A picture's worth a 1000 words. Is yours?

We talk a lot about how agencies are communicating and the requirement for consistent messaging. Usually we’re referring to tone of voice, behaviours and messaging, but, when it comes to your choice of pictures, in particular your team photographs (individual or group) what are your pictures saying about you as an agency brand?

When speaking to marketers about why they choose one agency over another, it's never the work or the solution that is the biggest influence. It’s always the people that clinch the deal, "We just liked them and we could SEE ourselves working with them". So, if who you are is so important to clients and prospects why are so many agency websites and social media profiles (company and personal) using such unsuitable photographs to visually communicate who they are?

In our line of work we get to review hundreds of agency websites, credentials and social media profiles, which means we see hundreds of agency team photographs. It never ceases to amaze us how horrendous they often are. We work in a creative industry, how is it so many of us are failing to understand how to communicate who we are visually? Why are so many ‘selfies’ and boring, uncreative, unemotional images being used simply to fill a space? Why are we failing to invest in our own visual imagery? More importantly what can you do to differentiate yourselves as an agency brand, ensuring you are communicating the right 'emotionally intelligent' messages through your own photographs?

We've got some thoughts on this ourselves, but to back up our thinking we've also done a little research into the science and psychology behind why clients will connect emotionally much more with some images than others and we even spoke to a professional photographer about his views on the matter too. Here’s what we discovered:

  1. Did you know that in just 40 milliseconds (that’s less than one-half of one-tenth of a second), humans are able to draw conclusions about people based on a photograph? Yeah, that’s right, you are being judged that quickly. So first impressions are crucial.
  2. You must understand and know your audience/s and what they will be attracted to. Do your research. Don’t make assumptions and only think about what you want to communicate, instead think about the type of impression your target audience will be attracted to.
  3. Preferences for images do shift depending on the function of the context. Therefore not only is your audience important, so is the media you’ll be communicating on. Find out what works best for the medium where your photograph will be displayed.
  4. If we want to appear likeable, competent and influential remember the following points:  
    - Don’t let anything block your eyes (your eyes are the window to the soul after all), so if you are thinking of ‘looking cool’ in your Raybans, think again. I’ve done this myself in the past on LinkedIn and was accused of looking ‘aggressive’ as a direct result of wearing my sunglasses, not the message I was trying to visually communicate that’s for sure.

    - Ensure the angle of your photograph defines your jawline, apparently a shadow-line that outlines your jawline all the way around helps with likeability, competence and influence.

    - Show your teeth when you smile. Apparently a closed mouth smile has a small increase in likeability. A ‘laughing’ smile increases it even more, but reduced competence and influence. The best smile is apparently a smile with teeth. This increases likeability (across all points), nearly twice that of a closed smile.

    - Dress a bit more formally. Now I know we’re in a more creative industry and context is everything, and although the research says dark suits and light coloured button down shirts (clearly a tad gender biased in our view), you might want to think about those ‘cool t-shirts’. Reflect your culture by all means, but think about what your audience is going to respond well to when it comes to likeability, influence and competency.

    - Make sure your images are head and shoulders (or head to waist). Apparently close-ups on just headshots and full body shots bring down your likeability, influence and competency impressions significantly.

    - Try a ‘squinch’ (don’t worry, I’d never heard of it before either), but apparently it’s a slight squint. The idea being that ‘wide eyes’ communicate a fearful, vulnerable and uncertain impression – not how you want to come across. Instead try the ‘slightly squinted eye’ look as it comes across as more comfortable and confident which is always a winner when it comes to competence, likeability and influence.

    - Avoid the ‘sexy’ look. This reduces impressions of competence by 50%. So that definitely rules out all of those ‘pouty’ selfies and overtly sexy outfits that’s for sure.

    - Don’t go too edgy – now this may go against all of our ‘creative’ instincts, but the reason for this that although the creativity might be your communication goal, pushing the edginess too far can be seen as a sign that the person photographed isn’t credible or competent. And if we want to be respected as agency partners rather than as suppliers to be pushed around then we don’t want to have our credibility or competency questioned?

  5. Famous for being an early pioneer of all things tech and social media, Canva’s Guy Kawasaki has shared 4 key points as to what he believes makes a successful profile photograph.

    a) Faces only – no family, friends, dogs, logo’s etc. (so maybe think twice before you have a photograph taken with the office dog)

    b) Ensure the photograph is asymmetrical – use the rule of thirds when having your profile picture taken – any photographer of value will automatically apply this rule (there’s a lot of solid psychology and design history behind this approach)

    c) Face the light – the source of light should be in front of you when you have the photograph taken

    d) Ensure your image is at least 600 pixels wide – even though sizes vary on social media, apparently a 600 pixel image should look fab no matter where it’s viewed.

  6. To look or not to look, that is the question? When you are getting your photograph taken do you look down the camera lens or do you look away. What we found out was pretty interesting – there are actually two different answers depending on your gender – studies done by OKCupid show that impressions are more positive for female images if they look directly down the camera, and for men positive impressions are much stronger if they are seen to be looking away from the camera.

Now that we’ve nailed the science of a good photograph, we wanted to hear from an expert photographer on the topic of styling. We asked Dave Wise, British fashion and celebrity photographer his opinion. This is what he had to say: “I personally think ‘context’ is king. So, the use of the photograph is what will determine the style. There is a marked difference between a photograph that shows what someone looks like and a photograph that shows who someone is. For example, on a hospital ward it’s perfectly acceptable, if not preferable, to have a very simple, clean, expressionless headshot. But if you’re creating a treatment list, you want a softer, less clinical photograph to show that the surgeon/consultant cares and is confident within their environment. I think every business is the same, if you require images of people, then you need to understand where those images are going to be used and in what context.”

We couldn’t agree more, remember points 1 and 2 we made earlier about knowing your audience and context. When we worked with Dave on our own team photographs, in order to get them ‘just right’ we spent time writing a brief and talking to him about our audience our personalities, the context of the usage of the photographs and the visual messaging we did and didn’t want to convey. It made such a huge difference. The photo-shoot ran smoothly and we have loved the images (as have our clients and prospects) Dave produced for us.

We understand that there is a lot to think about to ensure you photographs are saying the right thing, so in short, if nothing else, to make the best first impression in your profile or team photograph make sure you nail these 10 simple things:

  1. Flash those pearly whites
  2. Don’t’ wear those ‘cool as’ shades
  3. Tilt your head, just so
  4. Try the ‘squinch’
  5. No more ‘pouty’ selfies and overtly sexy outfits
  6. Face the light
  7. Don’t include the office dog, family, mates etc.
  8. Look down the camera lens if you are female, don’t if you’re male
  9. Make sure the image is a minimum of 600 pixels wide
  10. Use a professional (like the talented Dave Wise), ensuring you write a brief that is clear on the brand messaging and brand essence you’re trying to convey. We cannot stress this point enough. (Note Dave’s details are below should you want to enquire about his services)

Good luck on your next photo-shoot.

Contact details for our photographic contributor:
W: http://itsdavewise.com/

E: info@itsdavewise.com
M: +44 (0) 7834 088 228

Original source materials: https://blog.bufferapp.com/best-profile-picture-science-research-psychology