Does Your Profile Picture Matter?

In case you were wondering, the answer is yes … I’m still looking for a job. Lots of options – and directions – to consider. The wheels of #ProjectAwesome are moving and moving fast. Phone calls, interviews, tweets, IMs, text messages, 6100+ views of my interactive resume, and thinking. etc. It’s been fun.

August 28, 2011 Update: I launched my own company! Waldow Social was born on August 1, 2011. Details here.



So, does your profile picture matter? The short answer is YES!

Note: I’ll be using profile picture & avatar interchangeably in this post.

Last week, the same day I launched #ProjectAwesome, someone sent me the following tweet.

Twitter:  @KaufmanwithakAfter the sting of the (unsolicited) “tip” wore off, I got thinking about what Alex tweeted. Is my profile picture too aggressive? Is it to forward? Too unconventional? Too “inyoface?” Should I have chosen a more conservative picture of me, maybe in a suit and tie? Or an avatar with a glass background (think: high school yearbook picture)?

I think not. I’m a big believer in the fact that your profile picture represents who you are, what you stand for, what’s important to you. The reason I chose that picture for my online profile is simple. It does the best job at conveying who I am. I’m a passionate dude. I have a ton of energy. I’m (generally) a positive person, in a good mood.

However, not everyone agrees with my take about profile pictures.

On June 6th, I asked my Facebook crew what they thought:

If you have a profile picture (avatar) on Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter that is NOT a picture of you/your face … why not?

Below are a few of the replies:

Facebook Replies
Facebook Replies (2)
Facebook Replies (3)

Take a minute (if you haven’t already) and read through a few of the comments. My bet is that you can relate to one or more of the replies. I’ve found that folks fall into a few categories when it comes to profile pictures:

1. Profile Picture = Family &/or Child

Chris Rosati wrote, “…if you ask me who I am, I am Logan and Delaney’s daddy and Anna’s husband.” Brad Williams had a similar reply, “…my child is the thing I’m most proud of and what I Want to brag about to others.”

If you know anything about me, you know that Kristina and I have a 16-month old. I love nothing more in the world than being a father. We’ve both are having so much fun being parents. Eva is the best. The. Best. That being said, I can’t see myself including her in my profile picture(s). I love Kristina too, but again, she’s not part of my online profile pictures.

Similar to what Chris wrote, I am Eva’s dad and Kristina’s husband. However, that’s not all I am. I’m also … me. Also, similar to what Brad wrote, I too want to brag about Eva. I do it often. I post pictures and videos to Facebook & send them to family and friends via email. I even started a Twitter account (private) for her before she was born! I’m proud of being a father. But that’s not really what I’m all about.

2. Profile Picture = Symbol

Tim Brechlin’s profile picture is the Ghostbusters logo. As Tim wrote,

I haven’t had a good photo of me taken since early 2006, and I looked quite a bit different back then, so I roll with the Ghostbusters logo since anyone who meets me for more than two minutes will find themselves peppered with quotes from the movie.

Sarah Heindel (my high school friend), wrote something similar about not liking to have pictures of herself taken,

because I hate putting up pictures of myself… assuming that i look good. I feel like such a dork. I’m now able to put myself up with my kids, but have a hard time putting one up of myself. You know, unless I have a sexy pout and am holding the camera out in front of myself to capture a great angle.

I get that. Totally fair. I like Tim’s point about his fascination with Ghostbusters. Also, a creative avatar can also be a great conversation starter. However, when I (someday) meet someone that I know quite well online, like Tim, how the heck will I know what he looks like? If your profile picture is not you, how do I make the connection from online to offline?

3. Profile Picture = Your Passion

While not how I choose to represent myself, I really like what Andrea Frederick (fellow Michigan alumni) wrote:

I use my picture to express something I’m passionate about at the time. Since, if I’m friends with you, you already know what I look like!

She makes a really good point. Andrea is one of those people who changes her profile picture often, rotating it with things she’s passionate about. Again, personal preference, but what if I didn’t know what Andrea looks like? How will I pick her out of the crowd when we meet face to face?

