They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So what are the thousand words of your profile photo saying about you? More and more of our online interaction is becoming visually-based, and how you present yourself is a key component of your online presence. YouTube has over 100 hours of video uploaded every minute and one of the most popular social media sites with teenagers is Instagram. People like to “see” who they are interacting with. It has always been common for people to say, “I can’t remember names but I can always remember a face.”
Because there is only one photo attached to your profile, it plays an important role. It’s taking all of the content that you share on your profile textually and representing it visually. And your visitor wants to see that. On LinkedIn, a profile with a photo gets 7 to 8 times more traction than a profile without a photo. These days, a profile with the empty outline indicating that you haven’t uploaded a photo makes you a bit of a non-entity.
Consistency is Critical
The first rule of thumb is to keep your profile photo consistent with the rest of the information you are sharing. A shorthand way of checking is to ask, “Is the person in the photo the same person that the visitor is reading about?” If you talk about how hard you work for your customers, but your photo is you lounging on a beach, there’s a mismatch. Similarly, if you’re sharing your successes on your profile, but the photo is a blurry one taken with a cell phone camera, your audience will wonder just how successful you really are.
Keep it Polished and Approachable
This points out the need to be polished in your photo. Both you, and the photo itself, need to have a certain degree of professional polish. You don’t need an uptight headshot, but you have to convey that others can trust your competence. The prevalence of good cameras means that we expect to see high-quality photos, so don’t shortchange yourself. Others can tell and it makes them doubt the professionalism of the person in the photo. Polish is mainly driven by the context of the photo; what you are wearing and the background of the photo.
Balance that polish with approachability. Humanize yourself. Are you someone who others would feel comfortable engaging with? Your facial expression conveys approachability. Is it open, warm, friendly? Can your visitor imagine starting a conversation with you if they met you at a business meeting? Would they want to be friends with the person in the photo? Your Profile visitor is asking themselves if they could engage with you, and an approachable photo lets them feel comfortable taking the next step.
How to Pick the Right One
Selecting a great photo is easier than we make it out to be. It’s normal for us to look at our own photos and see all of the tiny imperfections. Everyone else looks at your photo and (often subconsciously) mines it for contextual information: “Where is this person?” “What message does their clothing send?” “Are they smiling at me and therefore friendly?”
These are the same thoughts that go through our head when we meet someone in person. Luckily we can strategically choose the photo that will send the message that we want to send.
If you are struggling to choose the right photo, ask your friends. Send three photos to a few close friends and see which one they like.
A few quick thoughts: Make the photo of you and just you. Keep other people (and your fishing trophy) out. Position the photo well so that you are centered and zoom in close enough that it’s easy to see your face. Only use action shots if they coincide with your work (if you present at a lot of meetings, then have a picture of you presenting might work). And finally, though it may seem obvious, make sure that its a photo that looks like you. In the end, your online presence needs to support your offline activities. If the person in the photo doesn’t look like you, or if he or she looks like the “you” of ten years ago, then its not doing its job.
Put the same care in managing your online appearance as your offline appearance and you’ll be fine.