally shrunk down pretty small, so make sure that your image is clearly identifiable even when tiny. Try aiming for a very plain background for your headshot.

3.    Use the same avatar for all your online interactions.
That’s not to say you can’t change it from time to time, but consistency is good as far as branding yourself or your business.

Although you want to keep to these guidelines, don’t be afraid to show some personality in your avatar – it can help garner a bit more interest in what you have to say.

Have you seen any great avatars lately? Either personal or for business?

3 Reasons Why Every Small Business Owner Needs Social Media

2009-12-02-twitterYou know about Facebook already. Maybe you have a dusty Twitter account. So why do you need to use these tools for help your business?

As a small business website owner, here are three great reasons why you should stay plugged in.

1.  Instantly connect with your audience

Imagine if you could immediately locate new customers around the world. Through social media, it’s easy to see who the key players in your industry are (find someone high profile, then take a peek at their Twitter followers or Facebook Fans) and it’s likely that people engaged with these brands are either your customer, or otherwise relevant to your business.

Just as important, you can find the people who are already excited about your product (e.g. customers, distributors), celebrate them, and let them know what other great stuff is in the pipeline. The people who champion your brand can quickly become your greatest asset. Social media is all about the strongest form of marketing there is: word-of-mouth.

2. Play to your strengths: bigger is not necessarily better

Social media levels the playing field for small businesses. While big companies lumber, you are agile. Two of the biggest complaints customers have are: 1) automated phone systems, and 2) delayed email responses. The nature of today’s technology allows you to respond instantly to potential customers who want answers now.

Offering better customer interactions online with an actual person (you) builds your brand’s personality. Creating relationships is the backbone of social media and is something that most large, monolithic companies have difficulty doing, but individuals are terrific at. (Caveat – some large companies CAN get it right. Southwestern Airlines’ customer service on Twitter is an excellent example: http://rationalsecurity.typepad.com/blog/2008/04/off-topic-south.html)

3. If you don’t reach the masses online, someone else will

Just because you aren’t using social media yet, it doesn’t mean your customers aren’t. They may already be singing your brand’s praises (or complaining loudly) on Twitter, Yelp, or any of the countless review sites online. If you aren’t a part of the conversation, you are leaving the door open for a competitor to swoop in. Being present and vocal will help you monitor and manage your brand online.

Small and large businesses alike are spreading their message and expanding their customer base online, and you don’t want miss out.  It is cheap to implement: the most popular applications are free, and the only cost is your time.

How should you begin?

Jump in! Without being familiar with the platform, you may not yet know what you are trying to achieve. That is fine: as you learn Twitter, Facebook, or the latest social media tool, the reality of your objectives will become clear.

Think big. Your average customer may result in a $100 purchase, but being mentioned by a top blog could transform your brand into an overnight success. That is the immediacy of the internet – and the nature of social media. Good luck!