Whether trying to convey professional credibility through a LinkedIn profile, or desirability as a mate through an online dating site, a stalwart anchor serves the purpose like no other: The Profile Picture.
Profile Pic as Personal Logo
As we craft our online presence, we’re increasingly commoditizing & productizing our digital selves. Notwithstanding possible opposition to this shifting social tide, it has become a necessity to summarize ourselves in a manner not unlike an Amazon product page; some basic demographic info (product overview & specs), an “about me” paragraph (product description & benefits), references (product reviews), and for the final touch, a profile picture (the product shot/logo):
As opposed to individuals, products & services have the benefit of being bestowed with traits, characteristics, and preconceptions that are already associated with their producers’ brand identity. A company logo in particular evokes specific feelings, experiences, and opinions based on past consumer experience, or simply by virtue of the typeface, colour, and graphic element selection within.
Personal Branding, Reputation Management, and Impression Management disciplines have consequently arisen as means by which to similarly manage a desired 3rd-party perception of an individual’s “brand” characteristics. In a social networking context, the disciplines concern themselves with managing the totality of online contributions; Twitter postings, LinkedIn pages, public Facebook profile, blog content, personal referrals, testimonials, and so on. But when it comes to presenting a consistent personal image across the net, well, an image is exactly what serves as best as does a company logo – in the form of a profile picture. The picture therefore serves double-duty, as both a “product” image, and a personal logo.
Done right, a personal brand becomes indistinguishable from a corporate one, interchangeably embodying identical traits:
First Impression Management
Actively crafting a personal logo that conveys specific traits becomes especially important in a context where a first impression drawn by complete strangers directly influences a desired social outcome (such as getting a date or landing a job.)
According to noted Psychology expert Susan Kraus Whitbourne, Ph.D., first impressions are lasting impressions, so make them your best:
“Research on impression management shows that even in casual social settings, the early conclusions we reach about other people tend to be the most persistent…At times, making a positive impression can mean the difference between having a job or being unemployed, or having an active social life or being left to fend for yourself. The trick is to find the balance that works for you between playing up your best features while maintaining your own sense of integrity.”
While Dr. Whitbourne refers to the offline world, the same can apply equally well online. According to Nicole Williams, connection director for LinkedIn, a profile picture is a markedly important factor in professional networking success:
“LinkedIn research shows that a page with a profile picture is seven times as likely to be viewed as a page without one… Think of these pictures as the modern-day version of the oil paintings that estate owners once commissioned. The smallest details in them will convey volumes.”
The appetite for understanding how a picture shapes first impressions can be seen on the popular link-sharing site and discussion community, Reddit, where a recent front-page thread and a 3300-member subreddit are devoted to garnering personal picture evaluations in the absence of any other supporting information.
As the seeming profile entry-point, a picture can thus serve as a catalyst or impediment to exploration of deeper personal information.
So what does your profile picture say about you?
“This photo has become the new calling card, the first point of contact.”
- Bernie Hogan of Oxford University’s Internet Institute
If a profile picture is such an essential component of personal branding, isn’t it then in everyone’s interest to find their BEST one? The pic that conveys specific characteristics supporting a desired outcome?
“Well, yeah!!” you’re surely shouting by now. But how is it that we find our BEST profile pic? How do we know what it really says to people (especially strangers) when they make that split-second, blink-of-an-eye assessment before moving on to the next potential date or job candidate?
It’s these questions that have led me to create Waduyu.com (launching soon in Private Beta), a first impression ratings service. I’m not particularly photogenic, and like many others, it’s quite the struggle to take just the right picture that fits the appropriate online context. But ultimately, even after taking a “good” pic, I still don’t know for sure how it’ll be perceived (before it’s potentially too late.) Do I look intelligent or dim? Blue-collar or white-collar? Likeable or unlikeable? Or a slew of other characteristics I hope to convey (and the degree to which I hope to do so) in serving my purposes?
Waduyu (as in “waduyu think?”), serves to answer these questions by letting others rate pictures based on multiple user-selected social & personal criteria. Forget the one-dimensional ratings of old; we’re in a new age, where our visual representation goes beyond just influencing a simple superficial evaluation of our attractiveness. Rather, the first impression we affect is driven by the sum of many individual attributes that are observed & assessed in a mere two seconds or less.
Not to say that hot-or-not style picture rating sites don’t serve a purpose, but I think it’s time to give people more credit, evolve the approach, and help provide more insight into personal image management.