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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Say no to giant cheque pictures

A company / school / church / family / colleague has done some fundraising and raised lots of money for you! Brilliant! You both want to share the good news. But how to show how much has been raised? Yes, it is GIANT cheque time.

The cheque photo is still much used. I spot on average a couple a day on my Twitter feed.

Collage of awful cheque pictures

Cheque pictures are especially used by smaller charities, hospital charities, hospices and corporates. They can be terrible photos, best suited to an internal newsletter or local newspaper rather than social media. People who have raised money will of course still want their cheque pictures and that’s fine. I think that that we as comms people / charity fundraisers can help make them better and/or use them in better ways.

Pictures on social media need to tell a story and be interesting enough to make you pause and read more. Posed people shaking hands over a big piece of paper (or sometimes small ones), smiling in front of a busy backdrop isn’t enough.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Step away from the giant cheque picture and make your fundraising proof more interesting. As the recipient of the money, you can say thank you and recognise the effort made in more creative ways.

Show your total in a different way

Who still uses cheques anyway? Think about how to show your total in a different / interesting / unusual way.

This tweet from BHF illustrates the contribution from their corporate partnership with DFS, raising £13m, with red number balloons in a sofa showroom.

BHF show their total in balloons

St Wilfred’s Hospice shared a cheque made out of chocolate.

A slab of chocolate with writing on it to look like a cheque

I really like this illustration of the total raised through Clothes Aid for CHAS (Childrens Hospices Across Scotland). CHAS also seem to take their mobile logo with them to announce big totals – see this tweet from the Edinburgh Playhouse.

CHAS - clothes laid out on the grass, in the middle is a child holding the numbers £500,000

Show impact

A cheque photo can be improved by illustrating the difference the money will make. Include beneficiaries or an illustration of what you’ll spend the money on. FitzRoy’s giant cheque picture includes staff and beneficiaries.

Cheque picture includes two people in wheelchairs as well as three others holding the giant cheque

Get a mascot

Make your cheque stand out by presenting it to someone interesting. Naomi House Hospice featured a giant teddy bear and a nice thank you for the £406.54 raised.

Cheque presentation with a giant teddy bear

Look enthusiastic!

Celebrate your good news with some smiles and cheers!

No cheque here but Pilgrims Hospices are celebrating a partnership with a team photo.

Smiling and waving staff in front of a bus with giant sunflowers

And Railway Children celebrated a long-term partnership with a cheque, big logos and a train! They look so happy!

Cheering people next to a train, with cheque and train logos

Don’t show me the money

A big thank you can be more eye-catching than a cheque with lots of information in tiny writing. See this example from GirlGuiding with a big thank you to players of the Postcode Lottery.

Thank you in big letters held up by the Girl Guiding team

Tell a story

The handing over of the money is the least interesting bit of your story.

Tell a story about how or why the fundraising was done. It is great to say thanks or be enthusiastic about the amount raised (“they/we raised an amazing £xxx”) but that doesn’t bring the effort to life. How many people raised this money? Over how long? What did they learn or gain from doing this? Can they share insights about why this money is important?

Take a look at these messages from Kidderminster and District Youth Trust (KDYT) which they shared on Facebook. The first message shows how they responsed to getting a donation, the second is from the donor explaining what they did and why the thanks meant so much.

Thank you message for money raised for a youth group

A story can be told in a few words. Acorns Hospice shared the story of money raised by a couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.

Acorns - cheque for £150 from donations to mark a couple's 40th wedding anniversary

To cheque or not to cheque?

If you do have to use a cheque:

  • avoid the awkward line-up / shaking hands with the mayor-type pictures
  • use an interesting backdrop and make sure the picture is in focus and isn’t too dark
  • smile / be enthusiastic
  • use more than one picture – the cheque and then images from the skydive / fancy dress / cake sale
  • make the text interesting – use a quote and a link to bring it to life.

If you have to RT or share your fundraiser’s cheque photo, do it with a thank you picture and link to read more about how the money will be used. Don’t just RT it with no comment.

Other examples?

Have you seen any great examples of fundraising proof? I’d love to see them.

Read more about images on social media in my previous post, which is packed with lots more examples of how to say thank you and not be boring.

