Headshots matter onlineThe online world is littered with pictures of people. Everywhere you look there are headshots of people on their Facebook page or on their Twitter profile or over at LinkedIn. Bloggers usually have their faces at the top of the page somewhere and on company websites you can find mugshots of workers. The faces of millions look out at you from the web.

There is plenty of research which shows, for instance, that your profile pictures should show you smiling if you want people to think you are young or that visitors decide whether or not to follow you based on your head and shoulders image. But it is not quite that simple.

New research shows that there is also the issue of “congruency”. Do the comments made by other people on your Facebook page, for example, match the kind of person you say you are in your profile – and also are consistent with your picture. In other words, your profile visitors take an holistic approach, looking at your headshot and deciding whether or not you are as attractive as they think you might be based upon the comments other people make.

As an example, think of a profile picture which shows an individual as a smiling, happy relaxed person, yet the profile is rather business like and formal and all the comments are full of “business-speak”. The text and the pictures do not match, there is no congruency between them and so the individual becomes less attractive to the visitor.

The problem is worsened when there are “social cues” in the picture. Some people include objects or backgrounds which show the kind of person they are. For example, the fun-loving surfer may have their surf board in the background or actually be surfing. Yet if the comments made by other people do not relate to surfing, the individual is deemed less attractive to follow.

What this research really means is that you need to be careful about the pictures you use for your profiles and you need to ensure that they “go with” the text you use and the comments other people make on your profile page. Otherwise you are less likely to attract more friends or get more followers.

The research also shows that people take into account what other people say about you over and above what you say in your own profile. So even if your profile words match your picture if the comments other people make do not then you are deemed less attractive.

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