The Worst Mistakes in Choosing Your Profile Picture

All the pictures in the article are public domain, except those depicting the author. Due to the number of pictures, no attributions will appear, as allowed by sources.

Your profile picture is an important element of your online presence. It conveys messages — in any case — and can affect the willingness of others to contact you.

Your photo may allow new connections to see that you are a friendly person in flesh and bone and give your personal brand an actual identity. If you put your face on something, it means that you are not hiding. You instantly gain a hundred of trust points. Of course, you have afterward to spend them well…

But your profile picture (or the absence of it) may also keep people away, and this has nothing to do with beauty. If this is a deliberate choice, this article is not for you.

There are no rules, for your profile picture, so there are no “mistakes” in the strict sense of the word. If your profile picture is already conveying an intentional message, it’s okay, but if your picture is transmitting an unintended negative message, we can call that a mistake. And some slips are not obvious.

No picture at all

Let’s start from the absolute worst mistake (proceeding in reverse of how they do on YouTube…): No picture of yourself at all.

Why don’t I see your face there? Let’s guess. Are you too superior to these things? Have you no time for details? Do you think that image is not important? Are you not interested in connecting?

I’ll answer myself for you.

It’s not you

If your account is personal, I don’t expect to connect with your favorite pet. I prefer to see a person. I prefer to see you, especially on professional socials.

When connecting as a person, you are in the personal brand management, even if you manage the brand of a gazillion dollar company. You are always in the individual brand management first.

Your face shows that you are not afraid to connect and to show up. You, literally, put your face on what you do. Else, you are creating a barrier. You put a picture, and it may be nice, but why it’s not you? Horrible? Afraid? Insecure? Snooty? Tricky? You may have a good answer, but I don’t know it. Even if I know you in person, this may tell something of you.

If there is an actual reason for not putting your face there — writing with a pseudonym, cultural reasons, privacy, etc. — , just be sure it’s what you want.

I rarely connect with accounts with no face. You are a trustworthy consultant but your LinkedIn profile shows your “logo”? Mmm… I’m I picky? Maybe, but I’m definitely not the only one.

Little face

That place is gorgeous. But… is that small dot at the top of the pink figure your face? Just to know…

Established that I prefer to see your face, don’t make me search for that indistinguishable dot in the picture. No problem to include part of your figure or the environment, if it’s important for you. Just try zooming and getting a cut with your face more evident. The more I see your face, the better.

Who are you?

That person means something to you. You’ll tell me someday but, for the moment, you’re on the left or the right?

Your family

You have adorable children, and your partner is the best on Earth, I agree. And I know you are proud of them. Just consider that by connecting to your personal account I meant to communicate with you.

The photo with one or more of your dears it’s a definite message of the importance of your family for you. If this message is a priority for you, it’s okay, but pay attention, at least, that you are immediately identifiable among the others, even by a stranger. And don’t use that picture in case of professional socials.

Also, remember that being with other persons expose you to the risk of the “little face” and “who are you?” issues.

Bad light

Wonderful picture. I know that it’s perfectly visible on your display at 100% of brightness, but… do you mind to come here and set the brightness of mine too?

Bad quality

If the light is ok, check for other possible main issues that worsen the picture. Maybe low contrast, or poor colors.

A common mistake is a poor resolution. Full resolution is not necessary, but many platforms are now able to handle good resolutions, so it’s useless to shrink your photo to 2x2 pixels. Optimal resolutions vary, so I usually prefer to upload the same picture with an excess of resolution (at least 512x512 pixels). Performances are not compromised and, sometimes, the browser zoom may benefit from a more detailed picture.

Expression

Your expression, as in person, may influence the attitude of your contact. If you want to appear open and available, the snobbish or grumpy face won’t help. It all depends on what you want to convey. Pay attention that your new acquaintances have not already seen that you are capable of other expressions.

Hiding

Sunglasses or other elements that cover your face are not necessarily a mistake, but they are barriers, so they are risky elements. Carefully consider their necessity and the effect on strangers, especially on professional socials.

Not you

Sometimes you play a role, and that character is not you. Or your picture is not representative. Or it was you, but twenty years ago.

If you put your dress suit on once a year, leave it out of your photo. If you grew up, update your picture. Getting the confidence and then disappointing does not help relationships.

Not the right you

You may have two or more different identities. Of course, in that case, you can (should) have different profiles for separate identities, more or less appropriate for the intended community. It seems obvious, but sometimes we are fond of a photo and see it with biased eyes. Getting an opinion could help.

Mona Lisa

The profile picture is not a matter of perfection. It’s aimed at connecting. And I usually prefer to connect with an actual and accessible person, rather than a wonderful alien.

Too much creativity

You may prefer to enhance your photo in a creative way.

You’re welcome! It adds a personal and pleasant touch. Just pay attention that it conveys the intended message. If possible, try to leave your face recognizable.

Lack of consistency across platforms

Your picture is part of your brand. Being recognized may take years. Having a different picture on each social may not be of help in identifying you among many other faces. Especially if you are promoting your image, consistency is a crucial element.

If you want multiple separate identities, try to use the same photo for the same identity across platforms. For example, choose a single picture for all of your professional profiles and another single picture for all of your private accounts.

Frequent updates

On some apps, like WhatsApp, frequent updates of the profile picture may be welcomed, because they are not used to discover contacts. They are usually used to communicate, maybe frequently, with our contacts.

But in other places, that you use for online networking — especially if building a personal brand is critical for you — , it’s preferable to change your photo rarely. Each time you change your photo you break the chain of your recognizability. If you do it, do it in all the places where you used that picture.


Of course, there are other possible mistakes. But I think I’ve already pissed enough friends…

What if you don’t like any of your photos or are afraid of other mistakes? Relax! I’m sure they will appreciate!