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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Anthony Nolan’s Facebook content strategy

A content strategy can be used to look at the overall publishing messages and processes for an organisation. Or it can be focussed to one particular channel or element of delivery. In this post we look at the brilliant Anthony Nolan’s Facebook content strategy and see how they went from mainly ‘housekeeping’ type posts / sharing news stories, to using first-person, authentic storytelling with dramatic results.

L-R Before and after the content strategy

About Anthony Nolan

Anthony Nolan is a national charity who match people “willing to donate their blood stem cells or bone marrow to people with blood cancer and blood disorders who desperately need lifesaving transplants”.

The small digital team had built up a healthy following on their social media channels. Inspired by the NHS Blood Donation’s approach to storytelling and some successful trials, they wanted to refocus their Facebook comms.

August 2015

  • 45 Facebook posts to 50,000 followers.
  • 30 posts were niche or transactional ie ones requested internally to promote an event or news item or fundraising activity.
  • 15 posts were story-led about stem cell donation, transplants or blood cancer. These performed better.
  • Average of 279 engagements per post.

The team recognised how powerful stories could be but there was no overall direction or resources to find stories. They also identified that there was internal pressure to promote department-specific needs.

The change

The team had been watching how NHS Blood Donation used Facebook to celebrate and inspire donors.

In January their own patient appeal (#Match4Lara) flourished on social media leading to copycat appeals from other families. Previous campaigns had been press-media focussed. Their approach needed to change to be able to respond to and support donor searches using social media.

A myth busing campaign (#DonatingIsntScary) in October 2015 used first-hand donation stories on social media. This worked well and encouraged the team to trial new processes to encourage donors to share, which they did.

This helped to prove that storytelling should be the main focus on Facebook. The team analysed their stories and did lots of thinking about the roles and goals of stories. This included looking at Joseph Campbell’s The Hero and Age UK’s use of positive storytelling.

The strategy

They developed their own profile for stories which would support the goals of the organisation.

Anthony Nolan strategy

This documented four types of story (pillars) and their purposes:

  1. The hunt (urgent) – (someone needs to find a donor). The story raises awareness and educates a cold audience about matching. This is a real, human story that inspires people to help.
  2. The hero (informative) – (someone amazing is donating their stem cells). The story demonstrates how donation works and reassures potential donors about the process. It creates positivity and shows donors are heroes.
  3. The happy ending (celebratory) – (a donor and recipient meet or exchange letters or a recipient or family member reflects on their life since the transplant). The story underlines the positive impact a transplant can have and demonstrates the amazing relationship that can develop between a recipient and donor.
  4. The heartbeat (informative) – (stories about AN’s heritage or about new research breakthrough).

To support the guide, they developed three basic content principles to put the strategy into action:

  • the four pillars should form the foundation of daily Facebook content
  • stories should be varied
  • pillars should be the majority in comparison with niche posts, at least 1:1.

Stories are repurposed or re-shared from posts shared by the community.

They launched the strategy with a series of internal comms including:

  • lunchtime workshop explaining about Facebook’s algorithms, showing that it was everyone’s responsibility to come up with engaging content
  • working with colleagues to create posts which combined niche calls to action with storytelling. These were used to inspire and encourage other colleagues when these did well.
  • communication and compromise. They spent time working with colleagues to think about which channels could be used as an alternative when their posts wouldn’t work on Facebook.

Results

  • In the second week of September 2016 there were 5 posts, each used one of the pillars (all four were covered).
  • Each post got more than 3000 engagements.
  • The posts reached over 1 million people organically.
  • There were 16.2k engagements. The team were excited to benchmark this against NHS Blood Donation who got 16.3k in the same week.
  • The average number of engagements in August was 1267. This was a 450% increase on August 2015.

Why it works

AN post showing a donor

Take a look at Anthony Nolan’s Facebook. It is brilliant because it is all about people rather than ‘the charity’. The organisation is the facilitator, unifying the message but it is the people who are doing inspiring things or the ones needing help from others.