Images on social media

Images are crucial to social media. This post looks at how charities can use images to grab attention or tell their stories. It uses lots of examples from Twitter but many of the rules also apply to Facebook

Just two years ago, images were a nice-to-have. Now they are a must-have to grab attention. This screenshot from my Twitter feed shows the difference. In 2014 in a random sample, just one tweet out of nine has an image. In 2016, four out of five, does.

Twitter in 2014 = one tweet with an image out of 8. Twitter 2016 = 5 tweets, 4 with images

Personally I used to scroll through tweets sifting by account. Now I primarily sift by images. Images have to be eye-catching and engaging to make me stop and read. But, what makes a good image?

Images which tell a story

L-R Maurice at St Paul's, Toilet Twinning donations jar, Rio's life-saving heart transplant

Images can tell a story themselves or can be a gateway into a story – a hook to get the reader’s interest. For example, the image of 101-year old volunteer Maurice at St Paul’s Cathedral makes you want to read his story. The image from Toilet Twinning of a jar of coins is intreging, it makes you ask questions about how much they are trying to raise and how. This BHF image of Rio following his life-saving heart transplant shows him in hospital surrounded by medical equipment and with a breathing tube. Each is a powerful image, hooking us in to want to read more.

Images which are cute / beautiful

L-R Blue Cross ginea pigs, National Trust property with 2100 likes on FB, Royal Academy #imageoftheday

Images are like a reward, they can brighten someone’s day. Social media is made to share cute or beautiful images.

Unsurprisingly, animal charities such as Blue Cross, share lots of cute images. These are rewards for people who love guinea pigs / cats / hedgehogs etc. The images are useful to illustrate messages about rehoming and general education about animals. Images are also crucial to support social media fundraising. See this tweet from the Barn Owl Trust – awww.

Many museums and galleries share items from their collections via social media. For example, the East London Group and the Royal Academy connect with their followers with an #imageoftheday often connecting this with something that is topical. Heritage organisations are great at using images of their properties. The National Trust share their amazing collection of photos brilliantly on Facebook and get a high level of interaction.

You don’t have to be the National Trust to share beautiful pictures. Do you have a garden or view to share (see tweets from Canal and River Trust or Lewis-Manning Hospice)? Are you having a cake sale (see Maternal Worldwide’s Muffins for Midwives campaign)? Think about what is cute or beautiful in your organisation.

Images which are fun

Fun images are harder to get right as humour is very subjective and hard to translate through technology. You can be creative, playful, topical and fun but only if it is relevant and appropriate for your brand and audience. Take a look at Give Blood’s recent use of emojis or YoungScot’s use of animated gifs.

L-R Bill Bailey with an owl on his head, St John's tips for Jon Snow, Dave the Worm enjoying his breakfast

Images can be fun because the people in them are having fun (think fundraising or volunteering activities) or include notoriously fun people (see this tweet of Bill Bailey with an owl on his head from the Barn Owl Trust).

Images can also be fun because they join in with something lots of people are talking about. Memes, TV shows, the weather, news stories can all be used to join in with existing fun. See St John Ambulance’s first aid tips for Game of Thrones characters.

Organisations sometimes create an alter-ego for their brand which can do the fun stuff. Examples of this are RSPB’s Vote for Bob and Dave The Worm from Parkinson’s UK.

Images which are shocking

Images can be shocking because they show things we wouldn’t usually see (such as Dr Kate Granger’s moving deathbed tweets).  Or because they show a truly shocking situation (think of the images of the young Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach in September 2015). Images which are shocking may provoke feelings of disgust, anger or sadness. However, reactions may vary; it can be difficult to predict where an image goes too far (think of the backlash against Barnado’s adverts in 2000).

Whether you use shocking images depends on your cause and what you are trying to achieve. Remember that you have a duty of care. Images don’t need to be graphic to have impact.

Think about your audience and what they will tolerate. Think about what you are trying to achieve, what action you are trying to prompt. Think about balance. If your subject matter is only ever shocking, how can you illustrate it in a sensitive but impactful way which brings people in to find out more?

