If we haven’t met in real life, chances are, you only know me physically as a dog. My avatars and profile pics and whatever other new age words are used to describe the photos next to my online profiles, are those of my dog. For consistency purposes, I try to use the same dog (I have two), if not the same photo of the aforementioned canine.
I’m a dog person. I love my dogs. If you know me personally, you know I am passionate about my dogs and can talk about them forever. My dogs help drive my motivations personally and professionally.
So what, right?
Well, I’ve always gotten flack about using pictures of my dogs as my personal profile pictures. Less so with Twitter and with WordPress (in fact, never), but mostly with my LinkedIn picture.
- “LinkedIn is a professional site. Why on earth would you risk your reputation and portray yourself as a dog?”
- “LinkedIn is a professional site. Considering your profession, shouldn’t you apply some of the best practices you preach?”
I was at a personal branding / social media conference in February of 2010 and we were in the process of critiquing each other’s LinkedIn profiles. So clearly, Venetta’s dog profile picture really came under attack, of which the above two critiques were the most consistent. Mind you, I didn’t know anyone there, so this was raw feedback from strangers. Strangers that did not know my personal passion for dogs and also strangers well versed in social media. Olivier Blanchard, author of The BrandBuilder Blog, and Social Media ROI, was a guest speaker at this event, and told us about Chico as I was coming under attack for the depiction of my online persona. Chico is Olivier’s dog and Olivier used to portray himself as Chico. It wasn’t until recently that Olivier added his own picture to the blog:
Although I do not know Olivier’s original reasons for deciding to use his dog Chico as his personal persona (obviously, he has since added his own likelihood to his profiles), I do know my initial reasons as well as the evolution of those reasons.
For one, I am a highly private person. However, I do like to participate in online conversations but I still am not personally comfortable taking the additional step and posting my mug out to the masses. I don’t think that I ever will be – for me personally it’s uncomfortable, and as most people, I try to avoid any and all situations that are unpleasant. Simply and echoing Barnaby, when it comes it to using a “real photo”, quite frankly, “I prefer not to”.
Secondly, (and this comes from a highly successful sales career), a photograph of a dog has been one of the best conversation starters I have ever had the pleasure of benefitting from. I will give you an example that has come forth on numerous occasions (these work best when your connections are dog owners or just like dogs).
- Icebreaker question posed by many clients/prospects based on my LinkedIn profile alone: “I saw your LinkedIn profile, what kind of dog is that?”
This question usually segways into what kind of dog the other individual has/had/known/etc. This is a great icebreaker. I still talk to these individuals based on our common interest of dogs even though we no longer do business together. It has helped solidify relationships not only professionally, but personally – which is the true testament of “business relationship”.
People don’t typically take the time to read through bio’s on blogs and profiles if you’re connecting based on business. I do, but I am one of the few.
This is what I have seen: I know you, we’ve “met” in some professional capacity (typically this starts over the phone), we solidify our professional rendezvous online. That’s pretty much it if you’re not a recruiter or sales executive that should be going through bios in greater detail.
So, my ten second online elevator pitch is my title, some random cliche words about myself and a picture of my dog.
And the picture sparks the connection.
When is the last time that you were able to non-creepily discuss someone’s LinkedIn profile picture as an icebreaker?
How would that work?
- That’s a great shirt you’re wearing! (This is just creepy)
- Oh, you’re older than I expected. Secondary thought: Based on your age are you biased towards technologies and communications that are out of date?
- Oooohhh, you’re actually a lot younger than I expected. Secondary thought: Based on your age and possible lack of experience, should I even trust you with my business?
And the one we can all relate to 95% of the time:
- You look absolutely nothing like you do in real life. (We all experience this almost all of the time, or at least I do and chances are, the online persona depicted in that profile picture is better looking than the person in real life. This is not an insult to anyone, it’s just true. You have the time and the care it takes to pick that one picture that makes you look stellar. And why wouldn’t you – it’s human nature and virtually anyone on the Internet can stumble upon this, so it’s in your best interest to, well, look your best)
The Internet has given us all the most wonderful narcissistic playground. We perform based on our audience and the platform. The performance can be in the form of knowledge distribution (because I’m smarter than all of you and my Tweets prove it!), or social photographs (because I do awesomer things than all of you and go to events and have a great time all of the time and document all of this evidence on sites like Facebook!), or professional connections (because I am connected to more CEO’s than you are and my LinkedIn network proves this!) or even associations to specific locations (because my Foursquare check-ins show that I eat better food than you and check-in at the coolest and hippest new places!)
The psychological implications of social sites and how that ties into our behavior (and the performance of that behavior) fascinates me. And it is also what hinders me from changing the “dog picture” to a “real picture”.
For one, the picture I would use would be a glorified version of myself that you wouldn’t recognize even if you knew me. But even more so, because social networking, to me at least, is about creating the right relationships based on common interests and nurturing those relationships for future mutual benefit.
Perhaps when I achieve the status of Olivier Blanchard, I can transition away from Chico and bring myself into the picture (pun intended).
But for now, my dogs have served me well.
They’ve solidified relationships and helped start new ones based on common interests – which is the power of social media – just moving the real world online.