Visual Identity in Social Media – How To Choose Your Persona’s Profile Picture

robert 4 years ago 0 11

An interesting research paper fell across our desks this week. We thought it would be helpful to unpack it for the benefit of our crisis simulation adventurers!

The paper is called Profile Pictures Across Platforms: How Identity Visually Manifests Itself among Social Media Accounts. It details research on how people in their sample choose their profile picture.

For our purposes, we’re interested to know, what profile picture should I use for a persona given a certain personality type?

Although the research only looks at a small sample of young people in the USA, and cultural differences in other countries might produce different results, the findings create a nice thumbnail (pun intended!) of how to choose a profile pic for your persona.

Most profile pics featured:

  • someone smiling (bias towards projecting positive vibes)
  • a background that would give that person some social capital. For example, highlighting wealth, having a fun time.
  • young people: physical likeness to the real person. Older people might chose images more abstract,of still life or from popular culture.

The next tables summarize how pictures differ across platform and personality trait.

 Platform  Profile picture
perceived by younger people as the most formal compared to Instagram and Twitter (although of course not as formal as LinkedIn).
Younger users are more reserved (tamer, cleaner, more conservative) in their choice of picture because they know older people are here. Other family members are here.
Instagram Less inhibited profile pics than Facebook because it skews younger: “goofier, unflattering, humorous”: eyes closed, eating, unconventional to show “fun people”.

“Instances of alcohol and drug use confined to [Instagram]”

Twitter Perceived by younger people as less serious than Facebook but not as informal as Instagram.

Profile pictures are less formal and more likely to be “silly, goofy, snarky, political”


 Type of Person Profile picture
Introverted  more likely to have the same profile picture across all platforms

more likely to be alone in the picture

Extroverted  more likely to have pics that are carefree and less deliberate in the picture selection

more likely to have other people in the picture

Agreeable more likely to share the picture with other people or animals
Conscientious more likely to have a different profile pic across platforms presumably because they respond to the nuances of each platform.
Neurotic (those most concerned what others think of them) least likely to use a picture overlay so as not be associated with anything overtly fan-based or political.
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