The Unbearable Cost Of Using Cheap Images
Have you ever used Google to find an image to share to social, or embed in a blog post?
It's OK, you can be honest here, you're among friends.
The truth is, we've all done it. Much like eating raw cookie dough, sometimes we're too impatient to take the time needed for the best result, and sometimes we just don't know how dangerous what we're doing really is.
But, if I told you that the raw eggs in cookie dough could potentially make you very sick, and that it takes just a few extra minutes to pop the dough into the oven as individually rounded, moist morsels of goodness, wouldn't you feel like you were doing yourself a disservice by not taking that step?
By the same token, using images sourced from a Google Search has the potential for grave consequences to our business, our reputation, and our online success. Instead of impressing our fans and followers, we risk looking ho-hum and drab. Instead of making our content shine, we make ourselves vulnerable to legal action.
Still not convinced? That's OK, I've got the rest of this article to explain to you exactly why using cheap, ill-gotten images are the bane of your online existence. And if you stick around 'til the end, I'll even share what to do instead.
Your Images Look Fake
A typical business that's publishing one or two articles a week, and coming up with other things to post and talk about on social media, ends up needed quite a few images. Unless you're fortunate enough to come from a niche where it's easy to create and share your own photography (like, say, a restaurant), you're going to need to figure out where to find images to share.
Sometimes that means using Stock Photography.
Stock photographs, or stock images, are simply images taken by photographers of common places, landmarks, outdoors, events, animals or people that are bought and sold. If you want a picture of a fence, you can go out and take your own picture, or find one that someone else has already taken and shared online.
The problem with some stock photography is that it's obviously stock photography. The people or poses in the images are clearly staged for the image and so unrealistic as to be laughable. Fake images.
Like this jolly couple:
If you use images like that, anywhere, all you're communicating to your audience is that you were too cheap and lazy to find a really good image. This was a free public domain image that, frankly, should only ever be used as an example of what bad stock photography looks like.
Don't use images like this!
Now, that's not to say that all stock photography is bad, of course. Landscape imagery tends to be great no matter what, but images of people have to look genuine and it's hard to capture truly happy office workers.
Your Images Are Boring
Perhaps more dire than fake images are boring images. A boring image risks failing to gain the attention of your audience at all! At least that couple above would get your attention if you saw it in your Facebook news feed, if even you did laugh at them.
But boring... look, if you share a blah image to Facebook it's more likely that your audience will just keep swiping past it.
Maybe that doesn't sound like a major issue, but it is.
Not only did you fail to get that individual's attention, but you've now also set a precedent. Facebook duly noted that they ignored your post. So what do you think will happen the next time you post to your Facebook Page? That person might not even be shown your post, regardless of how great your next image is.
When we share boring posts, we risk conditioning our audience, and the platforms that we use, that we are boring and not worthy of attention. That's the kind of lack of activity that can sink a social ship faster than you can say "sink a social ship" ten times.
Your Images Are Mine!
Fake and boring are certainly bad, and can go a long way toward costing a brand far more than they're willing to pay in terms of lost fan interest. And yet, that's not the only cost the brand may bear.
Remember that image you downloaded from Google? Well... the photographer who captured that shot is now sending you a nice letter from their attorney claiming copyright infringement.
I don't mean to be flippant about this, so let me say it plainly:
Using an image that someone else created, and for which you do not have permission, is against the law.
A photographer or graphic designer who finds that their property has been used on websites or social media has ever right to insist that the imagery be removed. And businesses with egregious offenses may be sued and subject to expensive fines.
In the United States, copyright infringement comes with a fine between $200 to $150,000 depending on the amount of damages and profits, per work infringed. That's the kind of mistake that can crush a small business.
As I said at the outset, such costs can be unbearable.
While the information was digital music rather than digital imagery, the case of Napster remains one of the most famous instances of copyright infringement leading to business failure. After extensive and public legal battles, Napster fell into bankruptcy and ruin.
Don't make that same mistake!
And sadly, you cannot rely on a search filter or free upload site to protect you. You need to make sure that you're using images that have been verified as being able to have a license for your use granted.
Your Images Look Like Everyone Else's
To go back to branding issues and concerns for a moment, let's talk about what happens when you grab the first image you find in a Google Search (potential legal issues aside).
It's the same first image that everyone else who does that search sees.
Suppose you're writing a blog post and want to incorporate an image of San Francisco. It's easy to do a Google Image Search for San Fransisco and see what a great foggy image the first result is:
That would look perfect on your post!
Trouble is, anyone else who does a similar image search will see the same or similar results. So not only will you be infringing on the copyright holder for that image, you'll also be using an image that countless other people have used.
How does that help you to differentiate your brand? How does that give you a unique and authoritative voice in your niche?
Your Images Make No Sense
Finally, there's the issue of using an image that truly speaks to your audience and makes a great visual connection to your message. The problem inherent in using cheap, random sources for images is that the selection is often limited and of poor quality.
If you filter your Google Image Search results to only include images where the owner has granted rights to use the image for commercial purposes, the results are usually dramatically different in their quality and range.
This isn't the kind of high quality image of San Fransisco and the Golden Gate Bridge that I had in mind:
Not taking the time to source the perfect image for our content risks confusion and mixed messages. If your content is being shared to social media, it's often the image that has the first, best chance to grab someone's attention and evoke an emotional response.
What do you think the emotional response might be to the above image?
Wouldn't you rather use an image that's perfect for your content, is authentic and interesting, and which you have every right to use?
