An avatar is a graphical image that represents a real person. Avatars are used as an alter ego or a character image in virtual worlds, social media, websites, and communities. These can be personal icons (so-called picons) in two-dimensional form or three-dimensional graphical images such as comic figures.
The term avatar was first coined by Richard Garriot. By creating the “UltimaIV: Quest of the Avatar” in 1985, the game designer had already come up with a game concept that envisaged an avatar as a representation of the player. The term, which originates from Hinduism, was first used in games. Later on with the development of the Internet, Internet forums, chats messengers, and finally social networks, blogs, and websites followed.
In computer games, an avatar can represent a player. In games like “Second Life” or “World of Warcraft”, the player first has to create an avatar. This can be defined to the smallest detail (e.g., face shape, eye color, hair color, skin color) to match one’s own figure or create a completely new character. This artificially created figure is then controlled by different virtual worlds and, at times, is even able to communicate with other avatars.
Avatars play a major role when it comes to the activities in forums or social media on the Internet. Here, the term refers to small symbols that often have a dimension of 80 x 80 pixels. These symbols are integrated above, below, or next to the user name and corresponding post depending on the selected platform.
In this case, they serve to raise the recognition value of a person or profile in the network. They are seen as a trust element that should build confidence. In social media, a lot of people use a real photo of themselves as an avatar. However, in forums where one rather remains anonymous, this is rarely the case. Instead, cartoon figures, 3D graphics, photographs of places, animals, or stars, illustrations, slogans, and statements, etc. are used.
In cases where social media platforms are used commercially, it is advisable to use avatars that communicate the values of the company in a certain way. Experts refer to this as visual coherence. The first visual impression of a potential customer is configured in a manner to make the recognition value is as high as possible. Besides the avatar, other aspects also play a big role. These include the colors, fonts, and logos used in all of the corporate communications. Avatars are hereby an integral part of the corporate identity.
Most of the CMS often have the option of uploading an avatar when posting comments on blogs. This is later displayed next to the post. Here, the aforementioned design possibilities are also recommended. Some CMS even offer special services for creating avatars. The term blavatar is also common, where avatars are only used in blogs.
One exception is with the so-called “gravatars”. These are globally recognized and are identical on different blogs. Blogs that are based on the WordPress CMS can automatically recognize gravatars. If a user creates an avatar on gravatar.com and later uses the email address saved there in a comment on a WordPress blog, the created gravatar is displayed automatically.
In online shops, avatars are used for an entirely different strategy. Here, digital customer advisers and contact persons are created using avatars. These assist the user with the user experience on the website. If a user has questions regarding the service, the product range, navigation, or the purchase process, he/she can communicate with the avatar. Behind this avatar is a real person who responds to the questions, much like in a live chat.
The conversion rate can be increased sustainably through the targeted use of avatars. This is due to the fact that the customer is not left alone with questions about the product or difficulties during the ordering process. Instead, the customer is guided along the way until the order has been completed. Here, avatars are a part of trust building measures.
Avatars have become indispensable in the fields of gaming, social media, and other Internet services. They are used to increase the recognition value and build trust. For commercial use, they should be integrated in the entire corporate communication and the related corporate identity. However, not just any image should be chosen for this. The selected image should be able to somehow convey certain values of the company.
In the best-case scenario, avatars become a part of the visual communication of the respective company. This is because the way a user will respond also depends on how the company goes about social branding and everything that it encompasses. Successful branding goes far beyond the use of avatars, logos, and typography and includes aspects such as the behavior of the customer service and the fulfilment of the expectations of the customers.