‘SAY, WHERE DID I SEE THIS GUY?’
Recently my profile photo was flagged by a fellow member of the popular professional networking site Linked-In as being ‘inappropriate’ and ‘unprofessional.’ The portrait was one I’d been using for the last 5 years, in fact it’s the same one I’d been using since I signed up. The photo in question is an image of my son and I – nothing particularly offensive or ‘inappropriate.’ Or at least I thought. At the beginning of September I received notice from Linked-In that my profile photo had been removed because ‘The picture is in violation of the Linked-In Photo Policy.’
My first thoughts were it was a joke, you know like those spam emails you get from North Africa about your bank account? But no, this was a legitimate email from Linked-In Customer Service. They went on to tell me that ‘we consider a photo appropriate as long as it does not contain content that is copyrighted or unauthorized for public distribution and does not contain offensive content. Additionally, if your photo is not an image of yourself or does not contain an actual photograph, it is considered inappropriate. Your photo has been flagged for inappropriate elements and has been removed from your profile.’
Sorry, ‘flagged for inappropriate elements’? Me? My son? My tattoos? My lack of hair? I was puzzled and pissed at the same time. Firstly who is going around flagging member’s profile photos? Secondly nowhere in their photo policy does it state ‘no kids, tattoos or baldness allowed.’ So I put the image back up. Of course it was flagged and taken down again. Good grief someone obviously had a thing about something in my photo that they found offensive. So I wrote to customer service and said ‘you’re crazy,’ perhaps not the best choice of words in hindsight. Regardless, I felt their actions were unreasonable. Of course I got another standard reply in addition to a long list of elements that were considered ‘inappropriate,’ including cartoons, logos, children, animals, landscapes, words and food – food ? Yes food.
So I started a bunch of discussions on Linked-In – the network for professional and appropriate relationships – to my bafflement virtually everyone who took part agreed. The rationale went something like this: ‘Linked-In is a professional network so unless the child was part of my business or I was selling something child related then “no” – no kids allowed.’ The vast majority of people also felt that a photo of me with my son would also tell a potential employer that I would be ‘unfocused, put my family first and generally be unable to apply myself properly’ – WT! The more clued in individuals went on about social media: ‘Oh yes kids are for Facebook, tattoos are for MySpace and lack of hair is for Twitter’ (apparently). I thought to myself, wow! what a messed up stereotyped world we live in. I just thought the picture represented me and that I was a human being, but clearly I was wrong.
So, now I have a dilemma. Photo, or no photo? If I do use a photo what should it look like? I hate photos of myself anyway, so to actually find a photo I like that looks ‘professional and appropriate’ would be a challenge. I’ve heard that Annie Leibovitz is in need of some work, although her style is not really my cup of tea, someone like Anton Corbijn might be able to capture the ‘real’ me but I know he’s busy. My son takes great photos and that would at least keep it in the family.
BUT WHAT ABOUT BRAND ‘ME’?
Honestly, I want to use the same photo I’ve been using for all these years. I also don’t want these networks to represent who I am or what I stand for. I am brand ‘me’ not Linked-In or MySpace or Facebook. These networks are just vehicles for what I stand for and who I connect with. Quite simply I want to be ‘me’ in every context you see ‘me,’ just like any other brand does – you don’t see Coke representing itself differently in different contexts, it’s the same in every context, it’s called consistency, it’s called identity, it’s called branding, Coke is Coke not Facebook. Besides if you take a look around Linked-In at all your connections you’ll notice the vast majority of profile photos don’t fit Linked-In’s criteria either. Clearly I’m a victim of Linked-In’s profile photo police getting a little carried away. On the other hand, if someone is willing to take a photo that combines me, a cartoon, some logos, both my kids, our dog, a landscape of some kind, a few words and a big chocolate cake, all in one shot, then I might change my mind.
All images copyright Richard P Smith © 2009