L-R Oxfam, Greenpeace, Brain Injury Hub

  • Sometimes text can add impact to an image. This example from Oxfam International shows a beautiful image of a Burundian mother and child with the words ‘A refugee is a person who doesn’t have any options’.
  • This Greenpeace campaign about the recycle-ability of disposable coffee cups uses images of Caffe Nero, Costa and Starbucks cups with a shocking fact (7 million coffee cups are used per day in the UK. 1% are recycled).
  • An image can be shocking without being obviously sad. This example from The Brain Injury Hub shows toddler Harmonie-Rose who had meningitis playing with her dolls.
  • This image shared by Aspire is a still from a Channel 4 news item. It shows a man cutting food with a sharp knife using his prosthetic hand.

Images which give information

Effective images can also be ones which give infomation or are just interesting. This could be a photo of something which helps someone to understand a situation or topic (such as this tweet from Thames21 showing microbeads), or an image which illustrates data (see using graphics to illustrate data on social media for lots of examples) or illustrates text (such as Mind’s series of quotes).

L-R Thames 21 fingertip showing microbeads, Mind quote (I have many separate distinct and unique 'parts' of my personality), GoodGym runners

Information pictures also play an important role in inspiring people to get involved. Images of people doing fundraising or volunteering can inspire other people to do the same (‘there’s a picture of people running, they look like me and like they are having a good time, I could do it too’). This example from GoodGym is great as it shows runners in bright T-shirts running along a street, smiling!

Your image strategy

An image strategy may be an over-inflated term but it is important to spend some time thinking about and documenting how you will use images.

  • Do your images fit into the categories above? They can of course just be window-dressing, there to look pretty or eye-catching (see this tweet from MindApples).
  • Do you have something in your housestyle or brand guidelines about the types of images you use? What about your social media or content strategy?
  • Do you have a different style for social media or do you use the same image for the same story across all your channels?
  • Do you use an image for every tweet or post or just when you have something appropriate ready to use? What is your policy?

What thinking or analysis have you done about images? It is worth testing out what style actually works for you and on what channels. What works on Facebook might not necessarily work on Twitter. And what works on these ‘news’ channels might be different than what works on other types of social channels such as Instagram. Don’t assume that your audience are the same.

Spend some time testing out different techniques and using the analytics within Twitter and Facebook to find out the impact / level of interaction.

The rules

Images are very subjective. What appeals to one person, might not work for another. Whether you are taking the picture yourself or are choosing from your image library, there are some basic rules which apply.

  • Don’t use pictures which are unclear or blurry or dark – on social media you have seconds to get your message across or to attract attention. Images need to be instantly appealing with strong contrasting colours (like this RNIB tweet of a bright green broccoli in a red colander). If you only have poor quality images, why not make them into a collage to make them more interesting. This this collage from Muffins for Midwives which tells more of a story than a single image.
  • Don’t use images which are cluttered or hard to understand – photograph your subjects on a plain background if possible. Your tweets and posts will be looked at on all kinds of devices and may appear very small. Sometimes this rule can be broken if the background tells a story. For example, the BHF image of Rio above or this image from the Trussell Trust of a big group of children in a warehouse.
  • Avoid pictures which are too complicated or badly cropped – these can lose meaning. Strangely cropped images may attract attention but might just be too wacky (see MyCommunity’s spade image).
  • Don’t be boring – do you really have to use that giant donation cheque image?! (Just do a search for ‘charity cheques’ to see how universally boring these are.) Of course it can be politic to take a cheque photo but does it really work on social media? There are lots of ways of showing a fundraising total without having to show the dreaded cheque / handshake (see this press release about JD Wetherspoon’s CLIC Sargent fundraising which shows the total in giant golden balloons or this big thank you from SeeAbility).

Google search for 'charity cheques'

>>See more about cheques in this newer post – Say no to GIANT cheque pictures

Remember also, that not everyone following your social media channels will be able to see your images. Twitter and Facebook do now have some accessibility features, although on Twitter it is applied manually and only via apps. Unless you use alt text, avoid using an image on its own. Instead include meaningful text about what the image is showing and ideally a link for more information (the Mind tweet above is a good example of this).

Checklist

  • Do you know what is right for your cause / brand / audience / channel?
  • What is your image policy and style?
  • Do your images follow the rules of good pictures?
  • Do you use images which tell a story?
  • Are your images cute / beautiful?
  • Are your images fun – do you use humour or respond to topical stories or memes?
  • Do you use images which are shocking?
  • Do your images give information?
  • Are they just window-dressing?
  • Are you using images accessibly?

