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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Profile Photo

I'm actively engaged in all kinds of sites that can be roughly described as social networking.  Through this, and because of my My LinkedIn Open Connection Approach where I basically treat LinkedIn like a really big business mixer, I have lots of opportunity to "meet" new people online.

My guess is that about 25% of the people I run into do not have a profile photo.  I'm writing this post to encourage you to:

  • Spend a little bit of time to create a reasonable profile photo
  • Attach it to every online profile when you create it

And when I say every, I mean every – don't join that new Ning group without attaching your photo.  Add it to your Elluminate and WebEx profiles.

It doesn't take a lot to add a profile photo, and it's fairly significant.  Why?

  1. It helps me believe that you are a real person.  That your request isn't from some faceless person out there in cyber space.  You are real.  If you walk up and talk to me at a big mixer, I will talk to you.  But if you are an unknown from cyberspace with no photo, it just doesn't feel as real.
  2. It helps me remember you.  I have a hard time associating names with faces.  A really hard time.  Your profile photo can be really helpful to me to connect the dots repeatedly.
  3. It shows me you are serious.  If I receive an inquiry or link/friend request from someone without a profile photo, I'm much more likely to ignore it.  It's a signal that you are just playing around.

A few other thoughts on this topic:

  • In business networking, using stylized photos or anything other than a normal photorealistic picture says – I'm playful and fun, but maybe not all that serious about all this stuff.  It's your choice, but I believe it hurts you on all three of the above items.
  • Have a reasonably complete LinkedIn profile and link to it everywhere.  When I meet someone online, I commonly go search for them on LinkedIn to see who they are and what they do.  If I can't find them or they have really limited information, that suggests they aren't as serious about online connections.  In my experience, it's not as effective to spend time with them online.  I'm not saying this is a rule, but there's a correlation in my experience.  And while I'm at it, if you have less than 200 connections, you probably aren't trying all that hard online either.


subquark said...

It's a shame that the old adage "don't judge a book by its cover" seems to still fail in this digital age.

In the 1960's it was common to place a photo with your resume. Now that practice is frowned upon. Why? Bias, discrimination, what have you.

I prefer to be judged on my work, not my looks. My LinkedIn account has a picture of my beaver avatar from Second Life. If someone can't look past that to take me seriously, I don't want to work with them.

It's true, to a certain extent, that people do judge you like that and I may be pollyannish (nay, naive) to hope that we will move beyond appearances, gender, challenges and so on, to view people in a less judgemental way.

Tony Karrer said...

That's a really interesting response and not something I had anticipated at all.

First - on the resume issue - there's definitely an HR issue if a photo shows any minority status. Then you have added responsibility to show that you are not discriminating.

Second - I don't think I'm judging someone based on their picture - but rather whether they have a picture and what kind of picture (and number of connections and their LinkedIn profile/resume).

I'm curious if anyone has the same reaction you have.

Chris said...

I agree that personal photos are not particularly necessary and may open the door to discrimination, bias or even nefarious intent. I do think a tasteful, or at least an inoffensive graphic is a wise profile addition if one chooses not to share a photo.

Anonymous said...

Sure, profile images are important to associated flat content with a real person, but to say non-photorealistic ones make you think the person is not serious speak more about _your_ person bias than anything else.

Tony Karrer said...

This is a bit eye opening. I probably am being biased here about the use of nonphoto images. But I'm not so sure that I'm not in the great majority.

Rachel said...

For me it depends on the network itself. I use LinkedIn a little differently then you - mostly to stay connected with former and current colleagues and classmates. I've never turned down a photoless LinkedIn invite as long as it was clear how I knew the person.
However, with Twitter and Ning, I am more likely to connect with someone I don't know at all or perhaps know through someone else. Sometimes a photoless profile will deter me on those sites, but what bothers me more are requests from people who have put no effort into their profile. With more and more spammers getting on Twitter (and yes, even some of my Ning groups), its hard to connect with "real people" if their profile doesn't look complete.
To me the kind of photo they have isn't so much an issue as long as it represents them in some way and as long as their profile shows enough for me to establish a connection with them.
Now I do have an issue with you not thinking those of us with 200 or less connections are serious... perhaps we're just not as popular as you :)

Kita Coles said...

I'm interested in a lot of the social media photos elements from a much more personal perspective.

