How to share lived experiences using #rocur or Twitter take overs

Hearing someone’s story firsthand can build empathy, a sense of community and crush stereotypes or assumptions. But in a noisy world, how can we as charities get those voices heard?

Finding ways for people to engage with real experience is key. More charities are trying rocur (rotation curation) or media take overs. Find out how they could work for you.

colourful children's drawings of faces

Hearing lived experience

We’ve talked before about empathy and the power of stories (following Jude Habib’s amazing Being the Story event in 2016). Last week at the Social Media Exchange Lemn Sissay argued that charities shouldn’t be working to ‘give children a voice’ as they have voices already. Rather we should be working to find ways for their voices to be heard.

This idea was explored more deeply by Gemma Pettman in her blog post following the event in which she included reflections about the Expert Citizens programme.

We may feel like we are working hard to get the voices out there but your case study or a video probably isn’t doing this. As editors we are applying our own filters and key messages to these stories. Of course as comms professionals, we might feel like we know what makes a good story and we want to streamline the story so it ticks our boxes (we don’t want any other causes or issues getting in the way). But this isn’t the way people work.

It might feel scary or dangerous but how can we create a platform which we can hand over to the people we represent? Some charities are doing this through their blog or vlog. For example Mind invites anyone to contribute. Others are using social media to share user-generated content. For example read about Anthony Nolan’s Facebook content strategy.

To actually hand the keys over to the channels is another level, with no editorial control! Here we look at some examples.

Rocur (or rotation curation)

According to wikipedia, rotation curation started on Twitter in 2011 with the @sweden account. Rocur accounts are usually managed on a weekly basis with each new person sharing details of their lives. An administrator manages the account, ensuring every week is covered.

The Sweden account (which itself says it started in 2009) is still going strong and has 104k followers. There are now many other location-based accounts including @LondonisYours, @WeAreXPats and HI_Voices.

In October 2016, the nhs account launched with Richard who shared his experience of living with cancer. The account is ‘manned’ by staff, trainees and patients and already has 10.6k followers. It is used from 8am-8pm, Monday to Thursday and from 8am-6pm on Friday.

text says: @NHS aims to celebrate the NHS by bringing to life the stories of staff and patients through their own words. To highlight the amazing stories that happen every day and the people involved. @NHS enables people with an NHS story to tell to share their experiences.

This account works so well because it is well curated with different voices each week. The weekly host tends to share a lot of personal information and they respond to questions and treat it as a conversation. It feels like followers are genuinely learning about someone’s job or condition from reading the tweets. Read more about the @nhs account.

In a similar vein, @Parkinsons52 is used by people who have experience of Parkinson’s. The account has been live since February 2016. It has been hosted by patients experiencing varying stages of the disease from across the world as well as health care professionals and staff from Parkinson’s UK including CEO Steve Ford. It was set up by David Sangster who saw it as a way to connect the Parkinson’s community, raise awareness and to show how the disease can affect people of all ages and backgrounds.

tweets from Parkinsons52

Take overs

Less of a committment is to host a social media take over, where someone outside of the comms team uses the account for a short time. This is generally less about lived experience and more about giving an alternative insight or perspective. Museums are good at doing this such as with their ask the curator sessions.

Kids in Museums drive an annual day where museums let children take over. Some organisations do this by letting young people use their social media accounts to share their experiences of the museum. The Teen Twitter Takeover is in August and there are useful factsheets about how to let teenagers tweet from the museum account. The guide says that the biggest benefit is that the teenagers feel really trusted to be allowed to do this. Read more about Take Over Day.

Take over day tweet from Helston Museum

Each year local government joins in with #OurDay. This is more managed than a take over but gives an opportuity for councils to share the stories of employees and locals who use services. Through the social media activity they can show the detail and breadth of what they do. See this Moment of #OurDay in 2016 for some examples.

Could it work for you?

If one of your goals is to raise awareness, then somewhere within your comms strategy should be a way to show rather than tell.  Finding simple ways to build understanding and empathy is key.

These examples are all about showing the detail of something, the everyday impact of a condition or situation. It is the detail which connects us. And it is the detail which is often missed in our corporate comms where we are often trying to show the bigger picture to make a point.

Giving a platform in this way can be daunting. Some of the barriers could be:

  • “it sounds too time consuming to administer and monitor”
  • “we don’t have access to a big bank of potential people who could contribute”
  • “we have a duty of care for children or vulnerable people – what if people ask probing questions or they get trolled?”
  • “is it really worth it – will people listen or engage? Will it actually change anyone’s minds?”
  • “our community has low IT skills or limited access to tech.”

