Stock photos don’t have the best reputation, and yet they remain in ridiculously high demand.
It’s easy to understand why: blogs featuring images garner more views, while social media posts accompanied by a photo are more likely to be shared and retweeted. Stock photos save businesses time, money, and resources, and when used correctly, can significantly boost the impact of your content marketing.
Choice examples can prove to be a force of good for your campaign. Occasionally they’re a necessary evil. Sometimes they’re just evil. That’s because the online supply of royalty free stock images is virtually endless, as is the litany of clichéd, confusing, obnoxious, and flat-out disturbing photos that even the simplest of search queries can inadvertently conjure.
Like this doozy, here:
Didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Yes, that is Kermit the Frog, in saddle shoes, eating a toaster pastry, and enjoying a beverage from a cosmic tiger coffee mug. What kind of beverage? Who’s to say? Go ahead and believe coffee if that helps you sleep better at night.
Now, ask yourself this question: In what world does this stock photo make sense?
Better yet, ask yourself this: Is it yours?
Stock images can be silly, serious, solemn, or shrewd, and any number of additional adjectives – but if they aren’t serving the intent of your brand, they are insignificant.
Consider the following checklist when returning to the stock photo search bar:
- Select photos that correspond with, perpetuate, and/or reinforce your brand. This is a big one. Would the “me-time” frog above stick out like a sore thumb in your power point presentation? Well, yeah – it would stick out on “The Muppet Show,” so that’s neither here nor there. But what about that polished, Stepford Wives-esque shot of business people gathered around a board room. Is that telling your story? How about the abstract, disembodied business man conjuring glowing financial iconography like he was Dr. Strange?
It is critical that you know your brand, understand your audience, and reevaluate your purpose with each new project. Prioritize context, tone, and clarity when you are selecting your images.
To that end, avoid photos that appear posed or staged or overtly “stocky.” Admittedly, this is a hefty percentage. But never underestimate the human factor. And beware of overuse – particularly in the age of Google when anyone can search by photo. Because of the cost-effectiveness of stock photos, and the fact that most websites filter searches with the most popular results at the top, the risk of using the exact same photo as another business is incredibly high, and that could be a blow to your credibility. Some preliminary research can prove invaluable.
Read the fine print. Make sure to double-check licenses and give credit when credit is due (or mandated). Keep in mind there are two flavors of stock photos: Royalty-free (no restrictions after you pay the initial licensing fee) and rights-managed (limits placed upon duration, usage, etc.). Sites such as Pixabay and FancyCrave offer photos that are royalty free through the Creative Commons CC0, meaning that they can be downloaded, modified, and distributed for any and all reasons, including commercial. Other hubs require that attribution be given for certain photos, while some images may not be available for commercial usage. Make certain you are not infringing upon a copyright.
It’s called content marketing for a reason. Don’t be afraid to modify and/or crop stock images to suit your specific needs. If you’re not comfortable around a cropping tool or using Photoshop, find someone qualified to help out. Never settle for low-resolution pics. Quality is the key. Make certain you have selected or purchased a file size that you can reproduce in any possible configuration. As a side note, take timeliness into consideration, and whenever possible remain neutral. That is to say, steer clear of photos that spotlight current fashion trends, as they immediately date your material.
Using original photography that is uniquely tied to your brand will always be preferable. Occasionally, however, certain restraints make stock photos an agreeable alternative. It can be done, and can be done correctly – you just need to keep your eye on the big picture: your company.
- Nathan Oravec, copywriter