I'm not one to lecture people away from being "down to earth" or "casual and friendly," but lately I've been itching to tell people who have "cutesie" profile pictures that it's probably not a good idea. You know, the picture of them and their wife, or their boyfriend, or dog, or the college rugby team.
Such a small thing, you say. What is the problem with this?
Nothing at all, if the profile picture was going to be viewed only by people who already know them. But it's not. These days you have to account for the following harsh truth: something you put out there for one group, and with one purpose, will probably be seen by an entirely different set of people, and used in a way you hadn't contemplated.
Let me give you an example.
My iPhone's contact list pulls data from, among other places, Facebook. The profile pictures that accompany most of the people in my address book come, in many cases, from Facebook. I can't say for sure where they come from exactly, but I know that the pictures are chosen by the contact person themselves and not by me.
Let's say I need to send contact information from my contact list to a new business prospect. My usual routine is to send a vCard by email from my iPhone. I tend to do that very quickly without thinking much about it. So I probably wouldn't notice that my old friend has a weird profile picture. Which means that's what might show up when I send the business prospect the vCard.
Maybe it won't matter you say, if you're one of those who wants to keep your cute profile picture. Maybe it won't. But maybe you haven't thought about all the ways that your profile picture will be used in scenarios you hadn't contemplated.
I like to keep things simple. A profile picture should let people know what you look like so they can remember you, or know who to look for when you meet for the first time in a coffee shop or other public place. A profile picture shouldn't be stuffy and formal, but it shouldn't be so casual that it sacrifices some other desirable aspect. There is nothing wrong with a nice close up of your face, taken in a casual setting.
But a profile picture of you with your four best friends from high school isn't going to help me remember you or find you in a crowded coffee shop. Just saying'...