How Your Profile Pic Is Damaging Your Online Personal Brand [INFOGRAPHIC]

Mark O'Neill 18-04-2012

These days, we are identified and judged more and more by how we appear to others on social networking sites. Sites like Facebook and Twitter allow us to brand ourselves in any image we choose to portray to people, such as potential employers, potential business partners and even potential spouses. So it obviously makes sense that, as part of that branding, you choose your profile picture very carefully. After all, it’s the first thing people look at.

But although it makes sense, it’s staggering the number of people who still don’t “get it”. It’s bad enough when they continue to use the default “blank outline” picture but where I start to lose the plot is when they use pictures of their babies, their pets, their favourite actor, or a picture so shaky and blurred it looks as if it was taken by a hyperactive disco dancer on LSD. I mean, come on, how difficult is it in this age of digital cameras and smartphones to get a proper photo of yourself taken?

Today’s infographic highlights the importance of making and posting a good profile picture, along with the level of damage inflicted by certain kinds of images. Minor damage is the default or dummy images and we go all the way right up to the nuclear option of using a pornographic picture which is a definite no-no – unless you work in the adult industry of course.

Let us know in the comments what you think of the infographic. Also, let us know what kinds of crazy profile images you’ve used or have seen on other social networking profile pages.

Click on the infographic below for a larger version

Infographic Source:

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  1. Imya Last
    October 14, 2012 at 8:47 am

    My cats is beautifull and photogenic :)

  2. Alex Perkins
    October 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    No Duck faces, except for people with the name "Donald".

    • Mark O'Neill
      October 10, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      If your name is Donald, then you especially shouldn't have a duck face!!

  3. Yuval Roll
    May 2, 2012 at 3:51 am

    Great illustration of the escalating levels of damage; levels 1-3 are all too common and misrepresentative, while 4 & 5 are meant to provoke, push buttons, and not be taken very seriously.

    To extend the concept of a profile picture, I like to think of it as a personal logo. Much as a commercial organization (ideally) crafts a visual image supporting its core attributes and value proposition, so should individuals by way of their profile picture.

    I actually just recently wrote about the topic (, and have built a service ( to allow people to specifically determine what it is that makes a profile picture "good" relative to others.

  4. Matt.Smith
    April 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    If I wanted to be "professional" I wouldn't be a freelancer.

    • Mark O'Neill
      April 18, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      That's true. Being professional is sometimes over-rated.... :-)

      • Tina
        April 18, 2012 at 6:52 pm

        "Professional"...that word carries so much stigma.

  5. Madis
    April 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    <- I use modified logo. That counts as stolen pictures?

    • Mark O'Neill
      April 18, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      A logo from who, and modified in what way? If the logo isn't yours, and you don't have permission to use it, then yes of course, it counts as stolen!!

      • Madis
        April 18, 2012 at 5:18 pm

        See my profile picture...

  6. Krishnapriya
    April 18, 2012 at 6:08 am

    What if I'm too shy to put on my own picture?

    • Mark O'Neill
      April 18, 2012 at 8:23 am

      But don't you think that being shy to add your picture is kind of the opposite of what a social network is all about? On a social network, you are supposed to be social.

      Consider it from a real world perspective - if you went to a party to socialise, would you spend the entire time covering up your face or with a bag on your head? No, you wouldn't.

      I don't see the difference between that and being social on Facebook.

      • eltioska
        April 18, 2012 at 11:05 am

        "I don’t see the difference between that and being social on Facebook."

        With the distinct difference that going to a party to socialise used to have a kind of "closed feel" to it. You'd be in a party with a few hundred people at most. Now your photo's up on a social network with 800+ million users.

        And yes, you can protect photos tagged of yourself so that only you can see them. But what about the privacy settings of the person who uploaded a photo of you? In the words of Scott McNealy: "You don't have any privacy." Not anymore. So maybe we should just put on a decent photo, which belies our true nature...

        I dunno, it's getting out of hand tho.

      • Krishnapriya
        April 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm

        You seem to make sense. I'm just never photogenic and look awkward in pictures. Never mind Facebook but on Linkedin, those pictures might do more harm than good.

        • Mark O'Neill
          April 18, 2012 at 5:03 pm

          Well, who is photogenic? I'm definitely not! Some of my pictures are enough to traumatise people for life!! ;-)

        • Krishnapriya
          April 19, 2012 at 2:37 am


  7. Jessica
    April 18, 2012 at 2:12 am

    To speak from the "other side" I use a picture which does not include my face for safety reasons due to my job. I also do not use my full name. I work at a psychiatric hospital. I like having facebook as a way to share things with friends and family, and take care to choose profile pictures that are creatively, tastefully, representative of me in a way my friends and family recognize. According to this article I am "damaging my personal brand". I disagree with the idea that this applies across the board, although I can definitely identify examples that fit what you're getting at here. Maybe fewer people than I thought are using some social media in the same way I do. I will add I use my full name and real photograph in LinkedIn, which I use for professional networking.

    • Mark O'Neill
      April 18, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Can I ask why putting your picture on your Facebook profile would endanger you, due to your job at the hospital? Surely, with privacy settings, you can stop any of the patients (if they have internet access) from viewing your statuses and friends lists.

      • Jessica
        April 18, 2012 at 11:57 am

        First, because it is required by my current employer. We have had a major incident related to safety and use of facebook.
        Second, because I don't have total faith in the ever changing privacy settings (on Facebook) and have had my info exposed through someone elses lax settings.

        I would consider this a special case and I agree with the general idea youre getting at here.

        • Mark O'Neill
          April 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm

          OK then I agree that yours is a special case. Your comment actually reminded me earlier of a friend of my wife's who is a therapist in a psychiatric hospital, and she told me once that she had to take down her Facebook photo because she is a lesbian and she says so on her Facebook account.

          She found out that some of the patients were using face recognition search engines to find her Facebook profile and her secret of being gay was leaked all round the hospital to the patients, who started verbally abusing and tormenting her. So I do understand where you're coming from.

  8. Luis R
    April 18, 2012 at 1:50 am

    Another one you can add to the list: If you are using a picture of yourself while drunk or doing something stupid. (ex: duck-face, strip-club pic, burning a flag, religious/anti-religious signs, smoking weed, etc)

    Also, typo: On the first one, it should be "Pixel" not "Pixcel".

    • Mark O'Neill
      April 18, 2012 at 8:26 am

      Exactly. Drunk and stupid faces is also a definite no-no. Which level on the infographic would you put that under?

      • Luis R
        April 19, 2012 at 2:40 am

        If we're approaching this from a strictly professional point of view, it could be severe to serious damage. Nobody will hire you if your profile pic is you smoking a joint. Even if the employer has not problem with weed, it would give the company the wrong image.

  9. Didi
    April 18, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Reading this reassures me that I am not the only one who sees the importance of a good profile picture. I have seen everything from minor to severe damage pictures, and I ask myself if whether or not people think twice before putting up a picture. Nowadays everybody is connected via social media, and whether we like it or not we judge each other based on our online activities. The things we share, the pictures we post, the stuff we like, and especially the profile picture, which is basically our face on the internet. I hope that by sharing this I will be able to get people to understand how much damage (or good) a profile pic can cause.

    • Mark O'Neill
      April 18, 2012 at 1:49 am

      I couldn't have said it better myself Didi.