Body Language Secrets for the Perfect Profile Picture

When it comes to picking the perfect profile picture, both for personal and business uses, your non-verbal brand matters. Science of People founder and body language expert Vanessa Van Edwards studies not only the way people move, speak, and act — but also how those actions and movements are read by others.

In her CreativeLive course, the Power of Body Language, she dove into some secrets for getting the perfect profile photo for your brand or personal social media page.

Consider the messaging: You know that a selfie at a party isn’t very professional, but what about a picture a friend took on a night out with friends? Depending on your business or personality, photos of true laughter or unabashed joy might be perfect — or they might not send quite a serious enough message.

Come up with what Vanessa calls a “positive trait list,” and then decide what you want the feeling to be. If “fun-loving” is one of them, keep the candids. If it’s not, consider finding a more conventional photo.

Before and After Social Media Image

Check for “microexpressions”: Smirking (which often reads as contempt, as seen above), turned-down lips (anger, aggression), or raised eyebrows (fear, because getting your photo taken can be a nervous experience) are surprisingly common in social media profile pictures. Check in with the subtle messages you’re sending with your facial expression.

Use your body: Social media profile photos don’t have to be stoic headshots. Consider using more of your body — like your hands — to encourage visitors to your website or profile page to do something, like follow you on Twitter or subscribe to your email list. You can also use your eye gaze, says Vanessa. “Gazing directly into the lens — that’s more powerful, and it’s seen as more professional. When you have people gazing off camera, the professionalism goes down.”

This can be fluid, depending on which social media platform you’re picking a profile photo for. For a LinkedIn profile, consider using the “power gaze” and directing your eyes straight and up a little, as if you’re looking toward the viewer’s eyes and forehead. For a more social profile, like Facebook, feel free to use that more informal, sidelong or downward glance.

profile picture tips

The Law of Touch: “When people self-touch,” says Vanessa, “you instantly bring down the professional level of the photo and get into flirty behavior.” If you’re looking to draw attention to your photos in a social setting — like online dating — self-touch is a great way to send a message of warmth and interest. However, it’s probably not appropriate for, say, a business card image or a LinkedIn profile.

Use props: “What does a mug nonverbally certify?” asks Vanessa. “It says I’m an avid learner…having a coffee mug, people immediately think of their own coffee. And I want them to sit down with me and have a cup of coffee. So it’s an inviting prop.” The same rule could be used with a cocktail glass, a pair of glasses, or any other prop which may be applicable for the message you’re looking to send.

Be smart about color: Picking the color of your outfit and backdrop are important. Are you an outdoorsy person in an online dating setting who’s looking for someone similar? Use a photo where you’re in nature and wearing natural colors. Want potential clients to trust you? Wear serene, calming colors like blues and soft greens.

Color can be set for specific social media platforms, too.Optimism, youth, and lightheartedness are all associated with yellows, whereas red is an intense, passionate color. Black, meanwhile, is considered the most professional color. Consider these colors — and color combinations — when picking your wardrobe, cover photo, and background photos for various sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Use the space: “The more space you take up, the more confident you are,” says Vanessa — and the same is true in photos. If you want to appear confident in your photos, ensure that you’re taking up the majority of the space in the image. If you’d rather be perceived as more demure, leave a lot of space visible behind and around you.

For headshots, says Vanessa, you can use the space a little more creatively.

“LinkedIn shots are shots that are smaller…most of my headshots, if I have just my head, I usually will tilt it to show a little bit of warmth. Otherwise, I feel like I look too stiff.”

Crowdsource a little: Vanessa calls this a “ninja tip,” and it really kind of is. OKCupid has a free app called MyBestFace, which has random people vote on their favorite of your photos. And no, you don’t have to go on any dates just for using it.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.