When people first "meet" you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or another social network, they can't hear your voice, see your facial expressions, or get a sense of your personal energy.
What they can do is take a look at your profile picture.
Remember when mama said you never get a second chance to make a first impression? Well, she was right—even more so in the virtual world of Web 2.0, where most interactions are composed of images and words.
(Just to clarify, I'm talking about your personal profile picture, not the image you use for your business pages on Facebook or LinkedIn. The image that represents you as an individual.)
Do a Google image search for "bad profile pic" and you'll find your share of doozies. Not such a big deal if you're in high school, but if you're a grown-up business owner, the wrong shot could be shooting down business opportunities ... yes, even if you only use your personal profile to interact with friends and family. (Prospective clients do their research, hon, and they'll see that pic whether they've friended you or not).
So what makes for a sucky profile picture?
1. You don't have one.
You need to have a profile picture. Period. Not having one is the Web 2.0 equivaent of not having a business card: it sends the message that you just don't take your professional image seriously.
2. You have a Glamour Shot.
This is the Web 2.0, not America's Next Top Model. Skip the posed, soft-focus, over-coiffed, made-over, Photoshopped-within-an-inch-of-its-life cover girl pic if you don't want to come across as vain, self-absorbed or, yes, laughably silly.
3. It's from your last vacation.
I once knew a marketing manager whose LinkedIn (yes, Linked-freakin'-In
) profile pic was a soft-focus shot of herself on the beach at sunset, hair blowing in the breeze.
Now, put yourself in the position of a prospective client who came across a photo like this. What impression might it give you of a business owner? What does it say about how they do business or why clients use their services? The answer is: nothing. So unless the top criteria on your latest RFP is "takes vacations," you're likely to be unimpressed.
4. It was taken at a pub crawl, beer bash, or tequila-shot marathon.
If you weren't sober when it was taken, it shouldn't be out there at all, least of all on your profile.
5. You snapped it in your bathroom mirror.
Really? ... Really?
OK, I think we've got the "don'ts" pretty well covered, so let's move on to ...
What makes for a good profile picture?
1. It's professional-looking.
Now, I know what you're thinking: "But I can't afford a professional photographer." That's OK, because there are plenty of other options available.
- Ask a friend. Know any avid amateur photographers? Ask him or her to take a few profile-worthy shots of you in exchange for a restaurant dinner or some other perk.
- Hire a student. If a local college or university has a fine arts program, call the photography department and find out if any of their students do freelance work. You'll still need to shell out some money, but it won't be nearly as much as a pro would charge. (Or you could offer use of your laundry room once a week ...)
- Do it yourself ... with help. Take a good, well-lit photo of yourself against a neutral background and find someone who can clean it up in Photoshop. We're not talking major surgery here, just removing odd shadows and making a few other tweaks so that your pic is a good, realistic representation of you. (And if you don't know any Photoshop jocks, hit the Web. I just did a search on Fiverr.com for "photoshop" and came up with tons of hits from people willing to Photoshop pics for $5 each.)
2. It's compelling.
So I just got done laying down the law with regard to party and vacation pics, which might leave you asking, "Does it have to be boring?"
Absolutely not! Feel free to have fun in a way that's relevant to your business. For example, for my profile shots, I had several taken with "Ollie the Twitter bird," and clients love it. Just remember that there can be a fine line between professional whimsy and outright ridiculousness ... and your best bet is to err on the side of caution.
3. It shows you in your element.
When taking your profile pic, wear what you would wear when you work with customers. If you own an auto shop or a bakery, no one's going to expect to see you in a coat and tie ... just like we wouldn't expect to see an attorney or CPA dressed for the golf course.
And feel free to have fun with props that represent the tools of your trade, like I did with the Twitter bird. People will remember it ... and you.
4. It's friendly.
Smile. Some folks are afraid of being perceived as less-than-serious about business if they do, but that's just not true. A smile tells prospective customers that you're open, friendly, and ready to help them with your services.
So, ready to get out there and make your profile pic the best it can be? If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up on Facebook or Twitter and I'll be happy to help.
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