Why You Should Review Your Avatar During A Crisis

Today’s article is a “small” post.

It’s about a topic that is definitely not one of the most important things you need to concern yourself with during a crisis. But since “small” things can sometimes send the wrong message and undermine your otherwise good work, it’s a small thing worth considering.

I first thought of this when I read in the New York Daily News a while back that Progressive Insurance was accused of providing “its own lawyers to help defend a man who accidentally killed one of its policy-holders in order to avoid paying the claim.”

That accusation—fueled by angry and very public posts by the victim’s family—created a major online stir. Progressive took to Twitter to deny the accusation. Here’s a snapshot of the tweets:

As you can see, Progressive’s avatar is that of “Flo,” the fictional spokeswoman who stars in the insurance giant’s ubiquitous television commercials.

Is it me, or does Flo’s broad smile undercut the words in Progressive’s tweets? I can’t help wondering whether Progressive would have done better by temporarily replacing the fictional “Flo” avatar with a real person—perhaps the head of Communications or the CEO? Even an impersonal Progressive logo might have been better than the goofy character.

@Progressive has only about 16,000 Twitter followers—but keep in mind that this series of tweets was embedded into dozens of news stories and blogs, expanding their reach into the hundreds of thousands or millions. And the fact that Progressive was sending out the same message over and over made this even worse, although that’s outside the scope of this article.

There’s one major disadvantage to changing an avatar. Your social media followers are familiar with your visual identity, and changing it during a crisis might make your tweets less noticeable at the very moment you want more people to see them.

What do you think? Should a company in crisis consider reviewing and replacing its avatar to ensure that their words are aligned with their visual message? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.