It's often said that people make a judgment about you within seconds of meeting you, and now new research shows the same may be true even when they're viewing your photo on Facebook.
When a person's Facebook photo includes positive comments or social cues such as what the person does those opinions strongly affect the level of perceived attractiveness of that person, according to a University of Missouri study.
Others' comments can make the person seem more appealing physically, socially and professionally, says Seoyeon Hong, a doctoral student who did the research with Kevin Wise, an associate professor at the university.
While the researchers didn't pursue how this could affect an employer's opinion of a job applicant, hiring managers also might take their cues from what other people say about you online.
"If you present yourself one way, that information is useful," Wise says. "But it's not as credible as what other parties say about you."
If you present yourself as a nice, professional, responsible person to an employer, but those online are "posting that you're a total schmuck," that could be a red flag for employers because others' comments often garner more attention, he says.
In the University of Missouri study, Facebook profile photos were shown to about 100 college students. College students thought the people in photos with comments and additional information, such as an athlete playing sports, were more physically and socially attractive. Those with plain headshots and no other information on Facebook were not seen as attractive, Hong found.
Visual images are becoming more powerful online. Not only does Facebook reveal our photos to the world, but sites like Instagram and Pinterest are becoming much more popular as a way to reveal our interests or personalities.
An ROI Research study found that 44 percent of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if those brands post pictures.
What this indicates is that no matter what you put on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to enhance your professional image, you must make sure the photos are consistent with your written message and that comments from others are equally positive.
Some ways to enhance your image online:
Get recommendations • LinkedIn offers a feature to let others recommend you.
While you don't want to have dozens of recommendations that might ring false with employers, it's a good idea to have positive comments about your abilities that go along with a flattering LinkedIn profile photo.
Watch the sarcasm • You might consider it harmless or fun to have friends say snarky things about you online, but those comments might give an employer pause.
Again, it's a case of a third party presenting a less-than-flattering image of you that may weigh more heavily with employers.
Get positive customer reviews. • Just as consumers often pay close attention to customer reviews online about products or companies, it can be a good idea for employers to read positive reviews about you.
If you write a blog, it can be beneficial for others to post supportive comments of your efforts or show support by promoting your blog through their social-media channels.
Clean house. • Remember the last holiday party where you had tinsel on your head and a beer in your hand?
Employers might not find that so fitting, so take care to remove such photos and ask friends to do the same if you appear on their Facebook pages. Even if you use privacy settings, your connections might not follow suit.
Try to monitor what's posted about you online so you can make sure the right social cues are being broadcast.
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22107.