How to Choose Better Profile Pictures
Learn what makes a great social media profile photo.
How to Choose Better Profile Pictures
What do most social media sites, like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have in common? Give up? All of those sites ask for an image of you to include in your profile. So what makes a good social media profile photo?
Why Good Profile Pictures Matter
OK, I'll admit it. This week I am taking advantage of this platform to address one of my personal pet peeves. It really bugs me when I see social media photos that are of poor quality (or worse--there's no image at all).
It turns out that first impressions are critically important. They set the tone for the relationships that follow. Perhaps more importantly, first impressions are also extremely difficult to change. And if you think about it, today, especially with the increased popularity of social media, first impressions are mostly online.
Come on admit it. You Google people. I know I do. I Google clients, customers, competitors, my critics, (and all right, I admit it, I occasionally Google old flames, too.)
We ALL do it.
First Impressions Are Important
Why do we Google? Because busy professionals need to decide quickly--based on initial impressions--if they want to spend time with you (and your content). Your online image is going to be a big part of that first impression. Whether we like to admit it or not, we do often judge a book by its cover. And your online photo--your outward appearance--has a big impact on the perceptions that others form about you.
In fact, our eyes naturally look to photos first and then to text. In fact, according to author of the book Brain Rules, "the brain processes a picture much better and in much more detail, and there's much more robust retrieval than normal text." That means that not only will others be looking at your picture, they will likely remember that (and the impression it made on them) more so than the text of your profiles.
A Great Photo Makes You Approachable and Memorable
But keep in mind, the idea behind networking sites is to encourage people to have conversations, to form bonds, and to create memorable impressions. Using a great photograph is the easiest way to present yourself in a friendly, approachable, and memorable manner. It’s the fastest way to make a good impression and to encourage interaction.
In fact, I was fascinated when I read the following on a Yahoo! Personals website:
A profile with one personal photo receives five times as many replies as a profile without a personal photo. A profile with three photos receives seven times as many replies as a profile without a personal photo.
So, the lesson is to be aware that WITHOUT a photo some folks will form a negative impression. Most likely they will form the impression you have something to hide and will choose not to not interact with you based solely on this. Is that right? I don’t know, but it certainly happens. What is important for you to know, is that NOT having a photo at all will likely raise a red flag in the minds of many viewers.
So how do you choose a photo that best represents brand "you"? How exactly do you put your best face forward?
Use a Natural, Smiling Headshot
First, for your primary profile image, use a high-quality headshot. To be clear, that's a photograph of your head and shoulders. Keep in mind that profile photos are usually very small and your readers mostly want to see your face, so that’s what the majority of the photo should be—your face.
I've know I’ve mentioned this before, but smiling and eye contact are both very important--even for pictures. In fact, researchers found that both men and women find people who smile and look straight at them more attractive and more likable.
So, be sure to smile energetically (think of something you are particularly proud of to makes your eyes sparkle!). Forget the brooding, serious look. Look directly at the camera. Forget the sunglasses. Forget the artistic half-the-head-cut-off shot. Forget the cartoon avatar. If you really like those looks, then leave those for secondary or tertiary images.
Use an Uncluttered Background
Next, choose a photo that has an uncluttered background. Pure black and pure white work great because the focus will be on your face instead of the background. In a pinch, I sometimes take a quick snap of my clients in front of a dark evergreen tree just outside my office door. By using a short depth of field, it makes the background slightly blurry, which makes it a great spur of the moment plain dark uncluttered background.
You definitely don't want to use a photo that includes someone else--even if the other person is mostly cut out from the picture. Don't include other things either. Turns out men, in particular, tend to like to include things like cars or their new mid-life crisis Harley. Again, the photo should be your head and shoulders against a plain background with a big smile looking directly at the camera.
Wear Appropriate Clothing
Next choose appropriate clothing. First this means you're actually WEARING clothing! Men, no bare chests, and ladies, no swim suits. In fact, long sleeves tend to work better than short sleeves because bare skin tends to distract from the main focal point--the face.
You'll want to choose clothing that is appropriate to your profession. For example, a shirt and jacket is likely to be overkill for a person who works in higher education, but, could be appropriate for a lawyer or doctor. For students, think business casual. In general, collared shirts tend to frame the face nicely and are often a good option for both men and women.
Choose solids and dark or neutral colors (black or navy blue work well). Don't wear crazy patterns or bright colors. In some of my photos I am wearing a black shirt, whereas in others, I am wearing a dark red shirt (I was hoping people would think passionate when they saw the picture.) However, in most cases, simple, unobtrusive, and understated clothing works best because it allows the expression on your face to remain the focal point.
So, there you have it, some quick and dirty tips to help you make a great impression with your social media profile picture. To be approachable and memorable, choose a head and shoulders shot against a plain background. Be sure you are smiling and looking at the camera, and finally, wear appropriate clothes.
This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.
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