Are you guilty of using this stock photo?*
Seriously, are you?
Let me tell you why I’m asking this question:
I’ve seen it in no less than 10 different posts in my social feeds as either as a sponsored ad (looking at you Cat Howell’s FATC course), random photography to go along side an otherwise great article (this is a Forbes go-to) and on websites showing the diversity of services offered (I won’t name names here but if you check my Facebook friends list there are at least 3 offenders).
Stock photography isn’t bad. But for the love of Pete, be careful.
Maybe you’re not using this exact photo – maybe you just have the tiniest addiction to Canva or Unsplash. The first step is admitting you’re powerless over your addiction.
Are you ready to say goodbye to your stock photo habit, and hello to an authentic brand? Here are my thoughts on how to get started.
#1. Stock Photos: Things + Places good, Faces bad.
The average person can recognize over 5,000 faces. FIVE THOUSAND. So when you use stock photography, and every other small business or brand is accessing that same free and low-cost photo site, there’s only so many ways you can type “millennial professional” or “diverse friends.”
Social Feeds: Social scrollers stop on photos that are related to them, or look like something they should be interested in. They don’t click on the bright shiny things (ad alert!), they click on the every day things (this fits here). Using iPhone generated photography with the faces of your customers + brand (and even your products) are perfectly fine to use here – and 9 times out of 10 will get you more engagement!
Website: Your website should speak to your customers. If you can’t invest in the brand photography that makes you or your product relatable, or gets your actual audiences on the screen, then step away from the Download Now button when it comes to using faces in stock photography. I’ll say it again, things + places good, faces bad.
#2. No money, mo’ problems
What did you say? You can’t afford a brand photographer? Psssh. Put on your creative pants and let’s get to work, friend.
Ways to get some brand photography on a budget:
- Find a photographer who’s just starting out (or looking to add commercial work to their services). Their prices are likely lower, or they may even be open to giving you a free session to grab a certain type of photos (think commercial, product, environmental portraiture) for their portfolio of services.
- Up for bartering? In my opinion, bartering is a lost art. For example: you are a marketing pro but lacking on brand photography, and a local photographer takes great photos, but could use some help in the marketing department. Ask them if they’d be open to swapping services under a mutually beneficial agreement. She comes to your house and shoots 5 hours of photos + editing; and you hook her up with 5 hours of marketing help. Each of you should get something concrete out of the deal that both of you need.
- Sign up for a low-cost headshot event in your immediate area. Not only do you usually get a workshop full of awesome education, but you walk away with fresh, updated headshots.
- Public speaking. Oh, stop shaking in your boots! More often than not, if you’re speaking for an organization, or at a workshop or event, someone will be taking pictures at the event. Speak to the photographer separately and ask if they can take a few extra shots of you doing your thing (or with your product, or with a group of folks) and get specific about the kind of shot you’re looking for.
#3. The customers you have now shape the customers you have in the future.
Why use “fake people” talking about your product or service, when you can use real people talking about your product or service? That’s right, folks. I’m talking testimonials. I’m talking user-generated content.
Testimonials: Your future customers want to hear from + relate to your previous customers. What problem did they come to you with? What problem did you solve for them? They want to see or link to real people – not be subjected to a stock photo of the 66-year old Baby Boomer ‘celebrating life.’
User-generated content: Have you heard of social listening? Social listening means you’re keeping an ear out for what people are saying about you on the interwebs. If you have a specific hashtag, or are getting tagged in posts, it may be an opportunity for user-generated content. You can also run promotions asking for specific type of content, but remember, the more authentic place it’s coming from, the better.
Nikki James Zellner is the owner + content director of Where Content Connects, a boutique content consultancy helping brands connect the dots between customers and content. *Note: I am guilty of using this stock photo purely for the sake of proving a point 🙂