4. Profile Picture = YOU!

Clearly, I fall into this camp. So does Chris Penn. Notice that his profile picture is the same in most, if not all social networks – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. Chris Brogan does too, kinda. Chris tends to change his profile picture relatively often. However, it’s nearly always still him – his face. My friend Matt Ridings used to have a logo as his Twitter avatar. Now, it’s his smiling face. Personally, I like it better as it is him – Matt!

I’ve chosen to got the “Profile Picture = ME” route. I actually had that picture taken by a local photographer in June of 2010. I use it everywhere – business cards, all social networks, and even on my online (interactive) resume. Tip: I use a free service called Gravatar as my global avatar. As they say on their site, “Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog.” As I understand it, they tie your avatar (profile) picture to your email address.

Does Your Profile Picture Matter?

I think (hope) we can all agree that your profile picture matters. However, how you choose to represent yourself online is 100% your decision. That being said, think before you choose your profile picture. How do you want to be viewed by others? Is your avatar consistent with your “brand?” Does it convey how you want to be seen?

I’m curious if you fit into any of the categories above. Maybe you have other reasons for your avatar not being a picture of you. Please share your thoughts below.

Update: Thanks to Ann Handley for pointing me to Marcy Massura’s much funnier, more accurate, slightly-different-spin-but-same conclusion blog post, Facebook/Twitter Profile Pics: their meaning and more.

DJ Waldow
@djwaldow
#ProjectAwesome: HIRE ME!

42 comments
dieulinh
dieulinh

I use an avatar, if you're my friend then we already know what we look like and if you're not then you don't need to know, nor do I and let's just keep it like that :)

Kirsten Wright
Kirsten Wright

Profile/Avatar totally matter!! All social profiles I used for business (website, twitter, linkedin, youtube, facebook fan page, google+, etc) have the same photo (me in my cowboy hat)...it's my brand. People know me for it, and will recognize me with it from across the room at a crowded conference.

On facebook, I use a profile much more personally (I keep it limited to friends, family and a few good business contacts). So on there, the picture changes with my mood, but is usually of me & my hubby, and sometimes our greyhound.

Marissa Loewen
Marissa Loewen

I agree with you - the picture on my LinkedIn and most social networks is me wearing a moose on my head. It says that I am willing to put my ridiculous side out there and that I can laugh at myself. If a company doesn't hire me because I am wearing a moose hat then it's for the best.

Cjjed
Cjjed

Profile Picture = Me! I'm borderline obsessed with myself too but the enjoyment i get from looking at pictures of myself is only have of it, there are plenty of opportunities to post pictures of your kids, a pet a favorite movie. Your profile picture is the first impression.

With that said, My new Facebook Profile picture is of me and my girlfriend (the person I'm moving to Salt Lake for BTW) I want everyone to know I'm with her. Thanks for the exercise though, very interesting. That is all.

Alex Kaufman
Alex Kaufman

So that tweet was me. It was meant to be 100% constructive. At least it led to good content/discussion. :) 

The main reason I offered is so that no random in HR or management would be able to use it to rule you out. Not everyone "gets" passion. It scares some. But I guess you wouldn't want work there anyway. Go #projectawesome.

Pete
Pete

Why compromise who you are?  Especially if you're an entrepreneur!

Paula Berg
Paula Berg

Hey DJ - we had this debate in our office over my profile pic about a year ago.  My picture is of me drinking what appears to be a beer.  My hair is pulled back in a ponytail and I'm wearing a t-shirt, a hoodie, and a fleece.  My boss put the question out of Facebook..."should Paula change her profile pic?"  The answer was an overwhelming "no!"  Since then, no one has given me any flack about it :)

Carol
Carol

Hi DJ, good luck with finding a new job. I'm sure it won't be long!
I really liked this post. It made me think about end use of my social networking. If you really are just using it to stay in touch with friends and family, I say, anything goes. If you are using it to expand your business, I think it is critical to have a picture of you, not of your children, your latest crush, etc.
When I look at my profile picture history, I realize I have broken that rule a few times...but, bottom line of I want to be taken seriously I need to allow people to see me. not my new grand baby.Thanks for the reminder.

superdumb
superdumb

Interesting. This is something I've thought about a lot recently. I cut my hair shorter in June and changed my avatar to a headshot with shorter hair but noticed that I was getting fewer replies. After taking it as a personal affront ("no one likes my haircut!"), I realized that people just didn't recognize me. So I switched it back. Apparently it looks more like me, even though it technically looks less like me. People are weird that way. (I kept the short hair avatar on my @naomishapiro twitter account that I rarely use, just for reference.)
Oh, I have to note that shirtlessness is generally a big turnoff on avatars, for both genders. Ick.

