As our business and personal lives increasingly exist online, we are all faced constantly with choices on what photos to use of ourselves. In fact, I often see on my own Facebook page, friends asking for input on the choice between 2 or more photos.
So what is the best choice? The answer can’t simply be “choose the photo that makes you look the best.” (in that case, I would show only photos from the late 1970s.)
There are also numerous apps and quick tech fixes to make any photo look better. But should they be used?
I am a big believer in the “2 years and 10%” Rule (I just made up that phrase). By that, I mean when it comes to official photos of yourself on your business website and various social media outlets, you shouldn’t use any photo that is more than 2 years old or that makes you look 10% better than you do in real life.
Sure, everyone likes to show off flattering photos, but it can be a real problem if you are displaying a photo of yourself where you appear to be a “10” and then when people meet you in person, you strike them as a “2.”
(Apologies to anyone who thinks I am being a sexist pig for objectifying people, especially women on the 1-10 scale. I am applying this to both men and women. No, people shouldn’t be judged entirely or costly on their looks, but human beings do judge based on looks, so we have to deal with it. And if you really don’t want anyone to ever judge you on your looks it means never showing photos and never meeting anyone in person)
In politics, there is something known as the “Ottinger Effect.” Dick Ottinger was a congressman who ran for the U.S. Senate in 1970 in New York. His TV ad campaign made him appear bold, charismatic and dynamic. Unfortunately, the congressman in real life was somewhat quiet, reserved, low energy and low-key. The result was that every time he met a voter on the campaign trail it was a huge disappointment to that voter because the candidate in the flesh seemed so small and uncharismatic in comparison. He lost on election day.
This political lesson is applicable to business and personal lives as well. Countless times I have asked my friends how a particular first date went with someone they met online. The most common responses are:
“Disappointing, they looked so much thinner in their photos.”
“Ugh, their photos must have been 15 years old.”
“Awful. I should sue for false advertising. The photos they used looked almost like a different person.”
Interestingly, friends often say this even if they later admit that they still found the date to be attractive.
Back to my 2 years and 10% rule. Very few of us after the age of 25 literally look better every 2 years. (we may become more interesting, wise, etc, but we don’t literally become better looking.) That’s why I suggest not using any photo more than 2 years old unless you are explicitly labeling a photo alum as from your childhood for your Facebook friends.
By 10%, I mean select photos that make you look 10% better than you do most of the time. So if you rate yourself a 7 and a photo makes you an 8, then use it. But if you rate yourself a 4 and the photo is light and retouched to make you a 9, then don’t use it.
Why? Because you are setting up false expectations. You are creating a fake, phony reality and when people discover it, they will conclude you are trying to deceive them and they won’t like you for it.
It is all about the expectations game. If I call you up with 2 weeks advance and offer to take you to your favorite 5 star restaurant and to get your favorite bottle of wine, you are going to be disappointed if I then take you to Chipotle. But if I call you at 11:45 AM one day and say, “let’s go to Chipotle for lunch, my treat.” You are likely to be very pleased.
The result was the same, but the context and expectations are different.
I have to confess, while I try to follow the “2 Years and 10%” rule, I don’t always succeed. With so many social media outlets, blog pages and forums of photos, it is easy to keep some up that are oops, 10 years old.
Whether it is meeting face to face to sign a big new contract or meeting for a first date or appearing in front of an audience to give a speech, the goal of so much marketing, social media, websites, and photos is to generate face-to-face meetings. If you don’t follow the “2 year and 10%” rule you may be creating the following reaction in people:
“Wow, this person sure is older and uglier than they are in their photos!”
TJ Walker looks worse in real life than he does in most of his photos, but not by much. He apologizes for any unnecessarily flattering photos of himself you may find on the Internet. He also advises politicians and executives on how to communicate through the media. You can reach him at 212.764.4955.