8 Tips to Make the Right First Impression on the Internet


First Impressions CountWhat kind of first impression do you make — on Linkedin, the company home page, dating sites and other social media? Do you know?

That first impression might be all others ‘know’ about you. And that impression is formed quickly, is lasting and is hard to change.

These days, I work giving talks about the importance of the first impression and how to make it convey the image you want.

I have always been interested in first impressions and how we ‘read’ one another. This interest began during my teens. I spent my high school years in a decidedly upper-class school. At the same time, I played in a Death Metal band and no doubt looked like what you are probably thinking.

In other words, I differed radically from the other pupils who had exactly the right brand labels on their clothes and who matched the look of the students featured in the school’s promotional material. But I was ambitious too, and interested in school. However unfair it might feel, my appearance — how I chose to ‘present myself’ to the world around me — most likely had an influence on my final grades.

One may ask why… Well, research has shown that we humans, unfortunately, aren’t always judged on the basis of who we are. Rather, we are often judged on the basis of our appearance and the assumptions it creates about us.

Later, my research would also show that even judges and lay magistrates are influenced by the first impression an accused person makes on them.

We know, however, that today the first meeting is not always in person, but more often than not over the Internet — on Linkedin, via company home pages and even on dating sites.

But what is it that determines how others perceive us when they see us on the Internet?

To start with, the psychological mechanisms are the same as in real life. We ask ourselves if we can trust you. Are you kind and good-hearted? Is your competence high or low?

We all try to ‘read’ the same qualities regardless of how we meet. This phenomenon has been labelled by researchers as ‘thin slices of behavior.’ This means that whatever others get to know about us in the initial impression, they will use it to draw conclusions about our entire personality. The basis for this generalized conclusion might be as little as a business card, our title, or a profile image.

Because of this human tendency, to succeed in our career or with dating, we have to master the art of making an impression on the Internet. Here are eight tips to help you on the way — with the focus on your photo.

  • Know what you are doing. Begin with treating the photo as a key element of your first impression, perhaps the most important one. People are highly visual, and will look at your photo before seeing your title, qualifications, etc.
  • The context. Your best Tinder image is not necessarily the best one for LinkedIn. The latter puts the focus on career and competence. As obvious as this seems, it’s common to see profile photos on business sites that feature revealing clothing or a party lifestyle.
  • What image of yourself do you want to convey? The picture of an attractive person, a competent professional or something else? Use your picture to convey the job and the career you wish. On company home pages and career-oriented social media, present a professional image — perhaps even taken at a photographer’s studio — a competent and serious impression.
  • The associations. The halo effect means that the setting where the photo is taken also influences others’ judgement of us. If we are standing on the top of a mountain compared to the city bustle, it conveys different pictures of us. The picture can also be taken in the midst of an activity — when we give a talk, stand next to a motorbike, make a funny face at a fancy-dress party, or are sitting in our office. ‘Imbibing idiot bias’ describes, for example, how something as harmless as a glass of beer or wine in the picture means that others perceive us as less intelligent.
  • The body. Are you standing upright or slouching, with an open gesture or with your arms folded? A head held straight is more authoritative than letting your head lean to one side. The latter can be seen as an emphathetic signal, but can also be perceived as subordinate.
  • Styling. Are you dressed formally or more casually? Light or dark clothes? Do you wear your hair loose, set up, have make-up on, wear spectacles or even sunglasses — all of these will influence how others perceive you. Ideally, your styling should match the impression or role you’d like to emphasize.
  • Gaze. Is your gaze directed at the camera or not? If you look into the camera, others will find it easier to remember you. Wearing sunglasses is usually a minus — many viewers will spontaneously wonder what you are hiding.
  • Mirroring. We like people who are similar to us. And at the same time are a bit suspicious of those who are different than us. That’s important both on the Internet and in person. So, match your target audience to the extent possible.

And, to help you along, here’s a free app where you can crowdsource opinions on your photo: Tosify (beta version). We all know it’s hard to look at our own photo and guess what others think about it – Tosify eliminates the guesswork!

Other resources:
Podcast: Top 10 Science-Based Headshot Hacks
Blog Post: Top 10 Profile Photo and Portrait Hacks Based on Science
Podcast: The Science of Irresistible First Impressions with Alexander Todorov

The Science of Irresistible First Impressions with Alexander TodorovProfile Photo HacksTop 10 Science-based Headshot Hacks           

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