When you visit Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, the chances are that the profile picture of the individual you are looking at jumps out at you before you read any text. But in that fraction of a second you have already decided whether or not this is the kind of person you want to connect with – almost regardless of what their profile actually reveals. Even though the number one activity online is reading text, with writing text a close second, tiny little images appear to have a major impact on our social networking behaviour.
There is, of course, the old cliché of pictures and thousands of words. It is, inevitably, nonsense. Try explaining how the engine of your car works to a student mechanic with only pictures and no words at all. You could even try using the latest social media craze, Pinterest, without any words, but you wouldn’t succeed too well. Even though it is a pictorial site, you need the words to classify and tag things and make comments and share and describe and so on..! So, we should not dismiss words entirely – they are a significant means of communication (after all you are READING this, not just looking at it..!). Falling for the line that pictures are more important than words can lead you in the wrong direction. Words matter – particularly online where we don’t have much else.
However, it seems from recent research that profile pictures are relatively unique in being more important than the words. Indeed in one study where people were shown just images of people on Facebook they decided they were the outgoing kind of individuals they would like to follow. But, when the pictures were shown together with the profile text, the same judgement was made – in spite of the fact that the profiles said things like “I’m a boring stay-at-home type”.
This means that the picture you have at the top of your Facebook page or on your Twitter account or over at LinkedIn are fundamental in the decision-making process of whether or not people will connect with you. You therefore need a picture which encourages those connections. Previous studies on profile pictures show, for instance, that you need to be relatively wrinkle-free and rather baby-faced. This new study shows that you really do need to concentrate on producing highly professional profile pictures if you want to attract followers, friends and online contacts.
- For good profile pictures I recommend John Cassidy.
- With the Right Photo, Your Facebook Text Profile Hardly Matters (tricitypsychology.com)
- Online Identities: Branding Yourself in Social Media (sterlingpr.com)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+