Bottom-line is, don’t be boring!

Experiment, be creative and involve the team to take new images. Use analytics to check what is working. Find your image style.

Further reading

See also, my previous posts on using graphics to illustrate data on social media and how to illustrate difficult causes and subjects. Also, my chapter on images in the Charity Social Media Toolkit on the SkillsPlatform.

Do you agree?

When have you broken the rules and it has worked? Do you have a style guide for images? How do you manage your images and how they are used? What images have you seen or used recently?

Please do share your experience and examples by adding a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

How to illustrate difficult causes and subjects

Images are an important part of web (and social media) content. But for many organisations using images is problematic. There are thousands of charities who cover sensitive or difficult to illustrate causes. Many therefore don’t use images at all which makes their message hard to engage with. This post focussing on websites looks at some ways around the problem.

The purpose of images

A web page without images can feel overwhelming. Images help skim reading as they break up the text and work as shorthand to help the user make sense of what the page is about. Therefore images play an important part in boosting the usability of a page.

They also help to soften difficult subjects. Websites with no photos can feel cold and impersonal with no human connection. Using a photo in a case study or an information page about an issue or condition can help to bring the subject to life. On a donation page it makes us feel empathy. We relate to text more if we can picture the person or issue being described.

For example, here is Albert’s story from St Joseph’s Hospice, shown here with the image taken out. It has good headings and an engaging first paragraph.

Case study with no image

Here is the same story again but as it appears with an image. The image instantly connects you with Albert and the care he received at the hospice. It draws you in to the story as you can relate to him straightaway. It also brightens up the page and humanises a potentially upsetting story. It helps that it is a beautiful picture clearly showing care in the setting of the hospice.

Case study but with image

“We can’t use images”

But what if Albert’s story was so sensitive that he couldn’t be shown? Or the page was one about a medical condition or dealing with bereavement – much harder to represent? It can be tempting to just not bother because it is too difficult. A culture of “we can’t use images” can develop and become the norm without anyone challenging the fears or trying out some creative solutions. It is understandable that worries about alienating readers or lack of time, budget or skill create barriers to solving the problem.

I looked at hundreds of small charity websites while researching this post. The vast majority didn’t contain any images at all. In a competitive market, having a dense text-only website where users can click on to something more friendy within seconds, means you can’t afford to ignore images. Images perform an important function and there are creative ways around the problem.

What makes a good image?

Images can appear at lots of different sizes depending on how they are formatted and what type of device is being used to look at them. Images that work well online are therefore clear and uncluttered. They are unambiguous. They instantly tell a story and are emotional where they need to be.

It can be tempting to use a literal image; something which shows the obvious and is easy for everyone to understand. But being too literal can help to reinforce stereotypes. Time to Change’s Get the Picture campaign provided alternatives to the standard ‘headclutcher’ which they argued stigmatised mental health. To date they say that their bank of alternative images have been downloaded 17,000 times. And this blog post by Patrick Murray from NPC called Do charities need a ‘Gran test’ for fundraising argues that stereotypical images of beneficiaries used in fundraising material are doing much to reinforce negative views in order to raise funds. He cites a few examples of organisations who are consciously not using obvious images.

But even if you aren’t working to change attitudes, showing the same type of literal image over and over again can lose impact. If you are medical condition charity how many pictures of people wincing in pain can you show?

Images don’t have to be literal – the actual person going through the actual thing being discussed. They can instead create a tone by showing the context of a situation. Or they can help to reinforce your brand by showing images of the work you do and the people you help. How you do this depends on the style of image you use. Finding your own “tone of voice” for images should be part of your branding (for example Parkinson’s UK include their image style in their brand description) and your content strategy.

Remember that what works offline might be different from what works on your website or Facebook. And what works on your donation pages might be different from the images you use in your services section.

Images of people

Stories which describe the work you do can be very powerful. For many organisations there will be sensitivities around privacy. There are lots of different ways to illustrate a story if you can’t directly show the person involved.

This case study from drug and alcohol charity, Addaction tells the story of Alison, a young mother. The image preserves her anonymity as it only shows the side of her face. It could of course be a model rather than Alison but it helps us to connect with her story. It feels like an appropriate image to use.

