For a relatively new social networking community, not many users have uploaded their profile pictures yet. We think having an image will cultivate a sense of trust and encourage participation, so we are considering two options:

  1. In the 'Users' section, show users with images first, sorted by most recently joined; and then show users without images, sorted by most recently joined. This way, the community seems more alive and it encourages other users to upload their own profile picture.

  2. In the 'Users' section, only sort by most recently joined, and not discriminate those without profile images. Send a reminder email 30 days later if a user hasn't done so. This seems more subtle and not risk pissing off certain users.

I mainly have seen the second approach used more often, but wonder if by discriminating, we can encourage certain behavior. Appreciate any comment and example!

4 Answers 4


Most dating sites have the same problem that you are describing, and there are usually two approaches to this which can be used together.

  1. Have a filters on the users and search pages of the site. One of the filters is a checkbox which is checked by default and which usually says something like "Only show people with a photo". That way you aren't forcing anyone to add a photo, but you also aren't forcing a particular display pattern. If someone wants to see everyone regardless of their photo, they simply uncheck the filter.

  2. Add a very simple level of gamification where you have some part of the screen reminding people in an indirect way. Saying "your profile is 72% complete" is better than "remember to add a photo to your profile" as people want to collect and complete things that are being shown. Almost like a badge. OKCupid has a bar in the navigation pane (shown below) which is quite effective.

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  • John - thanks for the answer! I agree, the profile completeness is powerful incentive. I'll implement as you suggested!
    – Holly
    Nov 9, 2011 at 20:26

I think what you're trying to do here is Gamificiation, something many "profile" based services do. Rather than just biasing the search to show users with images first, make a game of filling out your profile. Make adding a profile image worth a lot of "points." If you're going to sort by people with profile pics first, tell users that especially when they have no profile pic. Have a blurb like "Want to help people find you? Add a profile picture? Read why..."

Facebook and LinkedIn are good examples of gamifying profile completion; LinkedIn gives you a % score on how complete your profile is, and Facebook has some steps to help you fill in your profile. Facebook goes the extra mile and lets users know when their friends' profiles are incomplete, and gives you (or it did, not sure with the new layout) messages like "Help X fill out their profile:" and would ask you to suggest a profile picture or suggest friends for that contact. This can help add some (friendly, nonforced) social pressure from a person's real friends to add a picture/contacts, rather than punishing them systematically for not doing so.

Option one doesn't seem too devious but I would prefer the gamification approach which encourages adding a profile picture rather than punishing not doing so, but your concern about wanting users to appear "active" by using a picture is certainly valid.

The email option is extremely slow and has the issue that it's completely detached from your website. If the site itself encourages posting a profile picture, I'll notice it every time I use the site--until I add my picture! If the site doesn't encorage it, I'll only notice a whole month after I started the service. Maybe I've even left the service because no one friended me--because no one knows who I am.

  • Really good point about using gamification for profile completeness and tell user that we're doing it. I like the criteria - "If the site itself encourages posting a profile picture, I'll notice it every time I use the site--until I add my picture!" If I may - what are some good practices to make users notice it more?
    – Holly
    Oct 27, 2011 at 20:01

What's your current process by which the user can add a picture?

Many websites want me to locate a file on my hard drive and open it, and don't give me an option to input a URL where a photo is already stored. Some even request that I upload an image in specific dimensions because they don't have the ability to resize the photo.

However, I don't have lots of pictures of myself floating around on my laptop. So that requires me to first go to a website that has a picture, save the picture on my desktop, and in some cases even resize the picture and then upload it. I'm frequently not that motivated to upload a picture. Adding a system where my profile wouldn't be displayed if I didn't go through that process wouldn't necessarily motivate me either.

So if a sizable number of people aren't adding pictures, I'd first make sure that you've made adding images an easy process. Don't make me click multiple upload buttons if I want to upload multiple pictures. Better yet, don't make me upload a picture at all. Let me use my URL, my Gravatar (http://www.gravatar.com), or grab my picture from Twitter / Facebook (and my profile information too.)

  • Kimberley, great comments! I did notice that for some site, it grabs my profile picture even if I didn't upload any, probably because I've had Gravatar associated with that sign up email. I am going to implement this as you suggested. PS - yes, we get Twitter/Facebook profile images.
    – Holly
    Nov 9, 2011 at 20:19

Just to close the loop, we decided to implement the following solutions to encourage users to upload profile pictures:

  1. Implement profile completeness. Make uploading profile picture the first item on the list with 10% weighting.
  2. On Users page where all user profiles are displayed, we show users with profile pictures first, and display a clear message telling users that 'Users with profile pictures are displayed first. To get more views, upload your own picture.' with link to upload. This has made the users page much more alive. Due to space constraints, we didn't implement the Checkbox which is checked by default that says "Only show people with a photo", but personally I like that option more.
  3. On User's own profile page, display a similar message to prompt users to upload their profile picture, which the user can dismiss.
  4. Include Gravatar to pull pictures from emails, in addition to getting Facebook and Twitter profile pictures if users signed up via those networks.

Hope this helps others to think about potential ways to encourage uploading user profile pictures.

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