Ann Handley
Ann Handley

p.s. Funny that K-Dawg pointed out what some businesses have a hard time grasping.... views/schmiews! Show me the results! (Although I do think your video was about social credibility than anything else...) : )

Matt Pollack
Matt Pollack

"The reason I chose that picture for my online profile is simple. It does the best job at conveying who I am."

What your picture conveys isn't up to you, it's up to your audience. You think your profile pic says "I’m a passionate dude. I have a ton of energy. I’m (generally) a positive person, in a good mood."  But that doesn't necessarily mean that potential employers get that same message.  It's likely that your profile pick conveys a wide range of things depending on who the viewer is.  

It's possible that a potential employer sees your pic and think "Whoa, this guy is a goofball" and doesn't consider you a serious candidate.  And maybe that's OK - maybe you don't WANT to be considered by an employer who thinks that way.  Maybe you are self-selecting potential employers who are like you and get the message from your profile pic that you are trying to convey.

(BTW, I'm sure you are aware of this and I'm preaching to the choir.  But you didn't address it specifically in your post, so I thought I'd make the point.)

Corey Creed
Corey Creed

When I decided to be a consultant, I had a professional photographer take a professional picture that made me look professional.  :)  If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, I feel one should look like a professional.  

Then again, if you want to look like an outgoing and exciting person that is passionate and has a ton of energy and is positive, yours looks great!

I think the key is to think about how your "target audience" will view it.

Nick Einstein
Nick Einstein

DJ - I am a big fan of your old school profile pic from the bronto days, though believe your current one is likely more appropriate for project awesome.  

I believe it does convey some of your dynamic personality, and wouldn't go changing it.

Deborah Krier
Deborah Krier

If your profile pic doesn't polarize people, especially within the context of a job search, it isn't doing its job. 

I mean, you don't want a job with just any company, do you?  Rather, you want a job with a company that gets you, believes in what you're about, and is willing to leverage "Brand DJ Waldow" for all that you are. 

And that means that the companies that don't like your current profile pic are probably the companies you would rather not be working for, anyway.

It's about the quality of job leads, not quantity.  And to get to quality, you gotta have some way of filtering the bad leads out.

Erika Roe
Erika Roe

Well my Facebook profile picture is me and my passion...

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Love this reply, Kirsten. Proof that it "works"? I didn't recognize your name at first, but the avatar sealed the deal for me. It was the trigger. 

Love that cowboy hat!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Ha! There are either those that love Moose hats or those that hate them. Not much in between, right?

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Thanks for the comment (& inspiration for this blog post!).

I can be kinda sensitive, so I did take it personally. But...when the dust settled, you had a good point. As you said, I would not want to work for a company that didn't support my passion and energy.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Hmmm. Excellent point. I wonder if you'd get the same replies if you asked the question on another social network (say, Twitter or G+). Do it!

See, I love your avatar associated with Linhart. I get to see that smiling face and beautiful teeth of yours. How about pitting them head to head and seeing what folks like?

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Carol! Love that you just read this post (and commented). Thanks for your kind words too. 

Totally agree with your take on HOW you are using social media. I think Corey said something similar earlier, "I think the key is to think about how your "target audience" will view it."

Thanks again!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

I used to have a shirtless avatar. Attracted a huge audience, just not the one I was going after. Ha ha. Kidding!

Interesting w/ your short-hair avatar. Hmmm. Glad I've had the same haircut for the past decade plus!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

That K-Dawg is a smart one. I mean, she *did* have a good point.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Uh. Love that post. Just commented. Going to add a link to it above. By they way, are you sure you're not in the "A celebrity that sorta looks like you, but not really" category? Tina!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Dammit Matt! Why do you have to come in and make a good point on my blog? Ha ha. Very well said. You are preaching to the choir; however, it's a point that I failed to highlight in the post.

