Review and improve your use of images

In the day-to-day frenzy of searching for the right picture to use, it can be easy to rely on the same old ideas and sources. But what if your pictures have become stale or are reinforcing stereotypes? Images should be a key part of your content strategy and brand planning. Here we look at the three stages to help you review and improve your use of images.

drawings of faces

1. Describe your approach

We use images to do lots of different things. For example, your image may be working as a brand reinforcer, eye candy, information giver, tool to help skim reading, inspiration prompter or entertainer, social proofer, or as housekeeping. Bad pictures can alienate, frustrate, shock, bore or just be ignored.

Collage of images from google search for volunteering

Getting the image right on your web page, email newsletter, social media post or blog is crucial. How you use images might be different on different channels and for different content.

[See these posts from my archive. Social media: How to use images on social media / How to use graphics to illustrate data on social media / Say no to giant cheque pictures. Websites and other channels: How to illustrate difficult causes and subjects – creative solutions for case studies and subject pages.]

So the first step is to think about what you use images for and to document your approach.

  • Map out your different channels – where and how do you use images?
  • How does your brand or tone of voice need to be reflected in your images? How should images illustrate your key messages?
  • Do you use photos, if so what style (portraits, posed, in action)?
  • What’s your policy on using graphics or illustrations?
  • How should you be representing the people you help or the cause you work on? How do they want to be portrayed?
  • How do you use alt text or descriptions so your images are accessible? (For example Scope are the only charity I have seen who describe the images they use in their tweets.)
  • What kinds of images would you never use (eg cat gifs, case studies over 2 years old)?

2. Audit and review

Do a spot check on your social channels and / or website. For example, randomly pick 10-20 web pages or all the tweets or Facebook posts from five random days in the last two months. Screenshot each page / post and put them all together. How do the images come across?

Here are some questions to help you get a perspective on how your images are working.

1. What proportion of your images are:

  • portraits of people (either in groups or on their own)
  • places or things
  • original images of your work in action or from a photoshoot
  • stock photos (ie pictures from a photo library which you have a licence to use)
  • graphics (infographics or quotes)
  • gifs (and/or video).

There is no right or wrong answer for your mix. Rather, does it work for your organisation? Do these images appeal to your audience? Do they help people to understand your topic? Do they draw people in? Are they of a good enough quality? Do they encourage people to read / click / take action?

Get a sense of their effectiveness by using your analytics. For example, what happens when you tweet the same story using a different picture?

You could also run a focus group or get opinions from family, friends and colleagues to gather some insights into whether people like or understand your pictures. Remember that images are very subjective and mean different things to different people. This is why it is important to make sure your images are clear and unambiguous.

2. Are your pictures diverse? Do your pictures of people reflect your audience or wider society? Are there non-white faces? A mix of ages, abilities, genders?

3. Do you rely on the obvious? Are your pictures reflecting your cause, relying on stereotypes to quickly bring people in to your topic? For example only using picture of people sleeping rough to talk about homelessness. Have you got the balance right between the obvious image and others to help change perceptions? Do you need to reframe your cause to help people understand it better? Image are key here.

4. Are your pictures triggers? For example look at this NHS Choice page about eating too much sugar which starts with an appealing image of colourful cakes. How does it make you feel? (It makes me want the eat them rather than reject them!) There are ways of illustrating topics like these without making the bad stuff feel appealing. A graphic or illustration could also work better. Be mindful about the effect your pictures could have.

NHS Choices about about sugar, top image is green cupcakes

5. Do you have the right pictures? Are you using the same images over and over again to illustrate different topics? What are the problem topics which you struggle to illustrate? Talk to colleagues to find out where your gaps are. Then think about how to fill them.

To source new pictures try these links:

3. Evaluate your processes

It can be useful to do some information mapping about how images are stored, accessed and searched for within your organisation. Do you have a central folder / database for pictures? Does everyone have their own set of pictures? What are the steps you go through to find an image for social media, an email newsletter or blog post?

What are the frustrations? What takes too much time? How can you streamline the process to make it more efficient?

Mapping this will help you understand where you can make changes.

Some organisations have a central database to store their images using keywords and permissions to manage use. Are there any free systems out there? Could you use Flickr or similar photo storage sites with password protection? Or are there security issues with these? Please do share your experience in the comments.

What’s your experience?

This is a hot topic for many organisations I train when we are looking at digital writing. What’s your view?

Do you struggle with images? Do you have problem subjects? How do you manage your images?

I’d love to hear your experiences – good and bad!

Previous posts about images

Social media:

Websites and other channels:

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2 thoughts on “Review and improve your use of images

  1. A very good checklist of issues to consider.

    Good for Scope for describing the images in their tweets. I remember when Twitter introduced the alt (alternative text) field for images, and used it for a while. Daftly I’ve not kept it up – the option is, I believe, still only available when using Twitter on mobile, not on desktop.

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