Q: These days a “first impression” is often my Facebook profile. I've even heard that the majority of employers search for social media profiles in their hiring decisions. Is there any research on presenting a certain image in social media?
A: Some recent research does suggest that there are certain elements that influence how you are judged in social media. Maintaining a professional social media presence results in the best judgments of your personality.
A group of researchers at Florida Southern College published a study in 2014 that examined how potential employers judge the personalities of potential hires by looking at their Facebook profiles.
- The researchers pointed out that increasingly, employment decisions are being made partially on the “first impressions” made by social media profiles.
- Employers are often searching for certain personality traits in their future employees.
- Facebook is one way for employers to search for those traits.
The researchers got the profiles of three Facebook user volunteers and used the content to make fake Facebook profiles.
Each fake profile had:
- An information page
- Six photos
- Two pages of seven status updates
They also randomized the levels of professionalism displayed on the pages:
- Unprofessional profiles were created by presenting all photographs of the person as doing “unprofessional” things (e.g., drinking, partying, smoking) and the status updates included severe profanity and sexual references. These profiles also featured a ton of grammatical and spelling flaws.
- Moderately-professional profiles featured only some inappropriate pictures, some profanity, and a couple of grammar errors.
- Professional profiles had no negative or inappropriate content and did not include grammar or spelling errors.
Then, each of the original 3 volunteers filled out personality assessments that included measures of the “Big Five” personality traits:
- Neuroticism (emotional stability)
76 undergraduate psychology students examined each of the three Facebook profiles and rated each one on personality traits to see if they matched up with the personalities of the volunteers.
- Then, they rated the profiles on whether they would hire that person.
Professional profiles (with no inappropriate pictures, sexual references, or grammar/spelling errors) were rated as more:
- Emotionally stable
But the kicker is that when the ratings were compared to the personalities of the volunteers from whom the fake profiles were created, professional profiles gave the most accurate view of the person.
- In other words, when a person's Facebook profile was professional, other people could more easily judge “who they really are.”
- Having inappropriate content on a Facebook profile gave people the wrong impression of who a person is.
Finally, the hireability ratings were examined.
- While the content of each of the Facebook profiles influenced how the candidates' personalities were judged, they did not influence whether they were rated as hireable.
- That having been said, the study did not say what the people were being hired for, nor did they give much other information regarding qualifications. This may be a major flaw in this part of the study.
- People do judge you when they see your Facebook profile.
- Those judgments are more accurate when your profile is free from “inappropriate” distractions, such as pictures of partying, smoking, drinking, etc.; sexual references; and spelling/grammar errors.
- “Inappropriate” content is a distraction that makes it harder for people to see the “real you.”
- The study did not suggest that this may influence whether people see you as “hireable,” but it is not yet seen how this combines with other data about you (qualifications, history, the job you are applying for, etc.).
Goodmon, L. B., Smith, P. L., Ivancevich, & Lundberg, S. (2014). Actions speak louder than personality: Effects of Facebook content on personality perceptions. North American Journal of Psychology, 16(1), 105-120. Link: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-362853573/actions-speak-louder-than-personality-effects-of