Nearly every social account you set up these days will ask you to upload a profile image -- which, for most individuals, means a picture of your face. But sadly, many folks skip this step.
For some, it sends them into a self-image tailspin. Others write it off saying, “Only celebrities and CEOs have head shots.” And still others get trapped in a quest to find the PERFECT picture of themselves.
But all of these reactions stem from a dated notion of what head shot avatar photos are for.
Profile pictures in social media serve a utilitarian function, not an aesthetic one. For the most part, people aren’t looking at your picture to decide if you’re hot or not or if you look smart or not. They’re looking at your picture so they can remember who the hell you are.
Let me put this another way. They NEED a photo to help remember who you are.
That's how we make memories. Visual Clue + Info Details + Initial Interaction Experience = Memory Imprint.
In this equation, your avatar photo acts as a caller ID for your social communications. When people see it, it says to them, “Remember how you thought this lady was really smart? You should read this thing she just wrote.” Or, "Remember this guy you met last week? You should read this thing he just posted.”
So, unless you have personal safely concerns, it's time to overcome the excuses and upload a picture.
The point isn’t to find a photo that looks perfect (even supermodels get Photoshopped), it’s to find a photo that looks like you. That’s it. Don't let your feelings about how you look jeopardize your opportunity to take advantage of all the social web has to offer. Your photo is simply a part of your awesomeness package. It is not the sum total of who you are.
Use whatever you like in Facebook (although I prefer human photos), but when it comes to LinkedIn, it needs to be a picture of your face (otherwise, it's like wearing a bag on your head to a networking event). Word of warning ladies, avoid using photos of yourself in strapless attire in any network (even if you think it makes you look super classy). At a quick glance, you'll look like you're naked, and people might mistakenly block your link/friend/follower request, thinking you’re porn. And, that's not so great for your career.
Yes, a good photographer can make you look amazing in a photo. So, if you have the resources, totally go that route. But do not let lack of access to a pro stop you from uploading a picture. Even a cell phone camera can take a pretty good photo these days. Candid photos are totally fine (not, you doing a keg stand, of course), just as long as we can tell who you are and what you look like. If it's a group shot, please crop out the others so we know which one is you.
People need to be able to know, in a glance, to whom they are talking. That’s it. So, the most important part of the picture is your face. If the pic includes too much other stuff to show off your personality (such as scenery or props) it cuts down on the space for your face and will be less effective. Props, in particular, can also be distracting. For example, I once saw a profile pic where a woman where was wearing a Mardi Gras mask and I actually thought a bird was eating her head.
The great thing about social media is that it’s always changing. There’s no reason why you can’t change your photo, too. Be careful of changing it too often, though. I’m of the school of thought that people can be lazy, and they get used to interacting with the you that looks a certain way. Changing that a lot can be disorienting for your network.
Do you have a time machine? Are you planning on going back in time to network with people? If so, then go ahead and use a picture of you from your twenties. If not, then no, it needs to be a picture of how you look now. And, if how you look now changes, (say you lose a lot of weight, change your hair color, get glasses, etc.) you should change your photo to reflect that.
All social networks have some sort of "my profile" kind of menu option. This is where you list your bio (which you should also always include) and upload a profile head shot/avatar. More specifically...
Lay them on me.
I’m a consultant, strategist, author, educator, and speaker with more than 30 years of professional experience. I’m passionately curious, fairly sassy, kinda dorky and seriously good at what I do.