Addaction: Case study image of woman looking towards a window. We can see her hair and cheek

Images don’t always need to show a face to give impact. Showing a personal object or situation can be just as effective. This survivor’s story from Women’s Aid uses a close-up of women’s hands holding mugs. It suggests warmth and support.

Woman's Aid: close up two women's hands around tea cups

Images of children have to be handled sensitively. If you are a children’s charity you can’t avoid the issue. Options include using images which protect anonymity, making use of very clear model release forms or good stock photography.

This page from Adoption UK about aggression in adoptive families uses a very strong image. It is quite brave but having an image of an aggressive child might help to normalise or reassure families going through the same thing. The page wouldn’t feel as supportive without it.

Adoption UK: page about aggression showing a young angry boy shouting direct to camera

Other images

Images don’t have to be photos of people. This Prisoners Abroad case study includes an image of a quote. It helps with skim reading and to highlight the important message.

Prisoners Abroad: use an image of a quote to break up the page

Images of things can also bring your work to life. These stories from Make Lunch use a thank you letter and an image of the food cooked.

Make Lunch: close-up of a thank you letter and an image of pizza

Illustrating difficult subjects

Illustrating shocking stories can be really hard – how much should or could you show? It’s always a judgement call based on the topic and the culture of your organisation. But storytelling is much more effective with images and shocking ones are sometimes needed to show the gravity of a situation. For example, the shocking image of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi in September changed many views on the refugee crisis. Read more about why images trigger empathy.

Images illustrating shocking stories don’t always have to be graphic or shocking themselves. Showing the situation can be really effective. This blog post from British Red Cross on the refugee crisis uses lots of images taken in the camps in France. This picture of a muddy toy is really powerful.

British Red Cross: blog on the refugee crisis showing a muddy teddy in a refugee camp

Simple graphics like this page from NE Child Poverty Commission can work well especially if used sparingly. (See previous blog post on illustrating data.)

NE Child Poverty: graphic showing one in five childrenin the UK live in poverty

Photos from an image library can be a life-saver when illustrating common-place but sensitive subjects. This example from a page on sex by Diabetes UK is a good example.

Diabetes UK: sex and relationships page using a stock image of a couple in bed

Using graphics, illustrations or stylised images can also be used instead of photographs. They can be a good way to illustrate a complex idea or situation. See this blog post from Mind which uses an illustration. Kelly’s story from Crisis is an example of using an illustration to tell the whole story rather than just illustrate it.

Mind blog: illustrated with a cartoon about taking compliments

Filling blank spaces

When your website has a space for a photo on every page, it can be a real challenge to fill those spaces especially on “subject” pages. In these cases it can be tempting to be literal. But images which show detail or pattern or a general mood can work well here.

For example, this navigation page about seizures and the brain page from Epilepsy Society uses a close up of brain scans. The picture doesn’t actually teach us anything but helps to lift the page which would otherwise be very functional.

Epilepsy Society: image of brain scans

Practical tips

  • Sourcing images – can you find an expert volunteer or talented member of staff to take photos of your work? If not, it is worth investing some budget into producing a portfolio of quality images you can use across your work.  Plan your shoot so you maximise the time and resources you have.
  • Model release / photo consent forms – if using images of ‘real people’ you should always get signed permission from them which specifies how and where you will use the image. Take a look at Macmillan’s photo consent form and this one from Parkinson’s UK (Word). Diabetes UK have an open form for people to share theit story.
  • Stock photos – images of ‘real people’ always feel more authentic than stock photography but for some organisations or situations stock images are a good solution. There are lots of free sources available (see below) but remember that the images you choose may be being used by other organisations to illustrate other topics.
  • Alt text – when including images you should always include alt text. Alt text is important for people who can’t see the image due to accessibility or technical reasons. See the 5 golden rules for compliant alt text (AbilityNet).
  • Manage your images – plan where you use which images. Using the same image over and over again means it will lose impact. Build a database or manage your images online (see below).

Useful links

Don’t miss the Social Media Exchange on 8 February, this practical event is a change to develop your skills. There are a few sessions on photography and images.

In summary

If you need alternatives to literal images or find it difficult to find people to represent your cause there are lots of creative ways to use images. Why not experiment with some of the following and see what works for your brand and cause:

  • close-ups of people
  • images of things or text
  • images which show the siutation
  • stock photography
  • graphics or illustrations.

