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
#ProjectAwesome: HIRE ME!