I have a young daughter. I am concerned about how my own use of personally identifying images may be used in either identity theft and/or to inappropriately access her.

As a result, my 'personal' internet usage makes use of a non-identifying avatar and nick; whereas my work-related use (such as this) uses no avatar and my name.

I am interested that such a blatant bias exists - and a lot of assumptions being made about why people may not have an avatar.

subquark said...

As to avatars and social media, there is value to non-photo ones. In my case, I use a red Q and that makes it pretty easy to tell a post or comment from me (via Gravatar).

I feel funny posting a real photo of myself; self-confidence issues, separation of my ego from the physical, and so on.

As to the number of contacts, there are many people that like to "collect" as many as they can. I typically do not get LinkedIn with the 300 people at my company as that does not show a great ability in networking (imo).

I have two very distinct online presences, one for elearning and one for Second Life land.

The eLearning one is judicious in it's connections (like only 25 in Twitter). The Second Life one has 1000. Both have different goals and different strategies are used since the target demographics are quite different (lol, the Second Life one even has an entry in Urban Dictionary!).

Typically, no one from my Second Life inworld connections will comment on that blog (separation of real and virtual identities), yet it was the 5th fastest growing blog for a day out of the 3.5 million WordPress blogs. Lots of traffic, but no comments.

Back to the avatar image, it too depends on the target audience. In Ning, I do use a real photo, but it's the only place.

At the end of the day, it is a personal choice and reflects that person's values.

Great provocative (in a good way) post Tony!

=D (lol, my fave avatar)

Meri said...

I love the clear stand you've taken here, Tony, and I happen to agree with you across the board.

That said, some people who are uncomfortable in this global "anonymous intimacy" we're swimming in would rather protect their personal identity. And I understand this. Sort of.

Marcia Conner just published a very thoughtful piece in Fast Company ( about how social media opens up new ways for us to bring our whole selves to work and to learn at all levels. It really turned a light bulb on for me yesterday about personal identity and online personal photos.

My archaic ideas about "personal identity" get a daily whipping in Twitter. For me, that's one of the most addictive things about Twitter. As Marcia points out, in Twitter we get to witness the "non-task" tangents of people's minds as well as their task-focused insights and reports.
The fact that we can do this in Twitter sets up a rich context for how we make sense of what we're learning from others there. That's a tremendous value to me, personally.

But, just like in F2F relating, for me to grant someone credibility, I expect them to post and "speak from" a visual image. I'm still just a smart monkey, after all, and I need a FACE to relate to.

So, for instance, when someone I've never met in person follows me in Twitter (99%). I check out their tweetstream. If they're recently in conversations that relate to things I'm learning, BUT they haven't posted some kind of FACIAL image I can relate to, I give them a shout out and ask for a FACE to relate to. If I don't get one, I don't follow them back.

Simplistic? Maybe. But I want a facial image to help me "tag" a total stranger's stream of thought. When people hide behind icons - even brand icons - I just don't trust them as much... or listen as carefully to what they're saying...

And, I'm not selling my point of view here, just reporting it.

Anyone else feel like this?

Kevin Bruny (row4it) said...

Tony, I concur with your thinking although I think you got more from this post than you initially anticipated.

I've taken a both/and approach with a "real" facial pic for my LinkedIn account that I believe is for professional purposes and is the major link back to some of my other SN links. For Twitter, I've use a non-facial hobby oriented pic that tells a bit more about me but provides access back to my LinkedIn profile.

I prefer to see and know for whom I'm networking and appreciate a real photo. While I hear the bias argument, I guess it comes down to perference and what one expects of others and yourself.

Great discussion item here and one I've enjoyed reading and contemplating. Thanks.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe e Tony!

Last or nearly last again - I think I passed on an opinion about this sort of thing to you before - that the photo really does convey a feeling of contact. I use it on all my (printed) letters to students at TCS.

Some research done a few years back now suggested that web pictures had a better impact if the eyes of the face were not staring directly at the camera. It was said that young students preferred averted vision. I have never been able to substantiate any proof of this in my own experience.

Some others reported that a picture showing participation in some activity was better. Certainly the action, if it's a good shot tends to convey a more engaging stance than a full frontal.

Again, I've never found any confirmation of this in my experience.

Interesting what you say of stylized pictures not conveying a seriousness of intent. I suspect that this is a measure of conservativeness in business. It certainly doesn't get that regard in education, at least, not with students.

Catchya later