As far as your "potential employer" scenario, that's exactly how I feel. I'm doing a bit of self-selecting. Similar conversation when folks have asked me the past week for a "traditional" resume. My answer: I don't have one. BUT...I do have this (creative) online, interactive resume as well as one with a voiceover. Some get a bit freaked out by that. Not sure that's a place I'd want to work, right?

Ashley Sue Bullers
Ashley Sue Bullers

While I very much understand what you are saying, I also feel like it's pretty obvious from his resume and interactive portfolio that this guy is far from being a goofball.  He's a seriously devoted worker.  Not that I am a recruiter, but I canNOT stand to look at one more profile pic that looks like some guy, standing stiff, in some Mens Wearhouse rental in order to LOOK like he knows what he's doing. 

After all, DJ did not name his intensive job hunt #ProjectProfessionalChange.  Any guy who names it #ProjectAwesome but then has same lame, oops, I mean "professional" looking avatar, would seem very inconsistent and like maybe he isn't authentic because he's too busy trying to live up to what he thinks someone else wants.

:)

I know you know all that, so don't think I'm being belligerent with you, Matt.

Best of luck, DJ.  The photo rocks (and initially did surprise me you're keeping it, but instantly got why).

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

You and my wife agree on that 100%. She tells me that all the time. In fact, she hates when I wear jeans and a button down to an industry event or when I take the stage. Then again, in her world as a doctor, that's how everyone is.

Great point about "target audience" too. I should have made that point in the post.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Ha. Yeah. Loved that avatar too. The only reason I changed it was b/c it was tied to Durham and Bronto. This "new" one (June 2010) is company/job/industry agnostic.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Bingo! That's what I think, but not all agree. Which camp do you fit into for your profile picture?

ngiqik
ngiqik

@DJ Waldow Wow, awsome

Cj
Cj

I actually follow you on twitter too and saw that that recently - classic. I'm going to announce my move out that way on Facebook with that video. My company is opening an office out there in the Chase Building. I'll be out there in two weeks. We should grab a beer.

Alex Kaufman
Alex Kaufman

In regards to your "unsolicited" wording, imo, starting #projectawesome seems to be soliciting feedback, tips, suggestions, etc. So, as an appreciative follower of yours, I posted something to consider. Surprised it "stung". Feedback to consider shouldn't sting. Possibly it was something you had been thinking about already. I also need to get used to the idea that not everyone has my thickness of skin. I guess I should see that coming with those who refer to themselves as a butterfly.

There's never a better time to re-invent oneself (if desired) than in between gigs. Harder to do during. Go #projectawesome!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Ashely Sue! You are too kind. No need to defend, though I appreciate it. Matt is a long-time buddy of mine. In fact, we worked together in Chicago way back in the day - my first gig out of U of Michigan.

Curious why you were initially surprised that I was keeping my avatar...

Corey Creed
Corey Creed

Yea, it's really about the target audience you are trying to reach and how you want to look to them, IMHO.  I like your thoughts about being consistent across all platforms as well.  I do that, too.  "Brand yourself"

Erika Roe
Erika Roe

I got into email through Bronto, yes! So we are good friends. Before I met him, my passion was playing the oboe. I hope maybe the two will intertwine in my work one day.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

For sure. Let me know when you arrive.

Alex Kaufman
Alex Kaufman

Well #PA certainly solicited conversation. I participated with an attempt to add value. Maybe I did. Now I'm the one who's feeling a bit harshed upon. haha. 

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

I can certainly see your point of view. Not sure that #ProjectAwesome has anything to do with feedback. At least, that was not my intent. Honestly, I'm just a dude looking for a job. Like I said before, I tend to take this personally. My wife tells me to ignore/get over it. Ha ha.

Not looking to re-invent at this point in my personal/professional life, so I'll be keeping that avatar!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Love it, @twitter-67004983:disqus 

Matt Pollack
Matt Pollack

I knew DJ Waldow before he was @djwaldow:disqus