Social Media Profile Pics – Infractions To Avoid

By Jim Jarrell

Early this year, MarketingProfs ran a great article by William Arruda on personal branding trends for 2012.[1] Among the many trends noted by Mr. Arruda in his article was the importance of having a clean, professional-looking headshot that properly represents your “personal brand” and doesn’t reek of bad taste.

Since I considered this point a very valid one, I took to the streets of social media – in other words, the profile pages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, among others – to see how many people who put themselves out there in social media are actually adhering to this basic tenet of personal branding. What I found, unfortunately, is that a majority of those 1+ million who join social media networks weekly are not heeding this suggestion [cue the Revelation music here].

What is that you say? You hate how you look in photos? Welcome to the club, my brothers and sisters…and trust me, nobody is playing that tiny violin to underscore your misery. But fear not! Anyone – even me — can look great, especially in the micro-real estate that is the social media “profile pic.”

It all boils down to choosing an appropriate photo. Before the chorus of “Duh!” deafens me, let me assure you that – apparently – this concept is easier said than done.  After carefully combing through several hundred social media photos (offered via the page that says “People You Might Know” on Facebook and “People I May Know” on LinkedIn), the following is a fairly comprehensive list of some of the most heinous infractions when it comes to selecting an appropriate profile picture.

[Insert disclaimer here: Names omitted to protect the guilty from further embarrassment—but you may know who you are based on the descriptions]

• Just straight-up blurry. Hello, I’m Digital Photography 101. How have we not met before?

• Terrible lighting. Are you the Dark Knight rising? I can barely make you out from all those shadows.

• The “Sears Portrait Studio” background.   Ummm, your 1987 yearbook called and they want their background back.

• Random or odd background images. Ok buddy, NICE shot of the waiter behind you carrying a wine bottle under his arm. You are such, like, a restaurateur.

• Classic (or Creepy, as the case may be) Social Media Profile Pics – Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4

  1. Part 1: “I’m just way too happy right now!”  Party on, Wayne and Garth, but this is 2012!  As awesome as you look wearing a lei (and a mullet), you are only succeeding in creating a visual cacophony that is illegal in 25 states (or at least it should be).
  2. “Look at my irresistible baby (or pet)!”  As adorable as your perfectly pink newborn baby may be (so newborn, in fact, that their eyes barely open and we can still make out “Newborn” embroidered on the onesie), I came to your page to learn about you.
  3. “Check me out in my low-rent apartment, as evidenced by the microwave oven, IKEA kitchen cabinets, and unclean plates on the counter in the background.”  Dude, even if you’re a “lowly marketing professional,” you should probably tidy up in the kitchen—unless you plan to market a cleaning service.
  4. “How cute am I with my significant other in a tight embrace!” Because, you know, the first thing I want to know about a “collection litigation attorney” is that she is openly uninhibited about public displays of affection.

• The boozy “I had six too many bourbon shots” smile. Really? Of all the possible looks you can show us, you want your future client to have this first impression of you?

• The “Shepard Fairey[2] was here.” Ah, the Obama 2008-style stencil portrait. I’m sorry, but does this even need a snarky comment?

• Full-body action pic. Jon Krakauer[3] gets to do this, but you, my friend, are a “collection attorney.” So that 80×80 pixel image size of you posing on a big rock while on a break from hiking in the Northern Rockies isn’t exactly inspiring confidence in your risk-taking judgment.

• “But I LOVE this photo of me…” You love it, even though your head is right next to someone else’s, the ear and left of eye of which we can still see because you clearly missed that day in school when they explained what “cropping” meant.

• The white-polo-and-oversized gut combo. “I’m standing in my white polo shirt holding my somewhat oversized gut with my left hand.”  I’m no stranger to the protruding gut (although I got rid of mine over the past year), but I’m gonna go out on this limb and suggest that you opt instead for a friendly CLOSE-UP of your face.

• “Side shot of me working the phone, baby!” And a corded phone no less, because you’re old-school landline-ing it, son, with your pen in hand filling out that big contract you just got a verbal on.  Wow, no way! You use a phone and a pen in your cubicle? So do I!

• Mediocre black and white.  Ok, so black and white can really work—if done correctly. However, if your B&W was taken by your 1-megapixel camera circa 2006, then you’re not achieving the desired effect, and you’re offending those of us who got it right.

• “I’m all business and think that smiling is a sign of weakness.”  Lighten up, Dwight Schrute[4]. Even CEOs at Fortune 500 companies can show humanity, and at least a couple of teeth.

• The “I’m important” shot. “Check me out! I’m an in-demand corporate executive who speaks at conferences, as you can see from the event sign behind me and the microphone and podium in front of me.”  When I see that, I think one thing: “What a tool!”

• The group photo. “Here I am, Account Director, along with three other people all scrunched up into this tiny photo! Oh, and to make it even more awesome, see how the outdoor sunlight is BEHIND us rendering all attempts at identifying any facial features completely impossible?”  This combination of photo faux pas immediately triggers in me a strong reaction: gladness. I’m glad you put your name on your profile so I can tell who you are, because the photo isn’t helping!

• MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE FAIL. The photo that shouts, “Seriously, world, look at just how strikingly beautiful I am in this over-the-top Glamour Shot!”  Congratulations, Barbie, you’ve just turned every male viewer of your profile pic into Joey Tribbiani[5], and every female viewer into, well, let’s not go there.

I’ll admit that, like most of you (probably), I’d rather sit still for a professional photo session than I would lie down in front of a herd of stampeding hippopotami but the finished product is exactly the kind of shot you should be posting up on your social media networking sites.  Don’t let me catch you breaking the personal branding tenet again…I won’t be so nice about protecting the guilty next time.

Jim Jarrell is a Business & Corporate Development Representative with Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., LPA. He can be reached at 216.685.1144 and



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