Sex Sells, whether your want it to or not.
Sex is everywhere!
You see it everywhere, from television and magazines to billboards and video games. Sex is the fastest, easiest, laziest way to draw the eye of potential consumers/readers/buyers/users, and marketing experts know it. It is, undoubtedly, more effective than any technique you can possibly employ to get attention in any arena.
That being said, if you're a writer online, how much do you think it lures people to your content to have an attractive profile image or thumbnail? I write a lot of things, and more importantly I read them, and while I might disregard many of the articles out there based on topic or presentation, my eye will still hesitate over anything featuring an attractive female. It's just the nature of the beast.
This is a consideration that we can use, of course, as people who want to rack up as many page views as possible, but where is the moral line? Where does it stop being strategic and start being exploitative? That's the question that I hope to answer.
Choosing your image
So, let's take a moment to analyze a few pictures. There'll be a test at the end, so take notes if you feel the need.
The image to the right is my own profile image. I use it pretty much everywhere that I write for the purpose of continuity and recognition, but that's beside the point. What do you notice when you look at this image? Based on what I know about people, you probably either look straight at the gun (it's a Springfield Model 1911) or straight at my arm. So why have I chosen this particular image? Simple. It's a picture of me, for starters, that's logical enough. Second, it relates directly to my personality and interests (In other words, I like guns.) Finally, it's a pretty flattering picture. Even if I write absolutely nothing that in any way pertains to firearms or fail to fill my articles with pictures of physically-fit men, you stopped and looked for a moment. Now, if this image was lumped in among dozens of landscapes and animal photos, you'd likely hesitate. Mission accomplished, I got attention.
That being said, are there some people out there who are going to look at this picture and consider me less knowledgeable on the topic of, let's say, astrophysics? Yes, probably. A fit guy with a gun in his hand isn't the perception you want to have of a person who is explaining to you the latest advancements in dark matter research and theory, is it?
Do you sell it?
Have you ever taken your profile image into consideration for advertising purposes?
Why does sex sell?
Simply put, sex has a direct biological and psychological effect on the viewer. It's basically taking advantage of the base compulsions that exist in every single human being in order to cause that moment of hesitation. After all, once that reader hesitates for a moment to look at your picture, then odds are they're going to at least read the title and/or the summary, which will entice them to view the page that it links to. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.
Gallup polls over the last 50 years have consistently shown that the use of even semi-erotic images is a more effective advertising technique than most.
Alright, this image is of my first volunteer, A Beautiful Mess from Hubpages.com. She has so generously allowed me to pick apart her profile picture in an effort to further my point about marketing yourself via a profile image, so without further ado:
This is a great example of what I think the real goal should probably be. She writes quite a lot on assorted beauty and fashion topics, and this profile picture sends precisely that message. You look at her picture, see someone who is well put together and could probably teach you a thing or two on that topic. At the same time, it's a very attractive image. The sort of thing that, in your random scrolling, you'd stop and have a glance at because hey, she's a beautiful girl.
More importantly, though, it is also a tasteful image. One that takes advantage of the eye-catching capability of an attractive human being without being overly racy or inappropriate. No one could really be offended by this image, yet it serves the same function that a racier image would without harming her credibility as an authority on the topic she covers.
How much is too much?
Is there too much sex employed in advertising today?
Sex in advertising - A red-flag affair
So, why doesn't everyone just plaster a scantily-clad model on their images? Well, for one, advertising conventions require that there be at least some correlation between the advertisement and your product. More importantly, though, given the volatile opinions that surround sex and exploitation, it can be pretty dangerous for a company to work this particular angle.
It's all but too easy to cross a line and wind up alienating an entire demographic with one photo that shows a bit too much skin in one of your ads, just the same as it would be to post an overly erotic profile image. You'll get attention, sure, but in the process you will obliterate your credibility.
Useful vs. Unnecessary
So, when is it in bad taste? Well, how many folks out there have seen those ads for free-to-play online games? You know, the ones with an absurdly buxom and barely dressed animated female who is just oh-so-excited about you rushing off to conquer dragons and slay kingdoms? That, my friends, is what is called exploitation and objectification. I, personally, would never dream of clicking on one of those links for that very reason.
These marketing tactics are in bad taste, and the same thing applies in terms of your profile image. If you slap some painfully tactless image of yourself up there, certain demographics are going to disregard you because of it. If you're writing about sex-related topics, then you can get away with a bit more, but it's a very fine line to tread.
The simple fact of the matter is this: If you don't have a good reason to have an overtly sexual image out there, don't do it. Subtly employing something as simple as makeup or decent clothing in the appropriate context can get you the same effect without compromising conservative individuals or your status as an authority on the topic you choose to cover.
Which is more effective? Overt or Subtle sexual advertising?
Why use a self portrait?
If you're going to use a picture of yourself for profile purposes in an online marketing place, there are a few advantages and disadvantages to consider.
First of all, it damns the concept of anonymity. You're putting yourself, your real self, out there in the public eye, and that can be a scary prospect in a world where your personal information or even your photo can be distributed without consent at the drop of a hat. Worse yet, there are circumstances when it can be used against you.
However, it also offers a level of personal connection that you can't get otherwise. People like to see the face behind a name, and that sense of the person behind the words can do wonders for your readers, lending itself quite well to establishing long-term readership.
There are risks and reward in everything, but if you choose to put your own face out there do yourself a huge favor: Make sure it isn't much more than your face that you're exposing.