If you want a harsh lesson in the importance of making sure that your social network profile picture is professional in nature – even if the network itself is more personal – I suggest you install Rapporative, a plugin for Firefox and Chrome that displays the social network profiles for the people you communicate with through Gmail. Since I did so about a week ago I’m all of a sudden seeing the profile photos of all sorts of movie publicists and others I get emails from. While many of them are fine there are a handful that certainly are not the kind of photos that you would normally want associated with your work activities.
Personally I have the same photo (now a couple years old…I should probably update it) photo that I use for my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, all of which are networks that are supported by Rapporative. So if anyone I email regularly has that installed they’re not going to see anything odd or unprofessional.
To some extent Rapporative is a bit of an intrusion. These people aren’t asking to connect with me on Facebook, the information is just there in a manner of my choosing and I can decide whether or not to act on it and send them a friend request, follow them or otherwise connect. But it’s also not like I couldn’t look any of these people up on those networks and see the same photos.
The issue actually touches on another one I’ve been pondering again recently and which was the subject of a post by Jeremy Pepper, that of the barriers between people’s niche social graphs. While much of the press and buzz has been about how there’s one graph to rule them all, the reality is that many people (including myself) choose to manage things a bit differently. X network is where I do this, Y network is something completely different and Z is maybe a mish-mash of both those approaches and some other stuff as well.
The notion of sub-networks is especially relevant as more people use check-in services, whether they’re location-based ones like Foursquare or Gowalla or media-based networks like Miso or GetGlue or if they’re something else like Quora. In each case the service prompts you to build your own network there but then much of their value comes in broadcasting those activities to larger, less-niche networks such as Twitter and Foursquare. It’s because I’m apt to share those things on those larger networks that I rarely put much if any effort into building sub-networks on the individual services. It’s not like I’m sharing things just there. That’s not to say my thinking won’t change – and it’s beginning to – but that’s what I’m doing right now.
Whatever your personal plan might be it’s important to realize that all these profiles that are being created become part of the meta-graph that you’re creating online. You may be one person here and another there but they all become part of the overall persona that’s being built, by you and by those you communicate with, one update or profile picture at a time. For those who operate online it’s important then that regardless of how they’ve divided those lines they try to present a professional face.