The pictures are not stock images, but of people doing something, a picture capturing a moment.

The stories are from the people rather than about them.

And AN do a great job of responding to questions and explaining things. They are part of the community, not owners of it. The five people working on social media are seen to provide customer service (there are also three in the digital team).

The stories are written in an immediately engaging way. Just look at the first lines of a few posts:

  • “I told her she wasn’t going to hospital and she asked why. So I had to tell her she didn’t have a hero any more.”
  • Robert Duff really is an extraordinary human being.
  • This is just heartbreaking
  • “The day I got the email was very exciting. A few blood tests to confirm and the ball started rolling!”

Posts are concise but engaging. They are written in a warm, urgent, persuasive way. People want to comment / like / share. Anthony Nolan have inspired their community to be one which doesn’t simply passively read but are connected and active.

These stories do everything to link people who are going through similar experiences. They help people who are going through horrible times to feel that they are not alone. They also inspire people to become donor heroes. The community thanks donors and the donors feel loved. Which makes more people want to donate.

By being brave and strategically refocussing their Facebook content they have created a community which is supportive and content generating. Their work on Facebook is helping to deliver the goals of the organisation.

Is this replicable?

It can be a brave thing to make a significant change like this. Clearly for Anthony Nolan, the instinctive change to focus on storytelling has proved to be one which has significantly increased engagement and awareness.

I don’t think this approach would work for everyone. It works for Anthony Nolan because they were able to distill their key messages down to four types of stories. It also works because their audience of donors and patients (plus their family, friends and supporters) wants to share and read and react to these stories because they reflect their own experiences. As as story the search for a match works, as there is an urgency and potentially a solution which anyone could contribute to. Finally the community is lively and active and AN have nurtured it with their own engagement by thanking, sharing and recognising contributions.

Most organisations don’t have the capacity to find stories to share in this way. And there will be many causes where there are sensitivities which mean that stories have to be anonymised or people don’t want to or can’t tell their own stories via Facebook. Setting a target for user-generated stories for these causes or for organisations without a super-engaged community is unrealistic.

Saying that, many organisations just use Facebook for housekeeping / noticeboard comms (eg fundraising / news / #mondaymotivation etc). It is hard to reach people when posts don’t get the organic traffic generated by the likes / shares / comments etc. So in order to use Facebook to its potential, posts should always be engaging. Stories are one way to do this. Many charities could do with a think about how to use the channel to be inspiring and supportive, seeing it as a service rather than broadcast.

Content strategy

Is your organisation ready to make a drastic change to the way it writes, produces or shares content? Does one of your channels need a re-think?

Doing content strategy work is an opportunity to ask questions about whether your approach does need a refresh. Messages get stale, audience needs evolve and the popularity and usefulness of channels ebbs and flows. Charity comms also go through trends. Storytelling and video are big now, but live streaming or Virtual Reality might become the next big thing.

Any process looking at content strategy (whether org-wide or channel specific) would start by looking at the organisational strategy and analysing how content should support this – messages first with channels and delivery methods after. Ideas for change would be tested by looking at the processes, impact and audience for the content.

To get the most out of your content, it is a process worth doing.

Your experience

Have you made a similar change? Have you done a large or small-scale content strategy? What impact did it have?

What do you think of Anthony Nolan’s use of Facebook? Why does it work? What can you learn from it?

Please do share in the comments.

Credits and links

With big thanks to Jon Ware who shared Anthony Nolan’s journey with me.

I will be presenting this case study as part of my workshop on Content Strategy at the Charity Writing Communications conference on 25 October 2016.

Read more about Content Strategy and various posts about storytelling.

Oh and find out about the 8 ways you could save a life.

Content strategy / digital innovation – good reads

I have found it hard to keep up with all the great blog posts, events and resources about digital strategy tasks, transformation and charity content in recent weeks. There has been so much! Here for your viewing pleasure is my pick of the crop. Many give useful tips on research methods used as part of digital or content strategy work.

