Public Relations and Marketing are complicated areas, and they take a lot of work to do correctly. There are some simple things that take almost no effort at all, however, and go a long way to presenting you, as an individual, in a positive and professional manner.
I’m going to talk about just one of those things–something so simple, and yet so influential, that it’s difficult to understand why so many people fail to do it correctly.
Your Profile Picture
Your profile picture (or avatar) is the first thing that people see of you on social media such as LinkedIn, and it’s the aspect of you they see the most. It forms both the first impression and a lasting impression. It greatly benefits you to get it right–or at least not get it wrong.
There are three aspects to getting a good profile photo: Focus, tone, and clarity. How you approach each of these says something about you as both a person and a business person.
On LinkedIn, your avatar is 80 pixels by 80 pixels. My laptop monitor is 1920×1080 pixels. That’s 2,073,600 pixels. Of which your avatar is 6,400–or 0.3% of the screen. That’s tiny. So you need to be selective with your focus. If you’re showing a photo of yourself, it should be a head-shot. If you’re showing a logo, it should be the simplest version you have. I’ll stick with avatars of people, however, as that’s where the most mistakes are made.
As humans, we take the majority of our visual clues from faces. It’s how our brains are wired. Expressions tell us what people are thinking and feeling. Several studies have been done showing that, even using only photos of faces, humans make a first impression in less than a second, and are accurate in those impressions about 80% of the time. A quick look at someone’s face won’t give you their life story with all the details, but it will give a reasonable foundation on which to start building a more comprehensive understanding–assuming you make it past that first impression.
Now that we can see your face, we start to learn about you: What kind of person are you? How do you conduct business? Are you serious or lackadaisical? Do you look like someone I’d trust my business to?
Far too often with avatars, the answer to that last question is “no”. When I see a face cropped from a snapshot taken at a party I don’t think “That’s someone with the sense of responsibility and attention to detail that I require in a business partner”. I think “There’s someone that doesn’t know how to plan, and just grabbed whatever was handy.”
You don’t need to have an old-school, stuffy and uptight photo that looks like you’re posing for an oil painting, however. Guy Kawasaki has a great avatar. It shows him relaxed and laughing and friendly. But it’s a clear, professional-looking image that shows he still takes time to get the details right. A gentleman with Lego has a very professional headshot that cuts his face in half. It says “I know exactly what I’m doing, but it’s my job to look at the world a little differently, and to have fun with it.”
That photo of you at that party? Or in your library? Or in the woods? It’s too cluttered. All that stuff in the background that you think is telling a story about who you are… can’t be identified at 80×80 pixels. It just becomes noise–noise in which your face gets lost. I can’t get a good impression of you if I can’t see you.
Getting it Right
Making a good impression with your avatar needn’t be difficult, time consuming, or expensive.
You can, of course, hire a professional photographer to take some high-quality headshots that you’ll be able to use not only for 80×80 avatars, but on your company website, and in print media. There are also a lot of very good amateur and student photographers who would be happy to earn a few extra dollars (and add to their portfolios). Additionally, amateur photographers often have much more open licensing terms–or may sell the rights entirely. Perhaps you might hire a photographer to come to your company and have a “photo day” for all the staff. It can include traditional posed headshots as well as fun alternatives that show off more of your personal and corporate personality.
An even simpler solution is probably on your desk right now. Or in your pocket. Today’s mobile phones have great cameras that can take a very good photo. Find an area of the office that has simple backgrounds and good natural lighting (it’s best if the light isn’t shining directly on you). Stand a few feet away from the backdrop (it makes for a better focus and eliminates distracting shadows), and have a friend or co-worker snap a couple photos. Relax and be yourself. Have a little fun if it fits with your corporate culture.
Just remember: You have 1 second, and 6400 pixels to tell the world who you are. Make the most of it.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on 2016-10-12, but was lost during the move to a new host. It has been reposted from backups, with new images.