Having a solid LinkedIn profile is one way to increase your visibility and open up more professional opportunities for yourself. People often invest most their efforts into capturing their career accomplishments in the “Experience” section. Unfortunately, the profile picture and background header photo are often an afterthought.
However, not carefully considering the imagery you feature on your LinkedIn profile is a mistake, especially since these images are what profile visitors see first, creating that important first impression of your reputation and personal brand.
The background banner image in particular is not something all users even consider adjusting. Some users simply use the default image of the blue gradient with dots and lines, perhaps because they don’t realize a custom image can be uploaded, don’t get around to it or just don’t know what image would be good to use.
Your LinkedIn background banner photo should reinforce who you are and visually support the written portions of your profile. This image should communication your value, skills and professional identity. “Your background image is a perfect place to highlight social proof or achievements,” saysShashank Shalabh, CEO of Omnidigit. “LinkedIn is all about branding. With the right messaging, both visual and text, you can create a better impression.”
With this in mind, what sort of background image can you use that doesn’t come across as overly promotional, forced or self-aggrandizing? Here are 10 simple ideas to help you select an image that reinforces your personal brand.
1. Work Space
A picture of an office space, desk or work environment is a simple way to connote professionalism. “A clean and simplistic workspace gives off a professional, but reserved and respectful vibe,” says Liz Jeneault, VP of marketing for Faveable.com. If you choose an image of a desk, she suggests featuring objects like a laptop, mobile device, glasses, pads of paper, pens or paperclips, which can convey sophistication.
Alexander Lowry, professor of finance at Gordon College also suggests featuring a meeting space, like a boardroom, especially if you’re a corporate executive yourself or work on issues related to corporate governance.
2. Benefit Your Client Desires
Focusing on the end benefit your client or customer desires allows you to communicate the value you offer without “overly promoting your specific product or services,” says Marsha Kelly, President of Best 4 Business. She recommends you “speak directly to people’s emotional buying impulses.”
For example, if you work in the medical or insurance markets, you could feature an image of healthy people engaged in enjoyable activities. If you work in financial planning, you could use an image that conveys financial freedom.
3. City Landscape
If your work is related to a specific geographical location, you could feature a city skyline or landmark. “This is a great way of showcasing to potential connections the city you’re based in,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com.
You could also use an image of a place that relates to your personal history. “Sharing the city you live in, where you were born or a place with special meaning to you is visually appealing and adds personality to an otherwise professionally focused page,” says Alexandra Shadrow, CEO ofRelovv.com.
4. Physical architecture
Showing a nice shot of the building where you work conveys a sense of credibility and status, especially if your organization has a strong reputation. If you don’t prefer to feature your actual company, you could also use a generic image of an office lobby, building facade or city district.
The idea is to feature an image that aligns with your sector. If you work in the corporate world, consider using a modern office building. If you work within education, perhaps a school campus.
5. People You Serve
Showing a picture of your clients, customers, community or employees connotes the impact you’re having on individuals around you. Featuring people in your image is “ideal for any client-facing professional who needs to show a connection with those in his/her industry,” says Jeff Steen, Social Media and Marketing Specialist at FitSmallBusiness.com.
You don’t have to necessarily include the actual individuals you serve if you’re concerned about confidentiality. Instead, you could grab a stock image that features people who are good examples of the types of people you serve or people in a typical setting where you meet your clients.
6. Cause or Mission
Using an image that represents the impact you’re trying to create in your career can elevate your professional image beyond your basic job title or role. Stefania Sigurdson Forbes, Marketing Consultant at GravityHub recommends using an outdoor photo. “Having an outdoor photo with meaning, can be a refreshing change to the self-aggrandizement you can see on LinkedIn,” she states. “Showing this gives a peek at your personality and the outdoor shot gives people a break from being inside the office.”
For example, if you are passionate about renewable energy, consider including a picture of a wind turbine. If you are passionate about the arts, perhaps some sort of outdoor installation that features the style of art you embrace.
7. Tools Of The Trade
Featuring common objects used in in your line of work is a simple way to convey how you spend your time. “A picture depicting the primary tools of the pictured person’s profession can offset the boring, plain backgrounds seen in most profile photos,” says Jeremy Rose, director of CertaHosting.
For example, a photographer could feature a close-up image of a camera. A coder could show a computer screen. A coffeeshop owner could show coffee beans. Using tools can “reinforce your profession and capabilities without being overly promotional, vain, or self-aggrandising,” says Sammi Coppedge, Public Relations Specialist at One Click Ventures.
8. Your Product Or Service
You could feature an image of the actual product or service you’re offering. An entrepreneur could be the product you’re launching. “A high-quality photo showcasing your product(s) directly on your profile can instantly intrigue potential buyers, partners and investors,” says Alexis Davis, founder of The Content Plug.
A shop owner could feature an image of your best-selling product. Someone who works in B2B product manufacturing could feature a close-up of the component you supply to customers.
If you’re in more of a service industry, you could simply Google the name of your sector to generate ideas of which images are associated with your sector. For example, if you work in logistics, perhaps a cargo ship or airplane. If you work in social services, a community event. If you’re involved in supplying solar energy, solar panels.
9. You Doing Your Work
An image really can be worth a thousand words when you feature an image of you doing your actual work. While this can risk coming across as a bit staged and self-aggrandizing, a tasteful, natural image of you in action can demonstrate the impact you’re having.
If you’re a creator like a writer, you could have someone take a natural shot of you drafting ideas on paper or typing on your laptop. If you’re a speaker, you could show a picture of you speaking, an audience or a microphone.
10. Solid Color Or Abstract Texture
If all else fails, you could simply use a color other than the LinkedIn default blue to give your profile a more considered feel. “Even just another color can help you stand out in a sea of LinkedIn blue,” according to Debra Boggs, Co-Founderof D&S Professional Coaching. “Choose a color that matches your personality, or if you’re a business owner, choose a color that matches your brand colors.”
You could also consider some sort of abstract texture. Boggs states, “While photos of things like laptops, cups of coffee and keyboards can look overused and cliche, abstract images or textures can make your profile stand out without looking inauthentic.” She says you should choose a texture that invokes a feeling you want your audience to associate with you.
Where To Find Photos
Once you decide on what type of image you want to feature as your background image, you need to then find an actual photo you have the rights to use. Simply using a photo you quickly find using Google Images isn’t the best way forward because those images aren’t always legal to reuse.
If you don’t already have a photo you’ve taken yourself or photo you have explicit permission to use, you could purchase a photo from stock image sites like Getty or Shutterstock. However, this tends to be quite expensive, and staged stock images can often look a bit dated or artificial these days.
Instead, consider using attribution-free CC0 Creative Commons images. These images are free and legal for you to use. Popular CC0 sites include Unsplash or Pexels where images tend to feel more current and natural. You can also create custom background images on sites like Canva or Visme.
Once you’ve decided on what sort of photo to use, simply follow these LinkedIn’s instructions to edit your background photo on your profile.
Customize Your Background Image To Stand Out
Your LinkedIn profile’s background image is your opportunity to create a positive first impression that matters. Images are often more powerful than words alone. Take the time to select a thoughtful background image so you can reinforce your personal brand, convey what makes you unique and differentiate yourself from the sea of other professionals out there. After all, words alone may not always be enough to capture the full picture of who you are and what you can offer to others.
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This post was originally published on Forbes.