With the proliferation of social networks and profiles, comment systems and discussion forums, and other online services, creating an account for ourselves is now second-nature. What is not yet second-nature is an understanding of just how important your profile pic really is. If you're using a website or service for personal use, you can certainly feel free to upload whatever image you want and go about your day. If you're there for business though, think again.
Sometimes it's an easy call to make. If you're using Facebook just to connect with family and friends, than it's not really for business use, and you can use a fun profile pic or whatever you'd like. Many people though will mix personal and professional use. For instance, you might have a Twitter account that you use to follow some celebs, as well as share business-related stories and articles.
The core question is this: do you have any hope or interest in gaining business leads from a particular network? If so, then you must come to the realization that even though that's a personal account, you are representing your professional persona. You are creating a Personal Brand.
A great example for me is my personal Google+ account. I have brand accounts for The Social Media Hat on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, as well as personal accounts. On Google+, I share some personal information but the vast majority of my posts and interactions are professional in nature. I am working hard to create a personal brand and professional image there, just as on LinkedIn.
While there are a lot of elements that go into creating a professional brand image on a social network - posting great content and interacting with influencers just to name a couple - that brand image starts with your profile pic. Your profile pic is often the first image people see associated with you and your profile. It accompanies all of your posts and comments, and is prominent on your profile page. In fact, many social media users will determine whether or not they follow someone based on the profile image! With that much at stake, don't you think your profile pic warrants a little more attention?
First and foremost, if you're still using the default image or not image at all, change it right away! Nothing screams amateur and disinterest more than a grey head outline or Twitter egg. One important goal for business owners on social networks is to attract followers so that when you say something about your business, you have an audience. Not having a picture of yourself as your profile image will deter people from following you and diminish your social media marketing goals.
Additionally, the image must be of you! It cannot be a group of people, family members, business logo, or anything else abstract. Profile pics are small on profile pages and even smaller when appearing elsewhere like on comments, so the image must be relatively small and focused on your face. People will want to see you, so let them!
If you don't have a professional image of yourself, make do with that you can find for now, but make it a point to have a professional-grade image taken. Fortunately, with the incredible level of technology available, professional-grade doesn't have to mean paying a professional.
Professional-grade in this case means high quality, great lighting and color, and appropriate positioning and environment. Any picture you take should represent who you are professionally, so dress and carry yourself appropriately. If you work in the financial industry, for instance, that means wearing a suit and tie and being physically located in a professional environment like an office. Most people will look best in outdoor, sunny locations where the camera can take advantage of natural lighting.
Once you have a professional image, use that same image on every personal profile. Just as with a business logo, this consistent imagery will help define you and your brand across platforms.
For instance, while I use the same image all over the place, it is particularly important on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Disqus. These platforms are where I interact with other people and potential clients most often, and no matter where a client communicates with me or sees one of my posts, it's the same professional image every time. After a while, they'll recognize my face and hopefully be more inclined to click on one of my posts if they happen to see it in their Twitter or Google+ stream.
Finally, it's really important that you use an image that is up to date. Using an image that is old and just doesn't represent you any longer, for whatever reason, is not a good idea.
While it's never a good idea to present yourself online in a way that's not accurate, a more practical reason is because our whole purpose for going through this exercise is to create a more professional personal image of ourselves in order to encourage more business. It's therefore likely that your efforts will result in business leads. If you ever meet a client in person or in a Google+ Hangout, you're going to want to appear similar to your profile image. There's nothing worse than going to a meeting with a new client at Starbucks and you can't find your client because they no longer even closely resemble their profile pic (true story!).
Take the time to develop a professional personal image, and start with your profile pic.
When I first wrote this article, I debated whether or not to discuss my own profile pic in more detail. I decided it wouldn't be interesting enough to share, yet within the first 12 hours after publishing this post, I was asked dozens of times. Some wanted to know more about my reasons and choices behind the image, while others, correctly, noted that the image could be better for a variety of reasons. While I don't usually edit and update posts once they've been published, I felt that this instance warranted the addendum, since there are several points I'd like to make and several images to share.
First, I will be up front and state that my own profile image falls into the "make do" category. Prior to last Fall, I was using different images on different platforms, and not doing a terribly good job of creating my own personal brand. Most sites had this profile image:
Dark, blurry, old... yeah, that's a great pic! That image was taken in 1999 as part of a story a local newspaper ran about how more and more businesses were using websites to reach new customers. This image file was the small, online version of the larger image that ran with the print paper. This was me in my office at Viking Technology in Norwalk, OH, and this was the image I used for myself for years.
Over ten years later, my fiancé and I decided to have professional engagement pictures taken. They were gorgeous images taken by Megan Thiele-Lorenz in and around downtown St. Louis. Only after the session did it occur to me that I might use one of them as a more professional picture of myself. Here are three images that I particularly liked, and thought reflected my professionalism and yet were fun and personal:
The first problem was that since these were engagement pictures, Eva is in all of them. I love her of course, but my personal profile pic needs to be just me.
The second problem was that since these were pictures of "us" and designed to show off "us" in specific environments, the images were not close shots of my head. As I mentioned earlier, a good profile pic needs to be just your head and shoulders, which meant I needed to do some cropping on these images.
And third, for most people I recommend that you face the camera and are smiling, yet in this third image and many of the other engagement pictures, I was facing Eva and not the camera (for good reason).
So, I settled on a close crop of the first image. I was able to focus on my face, but because the original image was such a long shot, the resulting crop is not as high a quality. Additionally, the background isn't perfect and I wasn't smiling in this particular shot.
This did, however, allow me to create a decent image that could be used on all of my profiles.
Over Christmas, my wife and I invested in a professional-grade camera (a Canon EOS Rebel T4i). It is mostly for her so that she can pursue it as a hobby and take great pictures of our daughter. It was also my intent to use the camera for pictures that I can use on this site and social media.
Now that the weather has finally improved around here, we're going to schedule a trip back downtown. The third image above was taken around Laclede's Landing, an area of downtown St. Louis near The Arch along the Mississippi river that is very urban and interesting visually. We took a great deal of pictures there that I really liked, so we are going to recreate some of those images but just with me so that I can use them professionally. I will blog about them and post the new images later on when they're ready.
So, that's my story. I know that my own profile pic doesn't meet all of my own recommendations and it's a work in progress. How about you? How are you coming with your own profile pic?