The 5 Things KILLING Your Profile Photo’s First Impression… and the Action You Can Take to Change it
Ah… January. The dawn of a new year. A time where we collectively raise our spirits… elated to have a time-honored fresh start… thrilled to see the end of whatever woes the last year brought us… and ready to exclaim our hopes for the good we want the future to bring.
For the business-minded, January is branding season! We fill our list of intentions with new ideas, new scripts, new ways to show others who we are. After all, who we are is an important message to communicate. And nothing delivers that message quite like a profile photo.
Whether you think of it as an obligatory headshot, or you place greater value in your visual messaging and call it "personal branding", our profile image can often be a more impactful selling point than our actual product or service. Studies show that it only takes 100 milliseconds to form an impression of someone from just looking at a photo of their face.* Amy Cuddy, Harvard social psychologist, explains the behind-the-scenes of this immediate reaction:
When we form a first impression of another person, it's not really a single impression. We're really forming two. We're judging how warm and trustworthy the person is, and that’s trying to answer the question, “What are this person's intentions toward me?” And we're also asking ourselves, “How strong and competent is this person?” That's really about whether or not they're capable of enacting their intentions.**
That's our brains going into high gear, in less time than it takes to blink, deciding if we feel connected, safe, and in good hands to find out more about what someone else is offering.
If you don't think that this information is important, think again. If you're someone looking to be hired, promoted or simply taken seriously, you're definitively cutting yourself off from sales and opportunity if your profile photo is anything close to the following:
No Profile Photo / The Grey Box What it says: You lack presence in your own space. You're literally not showing up for anyone who wants to get to know you. This is probably the most egregious of the profile image sins.
The Cat/Dog/Kid Replacement What it says: You're hiding. You're thinking, This will distract anyone viewing my page to think that since I put something sweet and fuzzy in this space, it must be a sign of how much I'll care about them. Wrong answer. Your beloved family pets are perfectly fine for your personal page, but voyeurs to your professional spaces are smart – and they're looking for YOU as a connection. As bright-eyed and dewy as your 5-month-old is, you're unknowingly using someone else's face to thwart interest in you and your service.
The Selfie What it says: You're getting there, but at some point, you're going to have to spend some time "leveling up" your branding, resources, and professionalism. The key word here is some time. Make the change quick – because the selfie scenario is delicate territory. While it's a relief to actually see YOU in the profile space, the QUALITY of selfies are more often than not in danger of being a complete miss. Is the lighting too dark? Are you too close up? Are you too far away? Is the background distracting? Is your focus blurry? Are your extended arms visible? Is that your bathroom mirror?! Or worst of all… are you really able to provide quality service?
The Old Photo that Doesn't Look Like You Anymore What it says: You're stuck in the past and you're going to have a hard time convincing anyone else that you are comfortable being a present and forward thinker. Honesty is the only remedy here. We can forgive a change of hair style or making us do a double-take because you're wearing your reading glasses before a coffee meeting, but if you're defiant against the concept of aging, and you're still using the same photo you had a couple of presidents ago, that means truth, adaptation, and ownership are difficult areas of growth for you, and likewise they're going to be difficult areas for your clients or employers to trust you with.
The Cropped Group Photo What it says: You're lazy. None of your clients or employers are connecting with the possible viewpoint that you're using this photo because you really like it and it's the best photo you have of yourself. The message you're sending is that you couldn't make time in your schedule to single yourself out as a valuable individual, so you grabbed the closest thing you could find that was available and convenient. Wow, what a confident, fresh, focused, personalized experience it must be to work with you.
These are the cruel realities of subliminal messaging. Now that you've been made aware of both the level of impact your profile images make and the scenarios that do far more harm than good, it's time to take a close look at your own headshot currently in use and fess up if you're guilty of any of the crimes listed. Our world is saturated with advertising… and remarkably, this fact has returned to us the wonderful, more instinctive gift of craving personal connection with the people we "buy" from. There is no shame in learning the faux pas that are instead turning people away – the key now is to do something about it.
What you can do TODAY: You guessed it – find a photographer. And not just any photographer… you want someone who specializes in personal branding portraits. Someone who knows faces and how to light them properly. Cousin Johnny with a camera who likes turning his landscape photography into artsy black & whites for holiday gifts does not translate into a skilled professional who will engage you as needed and bring out the most approachable, honest and vibrant YOU.
Remember, your most important role in a pool of others is establishing strong presence and giving prospects a reason to trust you. That begins with your profile photo.
*Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions: Making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science, 17, 592–598.
**Cuddy, Amy. “First Impressions: The Science of Meeting People” Wired, 20 Nov. 2012, www.wired.com/2012/11/amy-cuddy-first-impressions/.