Research / digital strategy

Great post on How people look for things on Citizen Advice’s super interesting and helpful blog. They did an open card sorting exercise with 54 clients and advisors. The post shows the analysis they did and explains that they got results they weren’t expecting. This will help them to build navigation which will make sense to their users.

CitizensAdviceResearch

SIFT Digital recently did a digital transformation project with the Canal and River Trust. This case study shows some of the work they did including one of the personas they produced. Their guide to Map your experience – helping to explain customer journeys is also worth a read.

SIFTcanals

How to do a content audit in four easy steps – JustGiving. If you have ever done a content audit, you’ll know that it can be a long arduous process, especially if you have a large website or multiple sites.  This post looks at how to do a user-focussed audit.

This week I have mostly been designing a survey. It’s a long process to get right. This How to design and use free online surveys is a very thorough guide if you are just starting out. There’s also a guide on How to run a website satisfaction survey.

Other research / digital strategy reads

Digital innovation

Good content

This blog post I wrote for CharityComms on producing graphics on a budget also went live this week.

Your recommendations

Have you seen any other good reads this week? Please add them here in the comments box.

Can I help?

I help charities and non-profits with their digital comms. Whether you are looking for training for the team, copywriting or input into your content or digital strategy, please get in touch.

Do I need a content strategy?

contentstrategy1

  • “We don’t really know who our audience is.”
  • “We use too many digital channels – we can’t manage them all.”
  • “Colleagues keep giving me rubbish content to upload to the website.”
  • “Our content is boring – no one reads it, let alone interacts.”
  • “We just don’t get social media.”
  • “We waste time by producing fundraising emails which only result in a few donations.”
  • “Our competitors are better at content than we are.”

If you have any (or all) of these content problems, going through the process of developing a content strategy could help.

What is a content strategy?

A content strategy is a plan for the content (text, audio, video, images etc) produced across all your channels (web, social, email, print etc) by your organisation. A content strategy can formalise and give a framework to your content production. For many organisations, content is produced in a haphazard way leading to issues of quality, accuracy, tone of voice, engagement and volume.

A strategy documents these weaknesses and identifies new working methods. The complexity and scope of your strategy depends on what you want it to do. It can be an aspirational strategy or a working / planning document or both.

The four stages

1. Identify the problems you want your strategy to address. Write down a list of your content ‘issues’ (such as those above).

2. Gather data to assess the extent of the problem. Think about the data which you could use to evidence your thoughts from stage 1. Surveys, interviews, focus groups, statistics and benchmarking analysis will help to build up a picture of the effectiveness of your content.

3. Planning and goal setting. Analyse the data to build up a picture of your content. What is really working well or not? What trends does your benchmarking data show? Use this information to identify your priorities.

4. Implementation and launch. Getting internal buy-in for your strategy is crucial to its success. Presenting the strategy to trustees and staff can help develop a sense of ownership. If you are recommending big changes, it can be easier to push these alongside a process change which can’t be ignored (such as a new content management system, email tool or brand relaunch).

Do I really need a content strategy?

Going through the process of developing a strategy can be just as useful as having the official strategy. It forces to you stop and assess the way content is produced and used in your organisation. It makes you ask lots of questions and gather data to back-up your assumptions. Your research may in turn identify new areas you need to address.

Producing an actual strategy gives you something official to shape your work. If it has been signed off by managers or trustees, it gives you an authority to say no. A good strategy will give you a framework to reach your goals.

We are in the golden era of content. There are so many different ways of using content and so many channels to feed to ever sophisticated audiences. Recognising how to use your limited time and resources to maximum effect is vital. A content strategy can help you to do that.

Still not convinced? Read how Anthony Nolan developed their Facebook content strategy.

Need help?

I run courses on content strategy (like this Content Strategy course at Media Trust in 2015) and work on strategy projects with organisations.

I help charities to review their content and ask questions about key messages, channels and processes. I help them to work through issues of quality and volume and think about how to create a culture of content within their organisation.

Please get in touch via Twitter or email if you would like to talk more.