Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. (Daily Mail) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Your Social Media Avatar Could be Killing Your Business

Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. (Daily Mail) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Self-portrait of a female Celebes crested macaque (Macaca nigra) in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, who had picked up a photographer’s camera and photographed herself with it

Selfies, party-snaps, cell phone shots, vacation pics, cartoons or just pain “gnarly looking”. This pretty much sums up the bulk of the avatars you’ll see on-line today. For your Facebook page, where you are primarily sharing with family and friends, that might be fun. But for your business related accounts a quality head-shot is not just a good practice. A proper head-shot is becoming critical to the online survival of your business. Since fourth-quarter of 2013, what we do online is becoming increasingly watched and evaluated by the software that drives Google Search. Code-named “Hummingbird”, the new technology being employed evaluates what we put online – our text, videos. audio, and pictures are all being examined for its content. The software can “hear” what is said and “see” what is in a photo. What’s found in your content is then evaluated for its subject matter, type of content, and the tone of voice used. What results in the end is a quality score – essentially a “grade”. What Google is attempting to do is give the highest quality search results to its users. This scoring method effectively eliminates the keyword strategies we used to adhere to for getting good search rankings.  The new system no longer needs keywords to understand what you are talking about. It’s smart enough to get the meaning – or semantics – of your content without the use of keywords. In other-words, according to a 2013 PUBCON keynote address by Matt Cutts of Google, I can write a blog-post about photography, and even if I never use the words: photograph, photography, photographer, or photo, Google will still know what the topic is because of the words I use or who I mention that are related to the craft.  When fully activated, this system will stop looking for words that match what you are searching for, and will look only at the general meaning of your search.

Giving credit where it’s due.

Okay, I get it, right now your likely asking: “Why all this search engine stuff, I thought this was about the picture I use on-ine?”  Well – it is, and all of the search engine stuff is a just a beginning to explain why your head-shot quality is important to your business survival. Gone are the days that your head-shot was just so humans could recognize you. Google wants to make sure that any good content you create is appropriately credited to you, and someone else’s junk content is associated with them and NOT you.  According to video interview featuring Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple Consulting: part of how Google identifies your content is through facial recognition of your head-shot, and partly through other technical means – and the latter can lead to mistaken Identity. The better the headshot – the better the chances they will know it’s you while no head-shot at all could result in failure. This is not to say that your mug is the only way they know it’s you, but it ups the odds for accuracy. To keep things working smoothly, it’s recommended that you use the same avatar across all your social media accounts.

Who you are matters.

The first step in your customer’s buying cycle is to recognize they have a need. The second step is to learn how to meet that need – and preferably through doing business with you. Almost all the information gathering about a business, service or product starts on the web, and now, the great majority of it begins with a search engine. The search results delivered to the user is moving away from how well our website is optimized for keywords and towards deep dependency on what really matters to people: your reputation on the internet and what the user is actually looking for.  How you present yourself online – i.e. the good and the bad of what you post, is added or subtracted to what others are saying about you in conversation and online reviews, to generate a reputation score.  As David Amerland, author of the book Semantic Search so perfectly stated in an online broadcast via Google+:  It’s a shame that it took software to make us behave online, but that’s the truth of what is happening.
And behave you should – assuming you care about the future success of your business. Google no longer sees your business as separate from you, but rather your business AS you. Post a ton of negativity on the web and your business can suffer as a result. All things that lead to you, or anyone that Google knows for sure contributes to your business website, blog, social media, etc. may be factored into your business’ online reputation scores. And you certainly don’t want a mistaken identity tarnishing your hard-earned reputation.

It’s all about you, and it always has been.

Increasingly your personal brand will factor into your business or your employ-ability.  Prospective customers and employers are looking to social media and the web to learn about you before giving the green light to proceeding any further with you. It’s really just a matter of time before software emerges that can give the user a reasonably accurate estimate of your reputation score – along with those with whom you are competing. I estimate that soon your personal brand will carry as much weight or more than your résumé when decision time comes. If you change companies, your score goes with you, while your companies score remains with them. Your score could some day soon become a marketable benefit to hiring you.
Recognition for a company comes in the way of their logo, or a distinct appearance of their products. For you, this recognition comes in the way of your face. So in the very same way that a business keeps the same “visual identity” across all of it’s marketing, so should you. And just as well designed identity-package is important to a brand to build buyer trust, so is a well done head-shot important for your personal brand.


Presently the generally accepted suggestions are this:

  • Show your entire face, no close cropping.
  • Both eyes are clearly visible.
  • Good quality lighting – no direct sunlight and no back-lighting – soft light is great.
  • The background is simple, of low contrast and clutter free.
  • Selfies are just a bad idea if you want to elicit trust in your prospect.
  • The picture should look like you. Yes it sound crazy, but we’ve all seen avatars that look little to nothing like the person when you meet them face to face.
  • Hats, scarves, sunglasses are all strongly discouraged.
  • Logos, text and other graphics are not visible.


A good head-shot is not out of reach for the budget-minded

Some pro’s will offer a discount to shoot your entire office or team in the same session. If you are a solo-preneur, call a pro and find out how many people you need to get a discounted rate and then call your friends, associates, or work out some other way of getting the minimum numbers you need. I suppose you could have your Ol’ Uncle Joe take the shot with your cell phone, but let’s be real, we can ALL tell the difference between a shot done by a “friend” and one done by a seasoned pro. You can bet your prospective customer can too. Purchasing only happens when the buyer has confidence. A not-so-great shot doesn’t exactly scream “You can trust me to do my best for you”.

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