A good plan, policy and support are key. Be realistic about what you can take on. You don’t have to sign yourself up to a year-long stint of weekly hosts. It is ok to take a pause. Why not start small, an hour on the first Friday of every month or a pilot project?

Of course, this method will not work for every cause and will be out of reach for many small charities. But as the examples show, they don’t have to be owned by a charity. Parkinsons52 works so well because it is about the disease rather than about the charity. PUK are occasionally involved but they don’t own or manage it.

For contributors it can be a real opportunity to share their experience and feel like they are helping other people to understand. It can be empowering. It can be a way of connecting with others in a similar situation.

If there are accounts out there related to your cause why not support them, promote them and even contribute to them?

Tips for recruiting and managing contributors

  • Recruit a good mix of volunteers to help you get started. This will also help to establish the tone. Think about people who have interesting stories or ideas and who are used to using social media. Once the account gets going, think about how you’ll find new people to contribute. Make it easy for them to sign up and keep good records of who has contributed and who is to come to make sure you have a good mix.
  • Produce tips and guidelines to give to contributors. Include an idea about how often to tweet (5 times a day is achievable for most) and best times of day to get a conversation. Be very clear about your posting guidelines (eg no obscene, offensive or self-promoting material) and what contributors can do (such as unfollowing or DMing people).
  • Provide instructions for the practicalities of using the account such as the handover between people and logging in. Will you change the password each time a new person uses the account?
  • Help your next contributor to prepare for their time. Ask them to think about what they do and don’t want to tweet about, what questions they will ask to prompt conversations and how they’ll deal with people they disagree with. Help them to think about a ‘message’ they’d like people to go away with at the end of their week if this is relevant. It is also useful to help them prepare for the lull days in the middle of their stint. Polls can be a good way to drive interaction. As can photos.
  • Be ready to step in if they need support. It can take a brave person to put themselves out there (especially on mega accounts like @nhs). You should also do some thinking about the things that could go wrong and have strategies in place to deal with these.
  • At the end of their time, think about how to support them – it can be hard to get used to normal life after having so many people listening and talking to you!

Tips for getting the most out of the content

  • Pin a welcome message for the new account holder so your followers can understand what is going on.
  • Personalise the avatar and username – the nhs account do this really well.
  • Curate the best tweets from the event or week. For example take a look at the @nhs Moment from Yvonne’s week and the full list of @nhs Moments. Think about how to showcase these on other channels.
  • Prime some friends, colleagues or family to ask questions to get the conversation going, especially as the account gets established.

screenshot from @nhs account

Share your examples

Have you seen any other good (or bad) examples of rocur or take overs? Are there any other charity or public sector examples? Do share them here.

If you are looking to experience a take over firsthand to get a feel for how it works, accounts like @LondonIsYours are always looking for new contributors. Why not see if there is an account you can contribute to?

With thanks

Big thanks to rocur users Leah Williams Veazey and David Sangster who shared their experiences for this post.

Empathy and the power of stories

We laughed, we cried, we empathised. Yesterday’s Being the Story event, curated and organised by Jude Habib of SoundDelivery was a showcase for stories.

Four images from the Being The Story event

It wasn’t a traditional charity conference. There was no mention of digital comms channels, no talk of impact measurement. We shimmyed our pom poms, we boxed, we walked in other people’s shoes and sang. But most of all we heard people’s stories, told first hand. It was moving and powerful and upsetting and inspiring. It was all about the experience.

The stories

Each speaker shared their story in their own way. The common thread was how the speakers had used their own experiences to do something amazing. I can’t even start to represent the power of the stories which were shared. So here is a very brief summary, with links to more information on the BeingTheStory website. We heard from:

  • Pastor and community campaigner Lorraine Jones whose son Dwayne Simpson was fatally stabbed in Brixton in 2014 and set up Dwaynamics to help young people develop life skills through boxing and fitness
  • Sam Smith whose own troubled start in life inspired him to support young people
  • Jodie Clark whose own experience of disability discrimination by employers led her to become an advocate
  • Solicitor Sue James who tells the stories of the people she represents in Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre
  • Mandy Thomas‘ who told the harrowing story of domestic violence
  • The Empathy Museum’s project of ‘A Mile in My Shoes’ which was recently used at the NHS Conference to help health professions understand the experience of patients
  • Brititte Aphrodite who shared sections from her punk poetry show about her depression
  • Naveed and Samiya Parvez who created Andiamo to fit and 3D print orthotics after their experience with their son – “we realised that we’d always had healthcare done to us, not with us”
  • Emma Lawton who shared how her diagnosis of Parkinson’s at 29 changed her life in a positive way
  • Hassan Akkad who shared his 87 day journey to the UK from Syria
  • Photographer Giles Duley who shares the stories of the people he photographs via his humanitarian projects
  • The Micro Rainbow International Interfaith Choir.

