Why Profile Photos Matter — Is Yours Appropriate?

By Sree Sreenivasan on April 12, 2010 4:05pm | Updated on April 12, 2010 3:56pm

Examples of profile photos, from Twitter for Busy People.
Examples of profile photos, from Twitter for Busy People.
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By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Editor

Got a good profile photo? You'd better, because never before has so much been determined by a photo the size of your thumbnail. 

The rise of social media has meant that the photos users put on various social networking sites have become an important part of their personal brands, and are a critical part of how others engage with them. 

For a couple of years now, I've been telling my students and journalism pros that those photos will affect people's perceptions of you - especially because they are most likely to see you first in that format.

A study last week by the folks at Hubspot, who make the invaluable Twitter.Grader.com tool, found that of 9 million Twitter accounts they studied, those with profile photos had 10 times the followers compared to those who did not.

And a site I use every day, Twitter For Busy People — T4BP.com — relies entirely on profile photos as a way to access your Twitter feed. You can instantly see who has updated their feed in the last hour or last day and then you click on the photos to read the postings. You are, naturally, going to click on the profile photos you recognize, and largely ignore the rest. The site even has a quiz to see how well you know your Twitter friends based on their profile photos

But it's not just Twitter. Facebook, LinkedIn and dozens of other sites, including online dating ones, are built around profile photos. In an age when you have to introduce, and even re-introduce, yourself to people via the Web, you have to give people a reason not to ignore you. And having a goofy or unclear or confusing profile photo is a way to guarantee you'll be ignored.

I know recruiters who rely on LinkedIn profile photos to look up someone they interviewed in person. If you don't look the same online as you did in person, you lessen your chances of reinforcing that good impression you made.

All this applies now to journalism as well. Many news sites (and even some newspapers) already use profile photos to help reinforce a reporter's byline. In fact, I see a day when every piece of journalism will have a profile photo. 

At DNAinfo.com, one of the first things we did was create a way for profile photos to show up on every story. For a brand-new site built around the idea of community reporting and connecting with neighborhoods, having our multimedia reporter-producers be recognizable and, of course, accountable, is absolutely critical.

Our profile photos, collected on our About Us page — were shot by one of our professional photojournalists, Josh Williams — and you can see the difference in quality between the images he created and those you see on your daily travels through cyberspace.

My formula for a good profile photo:

• clear, recent close-up shot of your face

• no shots of you with a celebrity, a national monument, pet or child

• no wide-shot of you at a landmark 

• no hats, wigs or sunglasses

• no tinting your photo (or putting a digital ribbon on it) in support of the cause du jour

You can see many of these guidelines being violated in this classic AllFacebook.com collection of 30 Facebook profile photo styles

Once you have a photo you like, use it on multiple services for consistency's sake. Now, stop reading this and go check if your profile photo needs a makeover.

ALSO SEE: Sree's DNAinfo column on personal branding

Every Monday, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan shares his observations about the changing media landscape.

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