• profile picture

    Data-Backed Study: Your Profile Picture Leaves a Real Impression

    Whether you’re seeking the perfect partner online or searching for your dream job, your profile picture is always speaking for you.

    The question is, what is it saying?

    Be it on dating websites, or professional networks or any social media platform of choice, the power of your profile picture is truly immense.

    And, though most of us would never like to admit that we judge people based on a photograph, data-backed studies suggest that in reality, that is exactly what we do.

    Your Profile Picture

    As children, we were all advised to ‘never judge a book by its cover’. Though we all absorbed this message when we were younger, the digital world that we now inhabit has totally changed the game.

    First impressions don’t just count; they last. And for many of us, our online avatars contribute hugely to how we are perceived by others.

    And it works both ways.

    When we look at a person’s picture, we immediately draw conclusions about that person, even if those conclusions bear zero resemblance to reality.

    Yes, your photograph really does leave a lasting impression, and data-backed studies prove it.

    Let’s take a closer look.

    Your Picture Leaves a Real Impression

    First Impressions Last… and Last… and Last

    Over the past few years, social and psychological research has been throwing up some interesting findings. And, if we are honest, a lot of these findings go some way to confirm what many of us already implicitly know.

    When we see a picture of someone, we immediately start to make assessments of that person in our heads.

    Even though we know we shouldn’t, we do it anyway.

    Cornell University Study

    Researchers at Cornell University have some compelling findings from a study they conducted recently.

    They wanted to find out how our initial impressions of someone – based purely on seeing a photo of them – would influence us when we met that person face-to-face at a later date.

    Here are some parameters of the study:

    • Around 600 people participated
    • Each participant was shown portraits of four different strangers
    • Based only on those photos, the folks were asked to judge each stranger on three different things: Likability, attractiveness, and personality
    • They were then asked how much they would like to be friends with each stranger based on a scale of 1 to 7
    • A month or so later, the participants met the strangers whose photo they had viewed
    • After the meeting, each participant was asked to rate the person on the same three criteria as before: Likability, attractiveness, and personality.

    So, did the participants change their first impression after they had met each stranger?

    Surprisingly, they did not.

    Based on the testing criteria – likability, attractiveness, and personality – the initial judgments that each participant made remained remarkably consistent, even after they had met the stranger in person.

    As a consequence, the study found that our first impression of someone, even when based solely on something like a profile photo, not only lasts but, can actually end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    What someone thinks of you based on your profile picture, is a strong predictor of whether they are going to like you when they meet you.

    Variations in Photos

    Recently, a study conducted by Princeton University demonstrated how easily swayed we are by pictures, and how even slight variations in photos can significantly change our opinions about someone.

    If we are able to draw such powerfully lasting conclusions based simply on looking at someone’s photograph, the best thing to do is to make the most of that photograph.

    But, how exactly can we do that?

    Making Your Picture Count

    Your profile picture is your digital representative. It is not who you are, but it is a representative of who people think you are.

    As a result, you want it to say as much as it can, without over-doing it.

    Here are some tricks and tips that will help you get the most out of your profile picture:

    1. Are You Approachable?

    Nothing kills a first impression quite like a guarded, unapproachable aura. And though often thought of as something intangible, you can portray yourself as approachable in your picture.

    To do this, you must step into the shoes of someone who has a genuine interest in other people. Feel it. Breathe it. Live it.

    Feel it. Breathe it. Live it.

    Now, adopt a confident, relaxed pose and take that snap.

    2. Smile, Smile, Smile

    Smiling is a super power all of its own, and it will add greatly to any and all of your profile photographs.

    A genuine smile (one that includes the eyes) automatically portrays you as likable and engaging.

    Don’t be afraid to engage with the camera here. Some of the best photographs are often captured in moments of interaction. Use that fabulous smile of yours to interact not only with the camera but with your captive audience as well.

    3. Use Different Pictures on Different Platforms

    Variety is the spice of life, right?

    Always remember that using the same profile picture for every online platform is not a good idea.

    Why is this?

    Because each platform has its own demographic and its own specific reason for existing. What makes you seem fun and playful on one site might make you seem something else entirely on another.

    Before you upload a profile picture to each site, consider who the audience is for the site. How do you want to be perceived by that audience? Then, set about creating that impression in your picture.

    4. Consider Professional Prints

    Exasperated because you can’t find that flawless pose? Don’t know the right lighting to use to accentuate your best features? Trying your best to perfect that smile and nothing seems to work?

    Why not take the hassle and stress out of creating your online profile picture, and turn it into an awesome experience instead?

    For a first impression to beat all others, consider acquiring the services of the Online Profile Pros. Nothing beats the expertise and know-how of a professional photographer who knows exactly how to make you look your best.

    Leaving the Best First Impression

    It really is true. Nothing lasts quite like a first impression.

    So, perhaps it’s time to put your best digital foot forward?

    Your profile picture and your future self will thank you for it.

    Need any help or looking for more advice? Don’t be shy! We’re here to help. Get in touch!

Claire Bahn


Claire Bahn is the CEO and Co-Founder of Online Profile Pros (OPP). She founded OPP to help individuals build, maintain and protect their personal brand to help them get the jobs, promotions and dates they desire. She has 15 years experience in branding, public relations and event marketing at start-ups as well as large Fortune 500 companies like Rueters and SAP. Claire has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur magazines among others. Online Profile Pros helps executives, entrepreneurs & influencers strategize and create their best personal brand.


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