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Our office recently started using Skype for instant messaging, and connected it with our Mailing service as well - with this, we've been given the ability to add our own avatar, which will show up on Skype and in email.

I would like to have my avatar be of a fictional character - there's nothing controversial about this character, but I'm worried that my co-workers might consider it unprofessional if it's a more obscure character from a more modern video game or cartoon. For reference, I plan on using a character from "Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective".

These correspondences are all within our department only, but could potentially include HR, supervisors, and occasionally the people whose application I support.

What type of 'appropriateness' protocol should I follow when selecting my user avatar?

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    You would see a much more specific answer if we knew which character you were planning on using. I'm also curious to see what you would consider "obscure". – sleddog Mar 9 '17 at 19:28
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    We use fictional character where I work for one simple reason, its more fun. – Mister Positive Mar 9 '17 at 19:31
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    @sleddog Sissel from Ghost Trick - I figured making it 'obscure' would keep it from being too specific to this question. – Zibbobz Mar 9 '17 at 19:34
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    @DavidK To put it bluntly, I find that to be incredibly boring, and would sooner keep my avatar as the generic, faceless Skype icon. – Zibbobz Mar 9 '17 at 19:35
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    @Zibbobz Ha, it is Sissel? That was my guess before I saw this comment. I think you're fine. But check with your manager, especially if other people aren't taking the same liberty with their avatars. – sleddog Mar 9 '17 at 19:38
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I don't see an issue with with it at all.

My avatar at work is Yoda, and the other developers have similar themed avatars. ( Star wars, Star Trek, etc. ) Make sure it is work safe, and avoid anything that could be considered along the lines of sexual themed.

If your unsure, run your avatar idea by your manager or HR.

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Ideally your avatar would be a picture of you, or the default initials-y thing some systems generate. Failing that, it can be a picture of someone else, but I think it should meet these criteria:

  • it should not be an offensive or controversial picture (a naked or sexually posed person, a zombie covered in gore, a scary monster, etc)
  • it should be recognizably NOT you. You want people to think "oh, Zibbobz has a funny avatar" not "oh, that's what Zibbobz looks like"
  • it should be obviously connected to you.

I had a client once with the same name as the (then) Prime Minister. He used a headshot of the PM as his avatar. Everyone knew why. Everyone knew it wasn't really him. Both are important. When you use Papa Smurf or Superman, people don't know why you chose that.

My avatar, as you can see, isn't a picture of anyone. I use it here, on Twitter, and a bunch of other places too. Where did it come from? A blog entry of mine over 10 years ago.

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    I agree that it's important that users don't mistakenly confuse the avatar and the person (which is why your Prime Minister example might actually be in a kind of grey area). But why is it important that the avatar is "obviously" connected to the account holder? (Yours may be connected to you but certainly not "obviously" so.) – Llewellyn Mar 9 '17 at 20:18
  • I'm not sure I'd advise the 'connected to you obviously' bit either - especially since I like to keep my work and personal life separate. – Zibbobz Mar 9 '17 at 20:36
  • @Llewellyn if it's a person or character, especially one that's not immediately recognizable, then I think yes, people should know why you chose it. So if you have a name-twin in fact or fiction, or if your nickname is Yoda, everyone can remember that this avatar is you. But if you just chose Homer Simpson for fun, we don't know why you did that, we're confused. Or a pouty vampire, all the more so. – Kate Gregory Mar 9 '17 at 20:37
  • @KateGregory For the record, the reason I would choose Sissel is actually a huge spoiler for the whole game, so I wouldn't be able to explain that...but is a connection really necessary? Especially if it's something so distinct? – Zibbobz Mar 9 '17 at 20:41
  • When you use a non-obvious but existing connection, it can be interpreted as referring to an in-joke that some people don't get. So half the company knows why your avatar is Homer Simpson or the vampire, because of that mail thread or that company party or whatever and half doesn't. Even when that's not the story, those who don't know may think it is. – Kate Gregory Mar 9 '17 at 21:00
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...I'm worried that my co-workers might consider it unprofessional...

You indicate that the this will be internal only, but you're concerned that your peers will see it as unprofessional. If you're concerned that it's not a fit to the company culture then, more than likely it's not.

But keep in mind, your Avatar could be shared to the outside world with only a few clicks of the mouse by your Exchange/Office 365 administrator. So you should also consider how your customers, clients, and extended professional circle might consider it as well.

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Don't set an avatar for several days then see what other people use. Follow suit.

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I'm going to predicate this answer on an assumption that may be wrong, and will amend or delete my answer accordingly.

It sounds like you want to put something as your avatar that you think would peg you as a huge nerd, so I'm thinking it's probably a video game or anime character. Assuming that you keep things tasteful (perhaps not Lara Croft's chest) or a character that's going to raise eyebrows at undesirable references (I'm looking at you, Violator!), you're probably okay.

I see you added some clarification.

Ghost Trick's art style is pretty tame, especially by Capcom's standards. Sissel, for example, should be fine.

That being said, it would be a wise idea to run it by your manager to make sure you're in the clear.

Edit: Since you've made it clear now that it is, in fact, Sissel, be ready to correct a lot of people who think it's Johnny Bravo.

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    Answers should ideally be invisibly edited to match new information instead of adding new sections and marking them "after clarification" and "edit" as those fragment the answer and can make it less clear. – Lilienthal Mar 9 '17 at 20:05
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If you've been given the ability to choose your own avatar then it's implied that you have some scope for creativity and expression. At my place of work, Skype is locked down in that respect.

I don't think there's any need to approve your avatar choice with your manager (it's almost like asking permission to go to the restroom), just go with it.

All you need ask yourself is "Can anyone be offended by this?" and use some common sense.

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