Your tips and examples

Have you seen any good examples of images? Have you done creative things with images to illustrate a sensitive subject? Got tips or thoughts to share? Please join the conversation in the comments box. I’d love to hear from you.

Can I help?

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

Creative ways to illustrate data and stats on social media

Stats and data can be very dry but with some attractive or fun images, you can make them interesting. On social media you have a second or so to attract someone’s attention. A dull text tweet or post may get limited views or clicks. (See how much more engaging a tweet with an image to illustrate a statistic is: Breast Cancer Now vs British Heart Foundation prevalence tweets.) Whereas one with a creative image may encourage someone to pause and read more.

Here are some examples of tweets which include graphics to illustrate data or statistics.

Count-ups

Totalisers are a great way to illustrate fundraising targets and successes (see Richard Sved’s Blue Peter blog post if you are not sure). But count-up stats can work for other things too. Think, number of hedgehogs rescued or Big Knit hats knitted.

Many of RNLI’s lifeboat stations have their own twitter accounts which they use to share details of launches. This example from RNLI in Poole shows the running total of launches over the year and since 1865 as displayed on a noticeboard in the station.

Noticeboard showing daily and overall total of RNLI Poole's shouts

Maps

Everyone loves a map.

The London Fire Brigade share details of the incidents they are dealing with. This tweet uses a map to show where an incident is happening. Other tweets use photos from the location.

London Fire Brigade: map showing location of an incident

Macmillan Coffee have an amazing searchable map showing where their coffee mornings are happening:

Macmillan Coffee: map showing the number of coffee mornings on Jersey and Guernsey

Maps can go even further to bring an event to life, especially if they show the remoteness or danger of a place. This tweet from a boat enthusiast uses an app called ShipFinder to illustrate an RNLI shout off the coast of John O’Groats.

Map showing 2 lifeboats with a boat in trouble

When using third party data, do check the data protection and copyright issues.

Here’s another nice use of maps (I like maps) from the Met Office who are fab at social media. It contains lots of information. There’s a background image to give a sense of the weather as well as UK map with blobs showing different summaries for areas with text over the top.

Met Office: tweeting the weather forecast summary

Infographics

Infographics are still a strong way to present data. If done well they can tell a story.

This graphic from the Fawcett Society shows the number of references to men and women in economics coverage.

Fawcett Society: graphic showing the representation of women in discussions about economics

The Big Issue Foundation regularly share this graphic of their impact. There is a lot to take in but it presented in an engaging and attractive way.

TBIF: infographics showing basic facts about BI's work

This tweet by Health Foundation responded to the Chancellor’s Spending Review. It clearly and simply illustrated their data. Unfortunately it doesn’t link anywhere for more information.

The Health Foundation: graph showing decline in government spending on health

Stats can often just come across as numbers. Shelter’s Christmas campaign focuses on the 100,000 children who will be homeless this Christmas. This tweet helps to illustrate what that huge number actually means. A giant 4 on a blackboard brings it to life.

Shelter: the equivalent of 4 children in every school will be homeless this Xmas

This JustGiving blog post on the power of infographics shares lots more examples and gives tips about how to produce them.

Other

Graphics don’t have to be professionally done or cost lots of money. Howard Lake’s graphic traffic course shares lots of great tips about using anything and everything to bring your data to life.

This BHF pie chart of a cake showing portion sizes is really clear and eye catching.

BHF: pie chart made from a pie

This hand-drawn image from John Sutherland, a Met Police Officer connects the reader with the issues on a human level. It generated lots of interaction including some very lengthy conversations as comments underneath.

Hand-drawn picture showing factors influencing a young man's knife crime

Top tips

  • Accessibility – remember that not everyone will be able to see your graphic. Include the data in the tweet or post in full or as a summary with a link.
  • Links – include a link so people can read more or take some action.
  • Source – check and reference the source for your statistics and third party graphics. Also think carefully about sharing sensitive data about live events. Get permissions or preserve anonymity where appropriate.
  • Use your assets – do you have graphics in print, someone in the team with lovely handwriting or drawing skills? Maybe you have other tools lying around such as lego or magnetic letters?
  • Check your sizes – use this size guide from Sprout Social.
  • Have fun and be creative!

Add your examples

Please add your favourite examples in the comments box. I am especially keen to find more count-up and creative graphics as I couldn’t find very many good examples.

