On each of the social platforms, a profile picture carries a different meaning and attempts to convey a different message. Meteoric technological progress has created laws of its own, accompanied by new norms and new codes of behavior that pertain to a specific platform and not to others. The main feature common to all the platforms is that among the visual media that form the context of our behavior, there is a principal entry card that bears your picture.
That picture is the first thing anyone sees, and the impression you make on others, whether conscious or unconscious , starts with it. Human interaction rests mostly on nonverbal communication. In the virtual world, there is no relying on nonverbal communication for revelations about the person conversing with you. Such impressions are based on open and hidden hints and, surprisingly, are quite accurate for the most part.
What your photos say The profile picture provides both open and hidden hints. If you are tilting your head and smiling, you project dependence.
Such hints tacitly provide indications and information about the interlocutor. When there is no other nonverbal communication to rely on, all those hints influence our success in making the desired impression with our photos. A picture with family or with children, for example, indicates a person who is close to his or her family and who sees them as a strong support. A wedding picture hints that the user wants to be seen by everyone as grown up and moving forward in life. Moreover, people with wedding pictures want it known immediately that they are no longer available as mates and that they attach top importance to their spouses.
Generally they are recently married. Narcissists, being self-centered, post profile pictures that seem to be taken from a fashion magazine.
First impressions Most people will admit neither to the significant impression that a picture makes on them, nor to the real factors that lead them to conclusions. But reality shows quite a different situation. Recently, a trend toward professionally photographed profile pictures for social media has appeared.
But even professional photography requires caution. It is effective to a point, but there is a limit. On the one hand, appearing well dressed in a photograph of high quality does contribute to making the proper impression, but care must be taken, because on the other hand, people manage to perceive more than the photo ostensibly shows. After all, the ability to reach conclusions on the basis of visual evidence is inborn—it is important to our survival.
To the extent that the photo appears to be staged, the desired impression will be weakened. It the photo appears too polished, the reaction may be contemptuous. Under the dominion of the digital age, distanced from all authenticity, people value a photo that, conversely, looks natural and shows the reality of the person. Such pictures make the strongest impression. In addition, it is important to suit the picture to the platform, with understanding of the prevailing code of behavior—for example, not to post a swimsuit photo on LinkedIn or a lectern shot on Facebook.
The Facebook example may be less harmful than the LinkedIn example, but it still demonstrates poor social understanding, and thus it still counts against the user.