Thursday, 7 May 2009

Profile Photos

I received a response that I didn't expect on my post Profile Photo.

In that post, I suggested that you should always add a profile photo:

Don't join that new Ning group without attaching your photo. Add it to your Elluminate and WebEx profiles.

Because profile photos help me:

  • Believe that you are a real person and begin to connect with you.
  • Remember you.
  • Believe you are serious.

I also suggested that for business networking:

  • Don't use anything other that photorealistic photos.
  • Have a reasonably complete LinkedIn profile.

The comments I received basically told me that I'm making unfair, snap judgments and I'm showing my bias. And I want to thank everyone who commented and who called me on that bias.

You are quite right that I'm biased. But let's set the context here –

  • I don't already know you or your name.
  • I'm running into you on a business networking site.
  • All I have is often your Photo, Name and sometimes a Company and Title.
  • I have limited time.
  • My goals are generally directed learning goals or maybe I'm thinking about issues with my business or my clients.
  • I need to quickly decide if I'm going to spend time with you and/or your content. Will this be a smart use of time?

That sounds horrible. I'm going to use that little bit of information to decide if I will go look you up on LinkedIn, or send you a message about something, or otherwise interact. But that's the reality of what happens.

And profile photos are part of the picture.

This is not new. It's happened for years at business mixers. People need to control their time as part of in-person networking. They also make snap judgments at business mixers. And they have the person, their name, possibly title and company. They make quick judgments. They choose to speak to your or not.

I'm not saying this is fair or right … I'm saying this micro-decision is going on all the time and you are not likely to change it (although you've got me to think about my own bias). I think you ignore it at your peril.

Now consider the impression left by the images that I've pulled down from various business networking sites shown below. And consider that people are going to make snap judgments on whether they will spend time.

image imageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Dating and Profile Photos

Because I was involved in eHarmony at the start (see Matching Algorithm), I may be especially sensitive to this subject. eHarmony was (and is) quite different from dating sites in that the true vision was to create successful (happy and long) marriages. And they have been successful doing that. For a long time eHarmony resisted showing pictures because of the belief that this skews someone's impression of the individual, and you may choose someone other than your soul mate because of a profile photo. Users demanded a profile photo.

This is not much of a surprise. Here's what was found on Yahoo personals:

When our researchers looked at personal photo statistics, here's what they've found:

  • A profile with one personal photo receives five times as many replies as a profile without a personal photo.
  • A profile with three photos receives seven times as many replies as a profile without a personal photo.
  • A profile with five photos receives nine times as many replies as a profile without a photo.

Granted, eHarmony has a very different mission and purpose from a personals site like Yahoo, but profile photos turned out to be important there as well.

And what does this tell us – profile photos are important.

Profile Photos Other Opinions and Advice

Seth Godin tells us that profile photos are important in business as well:

If it's important enough for you to spend your time finding and connecting with new people online, it's important enough to get the first impression right.

If you use any online social network tool, the single most important first impression you make is with the 3600 to 5000 pixels you get for your tiny picture.

Seth's number 6 advice backs me up on conceptual photos/images:

6. Conceptual photos (your foot, a monkey wearing glasses) may give us insight into the real you, but perhaps you could save that insight for the second impression.

There's definitely belief in the book business (and some debate) that having the right picture is very important for book sales.

Antonia Hodgson, the editor-in-chief at the publisher Little, Brown, it’s more important than ever, “The author photo is now just the beginning of a process of getting to know the author.”

And I would claim profile photos are the starting point in building a relationship online.

A couple of other interesting links that I found on this topic:

Closing Thought

One closing thought – you may look good in a bathing suit, but you don't wear it to a business mixer. Or at least I think I would remember you if you did. Instead, you look the part. Profile photos are part of your image, your brand. Look the part.

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