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.

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A call to arms – tell your stories

Kid's drawing - two smiling people holding hands

As I write this, the world is shifting. The pencil marks (or pen marks) are still fresh on the papers and people are trying to make sense of the referendum result last night and what coming out of the EU means for us all. These are uncertain and scary times.

In light of the dark events of last week, Zoe Amar wrote We need social good more than ever now and this morning on Twitter I have certainly seen a call to arms from charity people rolling their sleeves up to take on the new dawn (see Stuart Etherington’s blog). Many are expecting a rise in demand and drop in funding.

We are already operating in tough times, having gone through the fundraising fall-out and media storm. This week Vicky Browning of Charity Comms shared some recent research from charity supporters and non-supporters – Developing a positive response to the public’s view of charities. It revealed issues of trust and described how the media has been focussing on shaming charity bad practice which often reflects the public’s own negative experience. The article calls for reform but also some collective response to communicating the impact of the sector.

NCVO and others are working on this. In the meantime there are ways that charities can tell their stories. Last month I wrote this post for Zurich Insurance’s charity blog about Challenging charity bad press. It looks at some of the vehicles for positive storytelling including Guardian Voluntary’s beautiful The day I made a difference.

Since I wrote the Zurich post, two more websites have been launched (Positively Scottish and Good HQ). And Jude Habib’s BeingTheStory event in September is selling fast suggesting that organisations ‘get’ that they need to be better at sharing their impact.

So, as we enter day one, week one, month one of this new world, let’s take charge. Let’s share our stories, our positivity, our love and the difference we make.


Since I wrote this, other posts on a similar theme have been written, please do read them:

And the Charity Commission published new research on public trust which says that levels of confidence are the lowest ever recorded. The report found that trust is based on transparency, good management and ethical fundraising.

The Scottish Charity Regulator produced similar research. OSCR’s infographic (PDF) of results tells a similar story of trust being damaged by negative media stories and concerns about staff salary costs, money not going to the cause and harassaing fundraising methods.

In response, Karl Wilding’s latest blog talks about how charities need to change their practises and what NCVO is doing to build a framework for talking about charities.

Social media and charity content – this week’s highlights

My week started with the Social Media Exchange. It was a packed day of inspiring stories and practical tips. If you missed the event, do check out the storify.

Other things I have read this week:

And examples of creative content:

Covers of Mills&Boon books featuring disabled characters

And finally to counter-act their negative coverage, Age UK decided to launch #ProudtobeAgeUK.

Messages of support from Age UK

Feels like it has been a full-on week, especially with charities so much in the news. If you spotted other good reads or creative content, please share via the comments box.

Have a good weekend.

 

Bumper digital round-up – April 2015

It’s been another bumper week of useful posts and links so I’ve collected them together for your viewing pleasure (and mine).

On my radar

CitizensAdvice1

Social media

Charity campaigns

UpYourFriendly

Of course the big campaign of the week has been all the activity around the Nepal earthquake. There’s been so much, too big to reflect on here but the tweets from @TomAllen who is out there and works for ActionAid have really stood out.

nepaltweets

Forthcoming events

And I am re-running my Content Strategy course at Media Trust on 14 May.

And finally….

OrkneyLibrary

What did I miss?

What’s on your radar? What did I miss? Please do share in the comments or via Twitter.

Getting started with social media

This week I have been mostly preparing for my Google+ webinar ‘Why Use Social Media’ (watch it on YouTube) which is part of the Grow Your Charity Online programme. It is aimed at small charities who are unsure whether social media is worth the time and effort or those who just don’t know where to start.

I have been particularly inspired by the four organisations who replied to my tweet sharing details of how social media has made a big difference to them. My huge thanks go to Make Lunch, Manchester Mind, Orphans in Need and Age UK Solihull.

There are so many resources and events out there to help charities get better at social media but not that many to help if you are just at the start of the journey. The how-to guides on KnowHow Nonprofit are excellent but the volume is quite daunting. To help, I made a new one which brings them all together: How to get started with social media.

The CharityComms guide to social media for charities is a slideshare presentation by Matt Collins and Vicky Browning. It is packed with useful advice to help you decide which channels (if any) are right for you.

Sometimes reading guides isn’t enough. It is useful to talk to someone who can help analyse which channels are right for you, help you think about how to use them and get you started. Please get in touch if you’d like me to help you.

The social media divide

This week it’s all about social media. It’s social media week – wickid! There are lots of events and hashtags to learn from. I’ve been reading Visceral Business’ Social Charity Index of the top 100 social charities where they ask whether we have reached a tipping point where social is the new normal. And today, Zoe Amar launched her top charity social CEOs competition citing research which said that “eight out of 10 people are more likely to trust and buy from an organisation whose CEO and leadership team use social media.”

But there are still many organisations who are very far behind. The digital divide is wide. Many are not on Twitter / Facebook / YouTube etc let alone Vine, Storify or Pinterest. Some struggle to have an online presence. Some don’t even have email (one example I heard recently was of an organisation run by women who had to ask supporters to email their husbands’ work accounts).  So the barriers of kit, skills, confidence, time are still very real.

Yet the benefits are big. We all know that the opportunities for sharing what we do, connecting with others and learning through social media are great. Visceral Business’ Anne McCrossan wrote very clearly about the benefits for small charities.

So, what can we do? As digital natives we can share what we have learnt to help others join the party. Can you add anything to KnowHow’s social media how-to guides? They are wiki’s so we should all keep them up-to-date and start guides on new topics. Do you support organisations new to social media with a welcome or #ff / #ct? Could you mentor someone via CharityComms who is just getting started?

Next week I am running a FREE google+ hangout via Media Trust’s Grow Your Charity Online site. The webinar session is called Why Use Social Media. Please join me or help spread the word using the #gyco hashtag.

Let’s share the love.

Other reading