A colleague and I spent the morning running through a list of people who might be able to help with a new project we were proposing. I didn’t know everyone, but I was able to do quick searches on LinkedIn and Google as we talked, getting background details and publication samples. At the end of the hour, we’d settled on a short list of people that we ‘interviewed’, without ever both meeting any of them.
It is amazing how much information is available online these days; it’s also a bit unnerving to meet someone for the first time and to have them know all of my professional and personal details. I’ve learned to prep a bit as well. It used to just be a matter of getting company details prior to business meetings, but now it also extends to social gatherings.
I do feel like it short circuits the exploratory conversation, Where are you from, what do you do, do you eat meat? that used to turn up serendipitous and unexpected facts and connections. I worry that we tend to make pre-judgments without meeting people. And sometimes people are just careless about prying into sensitive topics.
Still, overall, it helps to anticipate common ground and facilitate that first connection, so a little research is worth a lot.
This means that you must actively manage your online presence, deciding when and how to project yourself, cultivating and pruning the information available about you.This goes for both static websites and social directories, and for narrative feeds like Twitter and Facebook.
Amsterdam Asp recently posted a great essay about how people choose their profile picture. He wonders whether “there is a direct correlation between a person's Facebook profile picture and his or her (either momentary or long-term) values and priorities?”
He suggests that you ask “What does my profile picture say about me?” with the following strategic questions in mind:
- With whom are you pictured (or not pictured)?
- What is your relationship to any other people who might be pictured with you?
- What might be significant about the spatial relationships within the picture?
- Where was the picture taken (i.e. what geographic location)?
- What else can be seen in the background of the photograph?
- How often is the profile picture changed?
My profile picture, above, is one of my daughter and I, taken at Christmas at Woodinville’s gateway sculpture. The art depicts swimming salmon, in this case whimsically decorated with Christmas balls. I like the relative poses of the two of us, the energy and comfort we share. I change pictures every few months.
Your profile picture is the first sentence in your life’s story online. I want my picture to be friendly and open, to be recognizable to people who haven't seen me in a while, and to incorporate elements that are meaningful to me, a place, activity, or person that you need to know about if you want to know what makes me tick.
Yes, it says a lot about me. I suspect that these pictures are carefully chosen and say a lot about each of us.