Have graphics led to more engagement for you? How much time or budget do they take to produce? Have you got top tips for producing graphics on a shoestring? Please add your comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Can I help?

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

How to make the new Twitter profile work for your charity

The new Twitter layout brings new opportunities for using images. But the size and shape of images required, especially for the header, is tricky to get right. Should you stretch your logo (er, no), use a generic photo library background or search for a single picture which tells your story? There are still lots of organisations and people who haven’t made the switch yet, let’s look at some who have.

Using the profile for an appeal or campaign

This example from @OxfamGB uses one very powerful image (of a person looking directly at us) alongside a red banner about the appeal and JustText Giving details underneath. As Twitter is not traditionally used for fundraising (see previous post on donating in 140 characters), the header presents a brilliant opportunity. Oxfam could reinforce the header by pinning a tweet about the appeal so it appears at the top of the page. This would drive more traffic as nothing in the profile space is clickable.

Oxfam GB: powerful image of a face to support their South Sudan appeal

Child’s i Foundation are using their profile to promote their latest fundraising campaign. The pinned tweet works well here especially as it uses a different but similar picture.

Child's i Foundation - profile promotes their fundraising campaign. Strong picture.

Alzheimer’s Society are using their header to promote their latest campaign, Don’t bottle it up. They have included their #hashtag and link.

Alzheimer's Society: Don't bottle it up campaign text and image

Other examples organisations using the header for fundraising or to give information:

One strong image

It can be difficult to find one strong image, especially one which tells a story, is easy for everyone to understand and works in the letterbox shape (1500 x 500 pixels).

Mencap use one strong positive image of a man and boy, both smiling. This complements their friendly bio (‘Hi, we are Mencap. Everything we do is about valuing & supporting people with a learning disability, their family and carers’).

Mencap: strong image of boy and man smiling

What does your picture say about you? A photo of a single person works well as a fundraising persuasion tool but this is social media so maybe your image should be a reflection of your inclusion? There are a few examples of this such as this one from Parkinson’s UK and The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.

Parkinson's UK: big happy group wearing branded t-shirts

Play to your strengths. What images do you have which you know work well? For example Guide Dogs use puppies.

Guide Dogs: three black labrador puppies

Other examples of one strong image:

But what if you don’t have a stock of strong pictures or your cause doesn’t lend itself to a photo? A graphic can work. Refuge here uses a repeated image from their logo. Lighthouse, a suicide prevention charity in Belfast use a google map showing their location. Headway East London use a painting.

Refuge : tiled graphic

Your strong image doesn’t have to be serious, it can be cheeky like Beating Bowel Cancer‘s.

Beating Bowel Cancer: group posing with plastic bottoms

Finally, museums, galleries and heritage organisations have an amazing opportunity to showcase their collections as this example from the Imperial War Museum shows.

IWM - using a painting of WW1

If you are using one strong picture, think about how often you will change it and where else it appears. Will people get tired of it after a while? How many other places it is appearing? It may be useful to use one image across your social media channels and change them to something else all at the same time. Or have one strong image per channel and use this permanently.

Checklist

  • Check that your header image works well at 1500×500 pixels. Does it tell a story? Is it cropped in the right way and uncluttered?
  • Make sure that the image and / or text is not blurry or pixelated. Start with a big picture and reduce. You can’t make small pictures bigger – you’ll lose definition.
  • Check that your logo / profile photo doesn’t obscure anything important in the header. (For example in the Guide Dogs example above, the logo slightly obscures a puppy’s nose.)
  • Is your logo / avatar clear at 400 x 400? Does it still work when reduced to tweet size?
  • Check how your image appears using different browsers / devices etc. You don’t want to do a Good Morning Britain. Images can look subtly different but enough to stop them making sense / working as well. For example, look at Samaritans’ profile – in the web version, the woman’s eyes are oddly cropped out but in a list of profiles, they appear!

Samaritan's - image cropped too close

List view - Samaritans picture is bigger revealing the woman's face

Useful links

Share your favourite examples

What examples have you come across which have inspired you (in a good or bad way?) What have you learnt about using the new-look Twitter? Please share your comments here.

Can I help you?

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you with social media. I am a freelance web editor and trainer and can help give your digital communications a healthcheck and ideas injection.