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.

Is your SMT/trustees page inspiring?

How to give the web pages about your senior managers and trustees a digital facelift.

Most charities have a page introducing their senior managers and trustees. These pages are mostly dull and uninspiring. But they could be so much better. With a few tweaks, they could help to boost transparency and trust. They could be inspiring; bringing the passion your team has for the cause, to life.

street painting of lots of faces

Bog standard

A standard ‘meet the team’ page has a photo and biography information for the CEO and other senior managers. There may be a separate page for trustees using a similar style. These sit, reasonably buried in the ‘About us’ section, often in a subsection called ‘How we are run’ or ‘Our people’.

On the face of it, it might feel like these are must-have pages which don’t need much content investment in them. They probably don’t get a lot of traffic other than from journalists or people looking for jobs / trustee roles. They are usually very functional pages which accidentally help to highlight the lack of diversity in the organisation’s management. Because they don’t get much attention, they don’t give any insight into the cause, or an understanding what and why these people do. The pages are very static, not doing much to sell your organisation. They are a website dead-end.

But actually these pages are important. Done right, they make organisations feel more personal. They help with transparency.

Here are some suggestions for how these pages could be improved to drive a deeper insight or conversation.

1. Integrate social media

Zoe Amar and Matt Collins have been on a mission to get CEOs tweeting since 2013. They produce tips and examples as well as an annual list of the top 30 Charity CEO tweeters. Many senior managers do embrace social media as a way of sharing successes, challenges as well as learning from and connecting with others.

But many ‘our people’ pages still don’t include these links. Few promote the CEO’s Twitter address (including most of the winners of Social CEOs). And even fewer, include their blog or LinkedIn profile. Links for the senior team are not included either. What does this convey about the digital culture of the staff and wider organisation? If your senior managers are representing the organisation on social channels, this page should help people to connect with them.

Organisations which do promote their team’s individual Twitter addresses are few and far between. Out of the 50 or so charities I looked at, I only found Breast Cancer Care, Islamic Relief, Diabetes UK, The Scout Association and Parkinson’s UK who were doing this.

Breast Cancer Care's page with clear links to senior manager's Twitter accounts

A few organisations were going further and including multiple channels. For example, SCVO’s full staff list includes contact details, individual listings include blog posts, NCVO’s who’s who pages links to blog posts, Twitter and LinkedIn, as does the people page for JRF.

Do your trustees tweet about your charity and the work they do to support it? If so shouldn’t this information be included in their biogs too? Show current and future digitally-savvy trustees that you want them to use social media in their role. Even if just one of two of your trustees use social media or are happy for this information to be shared, add this to your page.

There aren’t many organisations who are doing this. For example Clive Gardiner of NSPCC is the only CharityComms trustee who has his Twitter and LinkedIn links included in his biog. Small Charities Coalition have added buttons to the profiles of their trustees who are on Twitter. NAVCA have Twitter links for their trustees alongside their short biogs.

NB While thinking about transparency and contactability, what is your organisation’s policy on publishing the email addresses for senior managers or trustees? How contactable are they? Contact information for trustees is especially rare to see. Take a look at Crisis who include the social contacts and email addresses for those who have them and Trussell Trust who have email links for all their senior team.

2. Write biogs which people will read

Cutting and pasting detailed information from someone’s CV just isn’t interesting or engaging, especially when it is replicated in a long list of trustees. Of course senior managers and trustees have impressive backgrounds and experience but supporters may also want to know about motivations, personal experience and skills. Equally, including information about someone’s CAMRA membership or love of ballroom dancing may not be appropriate.

Here are some alternatives:

You could illustrate your team in a completely different way. How about a skills profile for the team (think LinkedIn endorsements)?

LinkedIn skills profile

See more about writing great staff biogs in this nonprofithub post.

3. Get good photos

Getting a photographer in to do individual head-shots of everyone in the same style is worth it. A page where people have supplied their own photos of varying degrees of quality, can look messy and unprofessional. Instead get relaxed, warm pictures of your people. I love these pictures of the team at Ministry of Stories and how they are presented

poloroid-type images, with 'paperclip' attaching the imae to the page at a jaunty angle. Looks friendly and cool.

Rather than head shots can you show your team in action? For example trustees from Blue Cross are pictured with their animals. Youth Music have roll-over images where the second picture shows each member of the team making music when they were younger.

A group picture of the team working together could be a good alternative if it is hard to get lots of single pictures. For example this from The Brain Tumour Charity in 2013. (NB This is now replaced by a video of senior managers talking about their strategy and individual headshots against a branded backdrop.)

Brian Tumour Charity - meet the team

If you can’t use photos for whatever reason, try something more creative. For example NSPCC use brightly coloured blocks for their trustees.

4. Think about your audience

Like with any page on your website, you should think about who is reading this page. Who is it for? What do you want them to do as a result (donate / feel sure that the charity is in safe hands / apply to become a trustee / want to know more)? It may be that all this biography information is not relevant, reading the detail of someone’s career can be quite alienating.

Keeping it simple might be the best answer. Try limiting each person to one paragraph or a certain number of words. Or just including their role and a brief summary. Beanstalk shown here in 2013 do a mixture of both which is really clear.

Beanstalk trustees

You could also think about doing more to showcase the people in your organisation who are doing frontline work. Their stories may be more engaging than the CVs of senior staff. Stop being so hierarchical.

Take a look at this series of videos from Macmillan in which we meet nurses, helpline staff and therapists. Breast Cancer Now do this well too.

screenshot from Macmillan's videos

British Lung Foundation do a really nice job of using their people profiles to link to more information about key areas of their work.

Test what works best for your audience by looking at your page statistics. Make some changes and see how it influences traffic and bounce rates. Change it back or do something different if it has a negative effect.

You could also try putting a call to action (donate / sign up to newsletter etc) at the bottom of the page and see whether anyone acts.

Checklist

  • Do you have a page for SMT / trustees / ‘our people’?
  • Do the photos / video look professional and help to make people feel approachable?
  • Is your text interesting and appropriate? It should bring the work your people do to life. Be aware of word count and usability – realistically who is going to click on a page of names and through and read each one?
  • Do you include contact details? If it is relevant, include social media, email, phone numbers, links to blog posts etc
  • What do your stats show about traffic to these pages? Are bounce rates low? What can you do to improve click-on’s and make them more interesting?

Gold star examples:

How to convince your boss?

The internal politics and processes connected with tweaking these pages is not necessarily simple. Can you show senior managers these examples to help convince them that it is time for a digital facelift.

The profiles of the brilliant people who work of volunteer for you should do them justice.

Show that you are a digitally confident organisation and that your people naturally use digital channels to connect, share and learn. This could help to attract more digitally skilled staff and trustees to apply for future roles. See more from Reach Volunteering about how to attract and recruit digital trustees.

What do you do?

How do you make your staff pages useful? What difference has improving your staff pages made? Do you have reasons for not including social contact details? Please share good and bad examples you have seen. Am especially keen to find examples from small charities. Please share – go-on, add a comment!

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you improve your staff pages.

<This post was written in 2013 and updated in 2018.>