Data Privacy for Business and Individuals

Looks are everything


For those that missed it, or those that like things in writing, here is the gist of my Ignite Waterloo talk.


Looks are everything. This is not likely what your mother taught you. In fact, it was probably more along the lines of “it’s what’s inside that counts”, and that’s true when you get to know someone BUT what I am talking about is your first impression. When you see a person for the first time you make all sorts of judgments based on their appearance.

Do you Google people before you meet them? I do. Even if you do not, other people love to search and they will be looking for you. What I am suggesting, is that your most important first impression is likely your online profile photo. It is attached to your social networks, your email address or anywhere you have chosen to add it. So it had better be good. Two things to note about profile photos: they are public and they are permanent. Organizations take “snapshots” of the internet and they could grab your profile at any given moment. Which means ANY past picture could still pop up on a search. Check out The Wayback Machine for just one example.

Now you may ask, if there is a risk of using the wrong photo, should you include one at all? Absolutely. Having a profile without a photo is like a resume without a cover letter, or taking a phone meeting rather than one in person. Profiles with pictures get 5-10 times more attention than those without.

Try something: Imagine that you are going somewhere where you need to make a great first impression – an interview, a first date, an audition. How do you present yourself? What do you wear? Since anyone can find your profile photo ay any time, shouldn’t your message be the same?

s03 - Facebook Faces

Here are 5 tips to guide you along.

1. Brand

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, said that your Brand is what people say about you when you have left a room. Now YOU need to decide – What is your brand: Creative? Parental? Geeky? Approachable? Edgy?

I did a search on actual Facebook profile photos. There was no shortage of profile pictures of young guys with beer and young girls in bikinis. What do you think their brand is? And how will these look if they apply one day to be kindergarten teachers and law clerks?

2. Recorded

I am repeating this because it is that important… every picture you post is recorded. It may be fun to post your Halloween shot for a week but keep in mind that it too will become a permanent part of your digital identity. It can be found even if you think you’ve removed it from the network. A good example was when Facebook posted their ‘Look Back’ videos. There was my very first Facebook profile photo from 2007, even though I had since deleted it from the account.

3. Authenticity

This has become a bit of a buzz word lately but it lends itself well here too. Ultimately it is about telling the truth of who you are. A profile photos is public so you may be able to fool one person, but eventually someone else will figure out if  you have pasted your head on another person’s body.

4. Ideal

Back to that interview or first date. What is your ideal version of yourself? What would you wear or do? Every person has many facets, and people behave differently in front of different audiences, but your profile photo extends beyond your best buddies and your relatives.

5. Neutral

You are entitled to your opinions, but make sure you are not being offensive or discriminatory in your picture. Even if it is a joke, you will offend people who do not know you and you could end up missing out on an opportunity.

Bottom Line: People will constantly judge and evaluate you. Some will even draw conclusions from the absence of a profile photo. I have been asked by teenagers if they should censor something in their profiles or pictures because someone may judge them negatively based on it. My counsel to them is to consider whether they would really want to work for, date or be friends with someone who would hold that against them.

The choice is ultimately yours. Keep in mind that anyone can see that picture at any time, now or in the future. So it is safest to portray your best first impression.

Use your BRAIN to remember the tips:

  • Brand
  • Recorded
  • Authenticity
  • Ideal
  • Neutral

and pick a picture that says what you want it to.

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