How do you know if you need a new picture?
I suggest you need one if any of the following are true:
If your picture has any of these traits, you should replace it with a new current picture. Having a 20 year-old picture or any picture that does not represent how you look currently speaks negatively to your trust factor and credibility. A good current picture with a warm smile translates well into any language and is welcomed by all.
This does not mean it has to be a suit and tie shot; it can be a much more casual picture, for especially for guys. The use of a little make-up for women is absolutely okay, but this must be a real photo and not something that has been Photoshopped!
So you say, "How exactly do you get a good current picture?"
I strongly recommend that you enlist the help of a professional photographer. It should only cost you a couple hundred dollars at most to get a number of great shots. I recently hired photographer Michael Zappia, zappiaphoto.com. Michael is a family friend and a professional who has a great body of work displayed on his website, including his work as a photographer for John Mellencamp. Hiring a professional who knows lighting angles and how to pose, instead of trying to rely on a lucky shot your friend took of you smiling at a party, is really worth the investment.
Once you have the photo you can then upload it to all your Social Networking Sites such as FaceBook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google +, etc., so that you have a consistent look across all social media.
Having recently updated my own photo I have learned a number of things in this process. Most importantly the picture has to work in a thumbnail size, so using a light white or off-white background is advisable so your picture will have some pop. You want it to be recognizable even when it is a tiny little picture.
On Facebook, for example, your profile picture will be 180 pixels by 180 pixels. You may have to crop your photo and when you do this you'll want to make it a square crop. This ensures that when reduced it does not become a skewed or distorted picture in thumbnail format. Initially you can select a larger size (a maximum of 4000 by 4000 pixels) before reducing the photo to the size of 180 by 180 pixels. Keeping it square is a good rule!
Ironically as it may seem, I found that Facebook actually provides a smaller piece of screenestate than do other social networks. It's called Facebook for a reason but I would like to have a little more face please? Google Plus profile photo is exactly 200 by 200 Pixels. This is why I suggest that you use a square pixel shape for your picture because it will translate best on all social networks.
A real photo enhances your credibility. And let's face it, your mug shot is the most important element on your social profile page. In fact, given the number of times your photo is going to be displayed in various posts across social networks, it's fair to say that your photo is going to speak way more than 1000 words!