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The 7 Factors That Increase The Psychological Impact of Your LinkedIn Profile Photo

What does your LinkedIn profile picture say about you?

The answer matters; nearly half of B2B buyers will browse your LinkedIn profile. And studies have shown it only takes one-tenth of a second for someone to draw conclusions about you based on your photo — so how do you win someone over in less than a second?

Good news, social sellers: There is research out there about the specific types of profile photos that have the biggest impact on first impressions. Here’s everything we’ve found about what goes into the best LinkedIn profile photo and what to avoid, all backed by data.

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But don’t just take our word for it. Let’s take a look at the data and science behind these recommendations.

( PS — Already have the perfect photo? Skip down the page to check out our LinkedIn, Twitter, and Gmail specific instructions.)

Social Selling 101: What Research Says About First Impressions

In a series of experiments studying judgement from facial appearances, Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov found it only takes 100 milliseconds to form an impression of someone from just looking at a photo of their face.

80 to 90 percent of that first impression is based on just two qualities — trustworthiness and competence.

Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy does a great job explaining this phenomenon:

When we form a first impression of another person it’s not really a single impression. We’re really forming two. We’re judging how warm and trustworthy the person is, and that’s trying to answer the question, “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” And we’re also asking ourselves, “How strong and competent is this person?” That’s really about whether or not they’re capable of enacting their intentions.”

Bottom line: Social selling is about establishing credibility and giving prospects a reason to trust you. That starts with your profile photo.

Want to spice up your email signature, too, while you’re at it? 

7 Ways To Appear Trustworthy, Competent, And Likeable In Less Than A Second

Researchers at PhotoFeeler, a site that lets you get feedback on your LinkedIn photos from real people, recently analyzed 60,000 ratings of perceived competence, likeability, and influence across 800 profile photos to identify the winning elements.

The study reveals six different factors that can make or break a photo’s first impression. We put them to the test using Yesware’s very own content-marketer-turned-part-time-model, Jack Weinstein.

Here’s what they came up with:

Bad LinkedIn Profile Photo1. Smile — With Teeth

Interestingly, a closed mouth smile makes you appear only half as likeable as someone who shows their teeth, according to PhotoFeeler’s research. Laughing while smiling increases likeability even more, but you lose points on perceived competence and influence.  

Not totally comfortable smiling on command? Try spending a few minutes in front of the mirror practicing your smile before you have your photo taken. Not only will you look friendlier in your photo, but smiling is proven to make you happier, healthier, and more relaxed.

2. ABS: Always Be Squinching

A squinch, or slight squint, increases the perception of competence and influence. The idea behind it is that wide eyes give off a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty, whereas a slightly narrow-eyed stare comes off as more comfortable and confident.

3. Accentuate Your Jawline

A shadow line that outlines the jaw all the way around increases influence, likeability, and competence scores.

Best LinkedIn Profile Photo4. Dress To Impress  

PhotoFeeler’s researchers found that formal dress raised perceived competence and influence scores more than any other factor tested. Men dressed in a light-colored button-down shirt with a dark suit jacket and tie scored better than those dressed in bright or trendy outfits.

5. Make Eye Contact With The Camera

Numerous studies show that the more people look at each other, the more they like each other. This also holds true when looking at a photo of someone. People whose eyes were obstructed by sunglasses, hair, glare, or shadow in their photos received lower ratings across the board than participants who looked into the camera.

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6. Stick with a bust (head and shoulders) or torso (head to waist) shot

Face-only close-ups brought likeability scores down, while full body photos negatively affected competence and influence.

7. Avoid too-dark photos or high color saturation

X-Pro and Valencia are best left to Instagram. Having a too-dark photo (one that mimics nighttime or a dark room) brought scores down, as did very high color saturation.

Bonus tip: Avoid direct sunlight and overhead light sources. Experts recommend positioning yourself in front of light filtering in through a window, or posing in a lamp-lit room to give your photo a warm glow.

In addition to recommendations from the PhotoFeeler study, we also rounded up a couple of suggestions worth experimenting with in the background of your profile photo, or on LinkedIn’s cover photo.

Try This: Make Your Profile Photo Stand Out With A Bright Background Color

There are colors that make us anxious, colors that calm — and yes, even colors that sell.

According to management research, it takes just 90 seconds for a customer to form an opinion about a product. 62-90% of that assessment is based on the color of the product alone.

It’s no wonder there have been many attempts to attach specific emotions to various colors:

social selling color emotion

Of course, it’s not that easyOur feelings about color are rooted in personal experiences and can be subjective.

We can’t offer you a clear-cut set of guidelines for choosing colors for your cover photo or profile picture. But it is worthwhile to think about how color could be used to catch someone’s eye or stand out in a sea of LinkedIn profile photos.

Consider this: Try using a bright color in the background of your Twitter or LinkedIn profile photo. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and social media mastermind, once found that using orange in the background of his Twitter profile photo helped him gain more followers. In another series of tests (using the images below), Cyrus Shepard of Moz discovered that red was his ticket to increasing Google+ traffic by 35%.

psychology of color tests

So you’re on top of optimizing your LinkedIn…now send smarter, faster emails. 

Try This: Incorporate Company Branding In Your LinkedIn Cover Photo

Marjorie Kase, a solutions consultant at Adobe Social, recommends incorporating imagery that reflects the field you work in. But rather than decking yourself out in company swag, consider incorporating your company’s branding within an often underused visual asset — your LinkedIn cover photo.

A great example of this comes from none other than Mr. Social Selling himself — Koka Sexton of LinkedIn. His cover photo clearly shows who he is, what he values, and his area of expertise.

LinkedIn Cover Photo Idea

Cheat Sheet: The Best Profile Picture Size For LinkedIn, Twitter, and Gmail

We designed this handy guide to help you remember ideal sizes of cover photos and profile pictures across three of the most common channels social sellers use to connect with buyers: LinkedIn, Twitter, and Gmail.

Over To You

The research is clear: Effective images are key to making yourself appear competent, influential, and trustworthy.  If you’re interested in trying something new with your own LinkedIn profile photo, use these recommendations as a guide to nailing that crucial first impression online.

Give your entire LinkedIn profile a makeover in under 10 minutes.

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