social media profile picture, headshots for linkedin, online pictureA social media profile picture is much more important than many people tend to assume. I think it’s easy to take an online picture for granted, treating it as more of an identification photo than anything else. The truth is that your online picture is a crucial part of the first impression people develop when they first encounter your online presence. This point alone illustrates the difference between snapshots for Facebook and professional headshots for LinkedIn.

We spend extra time to look good before meeting an important client, doing a speaking engagement or any other personal encounter we might have with business connections. Do we spend enough time getting the online picture that will represent us when we are not present? In this article, I’ll explain three important things that make a great social media profile picture.

1 – Quality

Step up the game on your social media profile picture

The first thing is that your profile photo should be of high quality. Most experts would agree that your profile picture is the most critical part of you profile. The photo will usually be the first thing most people are drawn to, so it should be impactful. A low-quality photo will be the beginning of a negative first impression. Low quality photos will often show as blurry, have jagged edges or bad color. Bad color will often show most obviously in the skin tones. The picture must look natural and should be eye catching. There are a few important elements to understand about the quality of your social media profile picture.

What did your camera do?

Of course, it took a picture when you clicked the shutter button. Most of today’s cameras are advanced computers that make decisions for us about light, color and focus. This could be anything from the cell phone in your pocket to professional cameras costing thousands of dollars. No matter how expensive the camera, they all have one important thing in common; they are not perfect. Auto color (white balance), auto focus and auto exposure (response to lighting) cannot be right all the time. Nor can these functions replace creativity. I’ll cover more on this subject in a future article.

When the camera makes wrong decisions

When the camera is wrong, it can have a big impact the quality of the image. The camera responds to the ‘color’ of light in the scene you are photographing. If your camera does not make decisions correctly, you might see skin tones that are yellow or orange.  The camera might also be wrong about light if it uses the wrong part of the image for exposure. You ultimately want the camera to expose properly for the person’s face, not the background or other elements. Bad exposure can result in a face that is darker than it should be. This would prevent the subject of the picture from ‘popping out’ as the main draw for your attention.

Beyond the camera

There are other things beyond the control of the camera that need to be taken care of after the picture is taken. These are things often addressed by a professional in retouch:

  • Redness of the skin
  • Facial blemishes
  • Whitening of the teeth
  • Stray hairs

Here is an example: The image on the left is straight out of the camera, while the image to the right has been retouched.

social media profile picture, headshots for linkedin, online picture

Image pulled straight from the camera

social media profile picture, headshots for linkedin, online picture

Retouched image

As you can see from the image on the left, even images taken from a professional camera may need some level of color correction. The image on the right is the retouched version of the image. That image has had basic color correction. It has also had retouch including stray hair removal, softening of parts of the skin and whitening of the eyes. It has also had an adjustment to reduce redness in the skin. Retouch is an important process to show the subject at their best. This is a special skill that even the most advanced cameras cannot provide.

What can you do?

In general, the less you rely on automatic functions, the more control you have over the picture being taken. After decades of development on camera intelligence, it still can’t make reasonable choices that fit the intent of the picture. The trick to using camera automation is to use it for it strengths or turn it off.
Given the importance of your online profile picture, it is advisable to consult a professional. A professional will work with you to set and achieve important goals for your portraits. While a casual online picture will work Facebook and other social profiles, it is always better to use professional headshots for LinkedIn.

2 – Personal Brand

Make sure that your online picture properly represents you

Second, your photo should reflect your personal brand, serving as a warm and welcome introduction to who you are. This is most important on professional social sites like LinkedIn. Good headshots for LinkedIn are made from a thoughtful examination of the elements that make up your personal brand. These are things that you want people to see in your photo as it starts to make that first impression. Important elements of that first impression might be confidence, trustworthiness, approachability or being entertaining. There are a multitude of adjectives that might describe you to others.  A good photographer will discuss these elements with you and reflect these in your social media profile picture.

Common problems with social media profile pictures

Body language

When I meet with my clients for a consultation, I ask them to bring portraits they are already using. I like to discuss what is working for them and what is not. One of the most common problems I identify with my clients is body language. Some of my clients can tell me exactly why their social media profile picture is not working well for them. Others know the picture bothers them, but cannot tell me exactly why. These clients are surprised when I talk about small body language issues that can be corrected to make the image better.

Re-purposed pictures

It is quite common for a social media profile picture to chosen from something that already exists. The problem with this on a professional site like LinkedIn is that it probably does not reflect your personal brand properly.

What can you do?

On a professional site like LinkedIn, your online picture should be something taken with a specific set of goals. Consider hiring a professional to take headshots for LinkedIn or any other professional site. A professional should be able to create a portrait that will represent you best in the professional world.

3 – Match your profession and your clients

Use an online picture that will match your profession and target audience

social media profile picture, headshots for linkedin, online pictureThird is that your social media profile picture should fit your profession and the people with whom you do business. I often recommend to my clients that they should have two styles of portraits in their online presence. If you’re an attorney or a CPA, the photo will typically be a traditional suit and tie portrait. However, this should not be the only portrait you use. Sometimes adding a slightly more casual portrait in other parts of your online presence can show an approachability. That casual portrait can be as simple as taking off the jacket and tie and changing the pose. There are many ways to stay within the bounds of professionalism, yet still creatively communicate what sets you apart.

social media profile picture, headshots for linkedin, online pictureYour social media profile picture should also represent you in the way people will see you in a business setting. If you are a chiropractor, chances are slim that people will see you in a suit on a regular basis. Based on the clients you work with, having a suit and tie portrait in your profile might be important. If your clients will more often see you in a doctor’s coat, then you should use that attire in your online profiles. This coupled with a formal or semi-casual portrait can tell people what to expect when they meet you in person. Consult a professional photographer to take headshots for LinkedIn. A professional can provide the best guidance for you and your business.