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  • Writer's pictureDr. Gary Witt

10 Rules for a Great LinkedIn Photo

Marketing Psychology Dr. Gary Witt

You probably have your picture posted online. If you do, ask yourself, “Is my picture hurting me?”

I did an analysis of over 400 LinkedIn pictures. In 200 out of 408 LinkedIn photos I analyzed, just under 50%, the answer was “YES!” In other words, about half of LinkedIn members are using a picture (or lack of one) which is hurting them as they seek to make helpful contacts with others.

The picture plays a huge role in our evaluation. We want people in our network who are professional, trustworthy, and valuable to us. Their picture offers clues that their job blurb does not. Would you invite a company VP into your group if his picture showed him at the beach wearing a speedo? More than a few pics here come close to that! A picture is worth more than a thousand words because we believe the picture. Research shows that when our opinion based on a visual image is in conflict with what we read, we generally side with the image.

10 RULES FOR PICKING A PICTURE (see next blog for “10 More Rules”)

What are the problems that real LinkedIn photos have as seen through the lens of psychological marketing? Here are some Guidelines for analyzing your photo based on how well it markets you.

1) Absence. Without a picture, your image is incomplete, so it does nothing to help you get an invitation. Unless you have a privacy issue, take the time to put up a photo which emphases the professional brand image you want to project.

2) Poor Lighting. Roughly one in three photos are poorly lit, so much so that some of them are no more than silhouettes! Many wider shots are so dark you can’t even see the person. Make sure every part of your face and especially your eyes are bright and easily visible. Be sure the light is balanced so both sides of your face are clear, no artsy shots here! Also, make sure your skin tones look natural, not a reddish or bluish color shift due to the type of lighting you had.

3) Sunglasses and Profiles. Look at print ads featuring people. Many are close-ups, at least waist shots. And the best ones show a person looking out at you with both eyes. That is no accident. When someone looks at you (even in a photo), it grabs your attention. We like to look at other people’s eyes, thinking we can tell something about their character. There are no upsides to a sunglasses photo!

4) In the Park. A surprising number of photos look like they were picked randomly out of the family photo file – in a park, on the beach, on a horse, climbing rocks, even at a bar. They are poorly framed and focused, may show the person at a distance, and do nothing to inspire trust or professionalism. In fact, often the picture does just the opposite! This is not Facebook or Pinterest. You build your image through every element you show to others. Everything counts.

5) All of Me. Some photos show the person from head to toe. This makes the head relatively small and hard to see in the picture. Your head and shoulders are the most important part of your LinkedIn shot. It is primarily how people emotionally judge your professionalism and trustworthiness. So don’t reduce your impact by showing too much of your body. Remember, if all the features of your face, especially your eyes, are not clearly visible in good lighting, you are too far away from the camera.

6) Too Much of Me. Some photos seem to have been selected to emphasize the person’s glamour. There is nothing wrong with that in moderation. Dozens of studies show that people who are attractive get preferential treatment in hiring, promotions, raises, and even in judging intelligence. But too much skin or a provocative pose (like looking back over your shoulder at the camera) creates an impression which does not help the image you want to convey (I hope!)

7) Too Close. Some people went overboard on their close-up. These can more properly be called nostril shots, as they are easy to examine. No one’s face looks good in extreme close-up unless they have a Hollywood make-up artist. Don’t scare people with your pores, a nice head and shoulders shot is the best.

8) Don’t Share the Frame. This space is about you. This isn’t the place for your wedding picture or playing with the kids! Unless there are special reasons related to the brand image you want to project, don’t share the frame with your family, friends or co-workers. Keep the focus on you. The same is true with machinery. One of the oddest examples is of a man, totally lost in shadow, next to a great picture of his hearse. Then there’s a wide shot of a woman sitting in her convertible in a parking lot surrounded by cars! If we can’t see your face big and clear, the machinery in the background is hurting you.

9) Added Value Elements. About 10% of the poor photos have elements the photographer added to enhance the image of the person, such as an award or diploma (which cannot be read), a skyline shot out an office window (which makes the person’s face dark), a big computer monitor (again making the person’s face dark), or in a nice office (where any shot wide enough to see the office leaves the person’s head too small.) Your FACE is the most important element!

10) What Are You Wearing? The best framing for your card is a head-and-shoulders shot. People can see all the features of your face clearly (with the right lighting) as well as some of what you are wearing. And that can be a problem. What you wear suggests to viewers who you are. We judge strangers by their clothes because more often than not we are right. Obviously a business-like outfit creates an image of professionalism. But make sure it looks trustworthy. Review your old copy of Dress for Success. While younger adults, such as the Millennials and Gen Zs, tend to like clothing that seems mis-matched to older people, there are still boundaries you should not cross. A white belt is not back in fashion, a t-shirt won’t help you here, nor will a low-cut blouse or a neon green housedress. And be careful of anything so bright or gaudy that it takes attention away from your face. Finally, if you wear a white dress or blouse, the camera will adjust to it and your face will be dark. What you wear counts, so let your wardrobe help create the right image. Remember, the picture is for other people, not for you or what you like!

I hope these ideas will help you create a photo which will project the most useful image of you to others on LinkedIn. In marketing, everything is about perception.

See 10 MORE helpful ideas to improve your LinkedIn picture in Part 2 of this blog.

In the e-book I wrote with Lon Safko (The Social Media Bible), 7.5 Secrets to Successful Blog, you can read more about selecting pictures and headlines for your blogs and ads. You’ll find it on Amazon at an amazingly low price!

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