This was originally going to be part of my "Maximizing Social Media (part 2)" post, but that thing is already flipping long and at some point, you just stop reading super-long blog posts. Since it's the weekend (when fewer people read blogs, statistically speaking), I thought I'd post this part here as a preamble to the forthcoming behemoth.
There was a comment made in response to Suzie Townsend's blog post on the Perils of Social Networking. (I do not remember if the comment is in the comments section or was on Twitter.) In her post, Suzie says, "DON'T compliment people's pictures when you don't know them. It ends up sounding either condescending ("I'm usually fun and you look chipper") or creepy...or both. @shallremainnameless: I saw your beautiful agent photo. I hope i get to meet that smile in person one day.
This is good advice, advice that can be hard to follow if you were raised in certain areas of the country (Midwest or South like I was) and compliments are a standard part of conversation. Given the illusion of friendship social media can create, a positive comment on someone's appearance would seem on face value to be a nice gesture. Given that social media often constrains our statements to the point that context is lost, best to err on the side of caution.
That leads me to..."the comment," and I really wish I could link to it. Rushing to agree with the poster (as so often does on blogs...except for mine where people seem to be shaming me a lot), someone commented on how silly it was to compliment someone having only seen their user icon. Ignoring regional cultural differences (and now working in Boston for four years, I can absolutely guarantee you there is a difference between Midwestern manners and East Coast manners) or the fact that professional pictures can make the most average person look stunning, this still seems an incredibly short-sighted comment.
Know your footprint. Catalog all the different social media you participate in and don't stop at ownership. Every blog you've guest-posted on, every blog post of a friend that included pictures where you were involved, every forum that you've added a personal user icon to, every Facebook upload that was viewable by other people, every Twitpic and Yfrog of you being goofy in line at a [movie/bookstore/coffee shop/whatever, every dating service you've mistakenly signed up for because your friends insisted it worked for them (thanks Luke...jerk). All those pictures add up. Not only do they add up, they can then be downloaded and reposted by anyone else on the internet. You may be appearing in blogs you're not even aware of. So...
The most obvious and important lesson, be careful what you put on the internet.
The less obvious but equally important lesson, be slow to judge. When you presume people don't know what you look like outside of your professional picture, it's very possible that they do. Be cognizant of how much of your life you share with people and whether you unintentionally (or intentionally) foster that illusion of friendship with strangers.