9 Tips to Nail Your Social Media Profile Picture (with research and examples)

Last updated: 12-06-2019

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9 Tips to Nail Your Social Media Profile Picture (with research and examples)

You’ve seen thousands of social media profile pictures. You see dozens every day. And every time you see someone’s profile picture, you form an impression of that person. In a split second, you decide if they are likable, trustworthy, smart …or not. You judge them.

Everyone judges your profile picture in the same way.

On Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and everywhere else, they are swiping right or left in their mind, connecting or dismissing, engaging with your content or ignoring your connection request.

So your profile picture is key to your personal brand and online networking. It has an impact on your job opportunities and ultimately, your career.

Note! I’m skipping the online dating impact, but this post could help with that too…

And fixing your picture is a one-time action that gives you lasting benefits. So invest some time in the most important aspect of your online presence. Here are nine ways to nail your social media profile picture.

This should be obvious, but if they can’t see your face, you’ve got a problem.

Faces are a uniquely powerful type of imagery. Studies about the psychology of images show that faces leverage a cognitive bias built into our brains.

Of course, you have passions. You love dogs or helicopters or skiing. But your profile picture isn’t the place to make this point.

Are you an avid mountain climber? Great! Put your face in the profile picture and your passion in the background image.

The world’s most popular website is called FACEbook, not SILHOUETTE-ON-A-MOUNTAIN-book.

I also recommend against cartoon heads, dogs and babies. Show. Your. Face.

Some headshots are too close to the camera. Others are too far away. Making sure you are properly framed within the shot so people can see you and a bit of background. Your face should fill most of the image.

Not too far, not too close. Let them see your face but don’t crowd the camera.

If your face is too small, they won’t be able to see your smile when the picture appears in smaller sizes. Remember, in the social stream, this image may be as small as 50 x 50 pixels. That’s the size of your fingertip.

Body language is either open or closed. Arms, legs and hands can either express an openness to connect or a closed-for-business message. Faces are the same.

There are levels to the open expression on a face, from the scowling mugshot (“don’t you dare look at me”) to the high-beam open-mouth grin (“I love the world and everyone in it”).

Here is Jimmy Klatt, Orbiteer and Ambassador of Love, demonstrating five examples of openness in smiles.

Notice the openness in four and five. If you want to show an openness on your face, try opening your mouth!

You can imagine which of these would trigger more engagement in social media. Which would you connect with? Follow? Share?

According to two studies of college students, people who smile in their social media profile pictures are actually more likely to be happy later in life.

Those same studies found that bigger smiles correlate with better social relationships.

So what’s the smile setting of your profile picture? I recommend a three or four at least. Number two might be good for attorneys. Social media marketers often turn it up to a five.

Social streams move fast. Color is a great way to stand out. When colors contrast with the colors around them, they stand out. This is simple and obvious when you think about it.

Since LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter use a lot of blue, putting on an orange shirt (or any top with warm colors) will make you immediately more visible. These are also less common colors for clothing.

Just look at this grid of profile pictures. Which of these stands out?

The focus of the image should be your face. Busy backgrounds can take the focus off of you, which isn’t ideal. Best practices are to use a simple or flat colored background.

The background is also an opportunity to use contrasting colors without changing clothes. Just use a different background. Cyrus Shepard once tested the effect of background color on click through rates and found a warm color got the best results.

The winner was the image in the top left.

Get some data from a focus group by uploading some options to PhotoFeeler. For less than $20, you can get 100 people to vote on your photo on three criteria. You can also earn credits by voting on other people’s photos.

Upload several pictures to see how they do against each other. You’ll have your results in just a few hours. Here are the results of my tests…

Apparently, the speaking picture on the left just isn’t very likable. And the jacket/sweater combo makes me look competent.

Big thanks to Vanessa Van Edwards for finding this! Vanessa has a great list of LinkedIn profile tips here.

Here are five ways to sneak elements of your brand into your profile pic.

Here are examples of how brand elements can fit into a profile picture:

As we said in tip #1, faces are powerful imagery. Using a logo as a profile picture is a missed opportunity to be human and personable.

If you’re a mega-brand, ofcourse,you’ll use your logo in your social accounts. But for most companies, avoid posting from behind a logo if at all possible. It just isn’t as social. Use the face of someone on the social media team.

This is especially important for people with common names. If someone sees you in one place and wants to connect in another, make it easy for them by using the same picture on all of your professional social media profiles.

For example, I was emailing with someone named Brian and decided to reach out on LinkedIn. But there are 430 Brians with his last name. And his profile picture wasn’t helpful.

I haven’t given up. I’ll find you someday, Brian!

ProTip! It’s easier to become recognizable if you don’t change it too often. Be consistent and keep the same profile picture for a year or two at least. These pictures are identifiable because they were used for years.

If you’re serious about social media marketing, seriously consider this. The difference in quality between professional and amateur work is huge.

Right now, as you read this, someone you’d like to meet is scrolling through a social stream, filled with faces. You are in that stream. Did they slow down? Stop? These tips and ideas will give you an edge in the ultra-competitive context of social media.

But …there’s more to life than marketing.

Your social media profile may have nothing to do with marketing. Sometimes, social media is just social. So if you want to use a picture of your car or your cat. Go for it!

Everyone has an opinion. What do you think of these three profile pictures? Let us know in the comments below!

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