We’ve all seen terrible profile pics. I’m not talking about the grainy, faded, fashion-nightmare-inducing “Throwback Thursday” photos popularized on Facebook—well, not unless you make one of those your permanent profile image. Bad online photos can range from mall-kiosk headshots with laser backdrops circa 1995 to otherwise nice shots that appear blurry thanks to mom’s low resolution camera.
Why are online photos so important? In the past decade, we have slowly transitioned from the Internet Age to the Visual Age. According to Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report, more than 3,200 images are exchanged every day on social media platforms including Facebook and Snapchat. She predicts that within five years, more than half of all searches will be visual. It’s likely that video content will eclipse photos in the future. But for now, visual images are where it’s at.
This Wikipedia photo catches a stylist in action, but what do the unsmiling faces and closed eyes say about its subjects?
According to recent studies, profile pictures can accurately predict a person’s disposition. In a 2016 paper titled Analyzing Personality through Social Media Profile Picture Choice, researchers reported that qualities including agreeability, openness and extraversion are often expressed through Twitter users’ choice of profile pictures. The study used computer programs to analyze the content of members’ posts and compare them with the traits found by studying their profile images.
Colorful, artistic shots showing faces are viewed as open and agreeable.
The result was clear: Social media users select profile photos that visually represent their personalities. Before you use a food pic for your Twitter profile or change your LinkedIn image to a bland brown headshot you feel looks more corporate, ask yourself if “disagreeable” and “neurotic” are the qualities you want to put on display.
The Missing Link
One of my biggest social media pet peeves is missing profile pics. There’s something cold and impersonal about a page that has zero personalization. Besides screaming “I’m boring,” these profiles are downright creepy. Is the person or business rep too lazy to find good images? Do they hate being photographed? Perhaps your new connection is a Luddite who thinks a tablet is only good for swallowing.
Just how important is a LinkedIn or Facebook photo to your overall image? Ask yourself what this picture says about a potential client, employee or business partner.
Twitter’s dreaded default image profile, which changed over from the iconic egg in April 2017.
If you answered, “absolutely nothing,” you’re correct. Whether someone has a personal (or professional) reason for omitting photos, or is just too lazy or disconnected to bother finding a decent image on their gallery, the public perception of someone whose social media profiles lack photos is decidedly negative. Readers may worry the profile is a scam designed to elicit and steal personal information.
The same applies to images that are generic, look like stock photography or don’t show faces.
This profile photo has decent lighting and resolution but lacks personalization and context. It’s hard to know who or what you are dealing with.
According to eMarketer, brands that included images on Facebook captured 87 percent of public interaction. Engagement increased by 650 percent when photos and other visuals were used in a post. Even if you’re not a company selling a product, why wouldn’t you want viewers to interact more with you?
The good news is that the Internet is home to countless discussions on what makes for a good online photo. There are visual trend lists and studies that correlate individual personality traits with aspects of profile photos. With hi-res smartphone cameras in arm’s reach, there’s no excuse for omitting images or resorting to cut-and-paste stock photos. With a little extra effort, your profile pic could perfectly describe you or your company without a single word.