Ok, Ok... What Do I Do?
Let me show you what I mean.
Here's yet another image of San Francisco. Yet this one, I have complete control over and can use for whatever I wish.
That's an interesting shot, isn't it? Of course, if I wanted a more traditional vantage of the bridge I could find that too, but I wanted to illustrate a point.
When you use the right source, it's easier to find the right image. <tweet!> And that includes having access to photography that you never imagined, yet might suddenly be the absolute perfect match to your content.
That's why I wanted to introduce you to Twenty20.com - an excellent resource for finding exactly the right image that's affordable and correctly licensed for you to use!
Twenty20 is a stock image repository that immediately struck me as being a rich source of real and authentic images. The gorgeous images are grouped into meaningful Collections, like, "CITY LIFE" or "FAMILY LIFE" which you can follow and see when beautiful new images have been added.
You can immediately see the difference and quality of the images available here versus other typical sources.
That's a sample from one of my favorite Twenty20 curated collections, "Working from Home" which is chock full of great images to use with my articles on blogging and bloggers.
Simply browsing through these collections might inspire you to write or share something!
But of course what most of us will need to do is Search so that we can find the kind and quality of image that we need for a specific social media post, blog article or campaign.
Let's use an example search that I needed recently, "Friends."
Wow. 38,279 results! That's pretty impressive. That's 10x what I get when doing a search on Pixabay, which we'll compare in more detail in a moment.
But first, let's take a closer look at the search features.
First, if there are any existing collections for your search term, Twenty20 serves those up first. Collections, just like Pinterest Boards or Google+ Collections, can act as a great source of images and inspiration that someone else has already curated for you. You can also create and add to your own collections!
PRO TIP: If you happen to see an image that you love, but doesn't fit your current requirements, save it to a personal collection so you can easily find it when you do need it!
Second, you can filter the image search results by "use case" to help narrow down the pool of choices. The options are:
- Social Media
- Online Ads
- Email Marketing
- Blog Articles
- Website Design
- Internal Presentations
The difference between the different use cases consists of Usage Rights, Size and Orientation.
Usage Rights refers to whether the image can be used Commercially (for business purposes) or Editorially (non-commercial). Some of the images provided to Twenty20 are for Editorial use only (or have not yet been verified for Commercial use). Filters will display or hide resulting images accordingly.
Now's a good time to explain the Twenty20 License and what it means when you decide to use an image.
Twenty20 provides you with a worldwide, royalty-free license for each image you choose to use. You gain unlimited digital usage and can use the image in print runs of up to 250k. You can use the image for as long as you wish, and anywhere you wish, so there are no limitations on social media usage.
What's more, Twenty20 provides $10,000 in protection for commercially-approved images that you license!
Size and Orientation refer to whether the images are small, medium or large, and whether they're square, landscape or portrait.
Third, you can sort the image search results by recent or popular, in addition to the default sort of relevancy.
Speaking of relevancy, let's take a closer look at the images Twenty20 surfaces, as compared to those of Pixabay.
You see, Pixabay, like Twenty20, is powered by individuals and photographers who choose to upload their images. The difference though couldn't be more striking.
Pixabay allows anyone to upload anything. While the images are supposed to be yours and "copyright-free" there's no verification of that fact, nor is there any review of images for quality or appropriateness.
Twenty20, on the other hand, is far more restrictive and critical. Every image that's uploaded has to meet quality and usage requirements. (To be fair, Twenty20 is also set up to be a source of revenue for photographers who provide their work, whereas Pixabay is more of a free community resource.)
See the difference? The Twenty20 images are real photographs, whereas the Pixabay images include graphics and shots which probably weren't created by the uploader. Use those at your own peril!!
When it comes to social media campaigns in particular, using the kind of beautiful, authentic imagery that Twenty20 provides can make a huge difference. Just take a look at how this brand improved their click through rate by 3x!
How To Get Great Images From Twenty20
Once you see an image you think you might want to use, just click on it to go to that image's page and see a larger version.
Let's suppose I'm writing an article about how powerful time spent networking at conferences is, so this image seems like a great fit:
Right away in the upper right corner you can see the image has been verified for Commercial & Editorial use, and that you'll have a royalty-free license to use it. You can see the original size, as well as select from two available size options.
If you're going to run the image through an editor, like Canva, to create your own custom graphic, I generally recommend downloading the largest available option to give you the greatest flexibility with your design. However, if you plan to share the image unaltered to a social network, it's best to choose a more appropriate size to that medium.
If you're not ready to download the image, this is where you can add it to a collection.
And that's it! If you like it, download it. Twenty20 works on a simple credit system, and as a Thank You to The Social Media Hat community, Twenty20 is offering you a free 7 day trial and 5 free credits! A $99 value.
Ready to improve your Facebook Reach?
Ready to increase your Instagram Engagement?
Ready to bring your blog posts alive with vibrant imagery and meaningful graphics?
Don't settle for cheap, mediocre images again. The cost just too unbearable.
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By Mike Allton, Content Marketing Practitioner
Mike is a Content Marketing Practitioner - a title he invented to represent his holistic approach to content marketing that leverages blogging, social media, email marketing and SEO to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales. He is an award-winning Blogger, Speaker, and Author at The Social Media Hat, and Brand Evangelist at Agorapulse (formerly CMO at SiteSell).
As Brand Evangelist, Mike works directly with other social media educators, influencers, agencies and brands to explore and develop profitable relationships with Agorapulse.Follow @Mike_Allton