Nowadays, everyone is on Facebook — from your friends to your parents to even your boss and most definitely your coworkers. But if you're looking to have your Facebook profile convey the real you, you might want to take a closer look at your profile photo. According to new research, photos seem to be the primary way we make impressions of people on social networking sites.
Researchers from The Ohio State University had 195 college students view a mock Facebook profile of a person who was supposed to be a fellow student. The profile included a photo and a written statement about the person. Participants were then asked to rate how extraverted they thought the student in the profile was. The study, which was published in the Journal of Communication found that in most cases, people form first impressions from what you're doing in your photo, not from reading your text.
"If you are an extrovert — go ahead a post a profile picture of you with a bunch of your friends and family!" says Sheela Raja, assistant professor and clinical psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, about the research. "People will assume that about you from the visual picture — but they might not spend a bunch of time looking through your profile."
The only exception to the study was when a photo was out of the ordinary or showed someone in a negative light. When that happened, people read the profile text to help figure out what type of person they really were and to see if the image matched with the "about me" information.
"If you post a picture of you in a more serious or somber mood (or if you are alone in the picture), people will explore your profile a bit more to see what is true about you," Raja says. "From your interests and postings they'll try to see if you are a more serious person, or if you have a funny or more social side (at least in terms of what you post)."
When choosing an image, it's best to first ask yourself what image you'd like to convey, recommends Farrah Parker, an image consultant for FD Parker & Associates.
"If the answer is 'fun-loving party girl,' then the professional head shots that your job provides for the annual task of updating your profile on the company website may not be the way to go," Parker says. "On the contrary, if you're looking to score a serious date, then the sexually suggestive pose may not be the road for you."
What if you're trying to use social media to land a job or as a professional networking tool to gain contacts? Selecting a photo that truly represents you may not be the appropriate route, Parker says.
"Maybe you're a true jokester who happens to be looking for a job," she says. "The 'real you' profile pic may involve holding a can of whip cream over your bestie's face. However, considering more and more HR professionals use Facebook to unofficially screen candidates, take the safe route and use the nerd head shot."
And once you have the perfect shot, be sure to customize the rest of your Facebook page, just in case someone is looking at your full profile and not just your photo. With the advent of Facebook's new timeline, be choosy about your cover photo. Think of your timeline as a digital scrapbook, with the cover photo the cover of your book. Add life events to show your personal accomplishments and go back through your activity log to change the privacy of any post or delete it entirely. Also consider adding cool apps that share your interests like Spotify for your favorite songs or MapMyRun to showcase your favorite run.
Ready to customize your Facebook page to give off the right impression? Read more about the study here
and get tips on how to customize your Facebook timeline here
And now we have to ask — how well does your Facebook profile photo represent you?
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.