Four Questions to Ask Before Posting an Image

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how does that change the story your words are telling?

We already know that visuals drive online communications. A strong visual can lead to a post becoming more shareable, likeable, and memorable. For that reason, it’s important to include images in your social strategy. With the right photo or graphic, you can grab the attention of casual scrollers and help build your brand. Don’t have an in-house design team? There are lots of free resources to make everything from memes to informational charts.

However, when relying on images to tell your story, you also need to consider who will be seeing your content and when. In general, it’s important to share high-quality, brand-appropriate images that are properly sized and credited. But in times of crisis or uncertainty, there are a few more elements to consider.

If selecting an image to run with a sensitive subject—or at a sensitive time—ask yourself these four questions:

  • What’s the purpose of the image?
  • Who will see the image?
  • How will the image shape the story?
  • Will someone interpret the image differently?

These may seem like simple questions, but they remind you to look at images from different perspectives and consider the broader impact an image might have. 

As professional news organizations know, images can define the way a story is told. It’s for this reason that editors at The Guardian wrote about reconsidering the photos they use to tell the story of climate change. Their concern over how best to depict climate change and resulting research led them to move toward using “fewer polar bears and more people.” Why? People respond to human stories and it was important to broaden the scope of the images to tell a global story.

That is only one example of needing to choose an appropriate image for a complex story. When dealing with natural disasters, local emergencies, or heartbreaking tragedy, care and consideration must similarly be put into selecting the right image.

Although bloggers, social media managers, and marketers are not in the same position as news photographers and editors, the same lessons can be applied. Still ask those same questions and take time to consider how others might feel in response to your image. Recycling an old image could lead to confusion and even a great new image might pop up at the wrong time. Perhaps you are promoting a service or post unrelated to a news item, but the pulse of your community is such that no one will see the image outside of a certain lens. Keep sensitivity in mind.

You might find yourself trying a graphic or illustration, not a stock photo. Symbols, icons, landmarks, and colors can also tell stories while helping turn abstract ideas into real visuals. (Think of how internet cookies are often represented as comical chocolate chip cookies.)

Ultimately, the best choice you can make is to take time to discover the best way to tell your story visually and consider your options before posting.


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