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...