The unwritten rule

There have always been recommended guidelines about profile images on social media accounts, especially LinkedIn. I coached clients going back to 2009 to follow these same basic guidelines.

This list is from a Business Insider article published more than 5 years ago:

  1. Always use a photo.
  2. Use a recent photo of yourself.
  3. You should be the only subject in the photo.
  4. Your face should be in focus.
  5. Wear appropriate professional or business casual attire.
  6. Keep your head straight and upright.
  7. Use a pleasant facial expression.
  8. Don’t use your company’s product or logo as a photo.

Other lists have included:

  1. Your profile picture should visually fit your industry. (LinkedIn, 2015)
  2. Make sure your face takes up at least 60% of the frame. (LinkedIn, 2014)
  3. Dress for success. (Forbes, 2018)
  4. Consider hiring a pro (PicMonkey, 2017)

These are all great points. For most people, following these guidelines is still what I would recommend.

So why did I use an image which clearly ignores them?

Aside from the fact that I am not ‘most people’, there is something missing from the above lists. It’s missing from almost every list I have seen – Be yourself.

When I attend networking groups, I am usually in blue jeans and a hoodie or a T-shirt. At the last 2 conferences I attended, that was how I dressed, along with my Outdoor Research hat – the one I wear kayaking. When I spoke at WordCamp Seattle in 2018 (Connecting the Dots: The Relationship Between WordPress, Social Media, & SEO, Why Gutenberg and Its Impact on SEO), I was wearing that hat.

I made a simple decision that my profile image should reflect who I am. It is the only way I can truly be authentic and genuine. Social media marketing is what I do. It is not who I am. I am a writer, a kayaker and an adventure seeker.

The professional headshots I have used over the past decade+ simply do not fit.

So, I ditched my outdated professional headshot

I did so in favor of one where I am sitting on the back deck of a kayak. I get it could cost me business, that I am not professional enough. That’s fine. Those are not my clients.

The reverse is true as well. While the new image may have cost me opportunities, it has generated a few connections thanks to the kayaking element. It has sparked a few conversations as well. While none of these have been business-related, that is fine with me.

Some of my best, longest lasting business relationships grew out of personal ones. The best business ones have become personal.

Long-term sustainable, viable business is built on relationships.

And relationships start with a connection. They have to be cultivated, nurtured, and grown – naturally and organically. The best way for me to do that is to be myself, be approachable, and be social. I chose to start with my profile image.

A few caveats

The image I chose to use isn’t a great photo. I am not referring to not seeing my face or that the kayak is part of the focus. It isn’t great from a technical standpoint. In time it will be replaced by a higher resolution image (when I find one I like). Image quality still matters.

I am being consistent. Brand consistency matters, This applies to your personal brand too. My profile image is the same one on each of my social profiles, my Slack profile, and any other online profile I create (I keep a handy-dandy list to make sure I get them all changed).

Should you ditch your professional headshot?

That is your call. What I can recommend are following my guidelines:

  • Choose an image which represents you.
  • Use an image which others will recognize as you.
  • Opt for a high quality/high resolution image.
  • Keep it consistent across your profiles.

Whatever image you decide to use, I’d love your feedback: Go rogue or keep it polished and professional?