by C.G. Lynch

What Does Your Social Networking Profile Picture Say About You?

Jun 17, 20094 mins

How you portray yourself on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn matters.

Some people go for the vacation picture. Others select the hipster, I’m too cool to look straight at the camera shot. Then there’s the partier. The artist. The bar rat. The marathon runner. The hiker. The Steve Jobs-esque man-in-black. The boring (but safe) all-business headshot. Like it or not, your social networking profile picture says something about you.

Like me, you’re probably guilty of some of the aformentioned poses, in the past or present, on your various social networking site profiles. As our Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn contact lists swell with a mix of friends, family, colleagues and customers, the profile pictures that we choose for each service will be judged by each group accordingly. The decision of which picture to use can be as much philosophical as it is professional.

Truth is, this photo may be used by people whom you don’t know very well as they try to size you up – personally or professionally. So it matters. It’s no wonder, then, that you want to look good – but perhaps, not too good. And definitely not like you’re trying hard. (Take note, glamour shot fans.)

Most career experts I’ve spoken to say a good, professional headshot works best, and if I worked in career consulting, I’d say that’s safe advice.

But I do feel that social networks enable us to share more than just the our work projects; social networks allow us to know each other on a more personal level (which is good for business in my opinion). So I say even if you want to play it safe on LinkedIn, you should be yourself on Twitter and Facebook.

That said, I do think some profile pictures are big offenders. I’d love to hear what you think are the worst social networking picture choices as well (comment below).

Here’s the ones that stick out for me:

The No Look at the Camera Shot


I’m guilty here. Because I have a bit of a goofy smile, it’s tempting to go with this shot. Maybe you used the one that your buddy took when you weren’t paying attention.

Although, since these pictures have become so pervasive across Facebook and Twitter, my guess is that you knew your picture was being taken and you intentionally weren’t looking, which, at best, makes you a bit of poser, and, at worst, fairly vain.

The Swimsuit Shot

Unless you’re a supermodel who just launched your Twitter account, that picture of you emerging from the Pacific and walking up a sandy beach doesn’t do anything for most of your social networking followers.

Well, to be fair, maybe you don’t need to be a supermodel to have some people appreciate it, but in general, this can’t be good for business. To me, this picture screams insecurity. It’s like the dudes who shower and spike their hair before they go the gym to lift weights; yeah, guys, we’re all really impressed.

The Guy with a Baseball Cap

Guilty here as well, but I have now realized the error of my ways. First of all, it could appear that you’re trying to hide your hair (or lack of it). If the brim is tucked low, you’re hiding your face.

The reality is, people respond to confident-looking pics. It doesn’t matter if you’re bald, or if you have stunning (or not so stunning) facial features. Don’t hide behind your cap. Be you.

The Glory Days Pic

I’m sometimes shocked when I meet someone if my whole image of the person was based on a social networking profile pic. We all age. Wrinkles and fat happen. Just own it. By all means, choose a picture that you find flattering, but live in the present, not in the past.

All-Business Pic

That’s great if you want to play it safe and go with the business profile pic – maybe with the same backdrop used for Elementary School photos, but many people may think you’re playing it too safe. A professional headshot works fine for LinkedIn, but as forTwitter and Facebook, I say lighten up!

And did I mention how much I hate those not-looking-at-the-camera pics? The only thing that could be worse is one with a New York Yankees cap.

C.G. Lynch covers social technologies for CIO. You can follow him on Twitter: @cglynch