How stories are told

The stories they told were amazing. But more than that, it was how they were told. Hearing directly from someone in the same room, is very powerful.

In some cases the delivery was a performance. Watching Emma Lawton peg visual representations of the things that had happened to her, then cut the piece of string held by her parents was one of the most moving things I have seen. It brought the house down.

First-hand storytelling

First-hand stories are powerful. You might think you are doing this already through your case studies. But it is not the same.

This is about creating a platform and a culture where people want to share their stories for you. They are the ambassadors for your cause, not your charity. They help people to understand and empathise about the condition / experience which helps to inspire someone to help do something about it (through donating / volunteering etc).

How to harness this is crucial. The strongest channel must be the in-person delivery. The top of the comms pyramid is the opportunity to be listened to for 20 minutes with no distractions. How could you not be affected?

There are other examples which come close. The audio / shoe experience from the Empathy Museum connects sound with something physical. The WeAreHere installation in June bought the stories of WW1 soldiers to life.  There must also be examples of individual storytelling using Virtual Reality. These are all about intimacy and experience. By sharing an experience we can feel empathy.

Can this be done in other ways? Watching a video of that person is good but not the same as in-person delivery. You have to be so engaging that the hovering swipping finger stays still until the end. Can you distill someone’s story into 140 characters, a written case study or blog post? It is of course possible but is it enough? Maybe it depends on the complexity of the story?

Text with quote from the event ""One of my clients could only afford 1 light bulb & had to move it from room to room.""

There are some organisations doing this. For example SeeMeScotland’s recent #myunfilteredlife campaign where people have been sharing images on instagram with many saying ‘I don’t usually join in with social media shared like this’. An intimate picture and powerful words, directly from the person helps us to share the experience.

SeeMe Scotland

Start with empathy

There are organisations who have expert ambassadors who publicly talk, for example CoppaFeel’s founder Kris Hallenga who was the highlight of one Media Trust conference and the Expert Citizens programme. Emma Lawton is herself an ambassador for Parkinson’s UK. And many organisations have beneficiaries who speak to the media.

SoundDelivery’s mission has been to help organisations collect and use the stories of the people they work with. They understand the power of putting on a pair of headphones, listening to someone speak and sharing someone’s world.

The question for us all as charity comms people is how to find and share the authentic voices. Whether you take inspiration from Emma Lawton’s performance or ideas from the Empathy Museum, now is the time to be creative. Now is the time to find ways to put empathy rather than sympathy at the heart of your comms.

More from #BeingTheStory

Do look at the BeingTheStory storify to get a sense of the day (as well as the hashtag from the event). Lots of people have also written blogs, sharing their thoughts:

Spotted any first-hand stories? Do share them in the comments. This week I read this story in the Metro Online for World Alzheimer’s Day – My nan’s dementia and me.

(Images with thanks to @magnetogaby @katiecubbage and @sushi_juggapah. )

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 digital is your organisation?

Playmobil figures staring at a screen

A recent Guardian Voluntary Sector Network article by Zoe Amar argued that charity boards are failing to adapt to the digital age. And Karl Wilding argues on the NCVO blog that digital changes everything.

Some organisations already have digital at their core. Just look at how Parkinson’s UK advertised for their new role of Director of Digital Transformation and Communications. Whereas many know they should be doing more but don’t know where to start and others just don’t see digital as a priority.

Charles Handy at this week’s Cass CCE Charity Talk talked about the need for organisations to find their second curve to survive and in particular the impact of digital on this. He predicted that online platforms (such as Uber) will be central to the way we live our lives.

Two free resources this week look really useful to help organisations understand where they are digitally and improve their skills. Share them with your boards / Senior Managers / colleagues.

Measure and develop digital skills in your organisation

NCVO released a new free toolkit developed by Helen Ridgway. Building a digital workforce ‘includes templates, resources, tips and examples – and a series of bespoke workshops, training and support – to help you plan, design and deliver a comprehensive digital skills development programme for your organisation’. It is packed with 25+ documents including several about conducting a skills audit.

Also on my radar this week is the Third Sector Digital Maturity Matrix developed by Breast Cancer Care. It was developed to ‘to assess the maturity of an organisation’s digital capability (i.e. the current state) and compare it to where they aspire to be (i.e. desired to-be state)’. Download it for free.

What do you use?

Have you spotted any other useful resources? Or like NCVO and Breast Cancer Care, have you shared your own tools for other people to use? Please share in the comments below.

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.

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.

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.