05/27/2015 02:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Your Social Media Picture Says About You


Can someone tell how successful you are by just looking at your picture?

The answer is yes!

For one of our Citizen Science Projects here in our human behavior research lab we wanted to know what makes someone look popular. Here's what we did:

  • First, we found an amazing study done by Nalini Ambady that looked at CEOs' faces. She found that people can glance at a picture of a CEO and predict how successful he or she is. Specifically, she showed participants pictures of the top 25 CEOs on the Fortune 500 list and pictures of the bottom 25 CEOs and asked people to rate them on leadership qualities like intelligence, power and charisma. Here's what's crazy: People's leadership rankings matched the pictures. In other words, people who looked the most successful were the most successful. We had to see if this study holds up in real life.
  • Second, we took three female Twitter profile pictures and three male Twitter profile pictures and asked our Science of People nation to vote who they thought had the most followers. Over 700 people played this game with us in the lab. And amazingly, most people are able to guess correctly.

The last thing we have done is study what is it about the popular faces that makes them more influential? The answer lies in our nonverbal micromessages.

Every picture of us sends out powerful nonverbal signals.

The problem is most of us have no idea what our Facebook profile, Twitter picture, dating headshot says about us.

Here are three quick things you can do to improve the nonverbal cues in your pictures:

1. Stop smirking!

The first cardinal sin of profile pictures is the smirk. So many people make this mistake without even realizing it! Why is this so bad? The smirk is the universal facial expression for contempt, hatred and disdain. So if this is in your profile you are basically telling the world you don't want people to connect with you!

2. Use the head tilt.

The head tilt is a universal gesture of engagement. It tells people you are warm and approachable.

3. Smile high.

Most people think that showing your teeth is smiling, but actually a true smile is one that reaches those upper cheek muscles. In your pictures make sure your smile reaches your eyes otherwise you come across as fake and inauthentic.

4. How to take the perfect selfie:

See all of our profile tips in our selfie post:


If you want feedback on your selfie post your picture in our Feedback Forum and see what our awesome community has to say!

Want more?

Do you have a digital brand? I want to show you how to optimize it in our FREE upcoming online webinar. It drives me crazy when talented, wonderful, awesome people forget about their online assets.

A bad digital first impression can destroy your chances at a job, on a date or in a relationship.

You have 0.05 seconds to make a good first impression online. In those 50 milliseconds you have to hook someone and convey who you are, why they should connect with you AND build trust. We don't realize it, but in the digital age, often times your first impression happens even before you meet someone. The problem is we often focus on the verbal content of our profiles and websites. But since our digital first impression happens so quickly-before someone reads any of your content or descriptions, you have to capture their attention with nonverbal cues or your digital body language.

The problem is we have no idea what our digital first impression is, let alone how to fix it. I'm here to help!

For the last 2 years I have been researching how nonverbal cues affect our first impression both online and offline. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to present this research at SXSW 2015 and now I want to share these insights with you. I have put all of the research into a free online webinar for you, all of my lovely Science of People readers!

On June 6th, 2015 I will be hosting a LIVE interactive class on managing and improving your Digital Brand. Details on how to sign up here.