Know when to choose between original and stock photography for your online marketing.

There is a well-known idiom that says a picture is worth a thousand words. But what if they aren’t the right words? Photo selection is incredibly important online, especially as photos are used to communicate your brand to strangers, convert website visitors into leads and drive social media engagement. 

Choosing the right photography is about conveying the appropriate message to digital visitors, and this can be a real challenge when it comes to the choice of stock photos or original imagery. Do you know when it’s best to utilize stock photography? Do you know when to hire a professional photographer for your team or products? We have broken down three distinct digital situations, in order to dissect and compare the benefits of stock photos and authentic imagery. 

Website Hero Images

These days, stock photography can be easy to spot, even to the untrained eye. We’ve all been to that website where two business people are shaking hands with obnoxious grins and stuffy suits. While there is a time and a place for stock photography, are these overly excited business people really conveying the message you’re trying to send?

When it comes to branded website imagery, authentic photography will win every time. Your website should be used as the hub of all your business’ activity online. So use your website to tell your brand story in the best way possible -- don't risk appearing fake or not credible. This rule of thumb is especially true for pages about your office space, company culture and team photos. People can relate to people. Sharing authentic photos of your team will provide web visitors a window into your organization and help you stand out. 

Midwest Fertility Specialists Hero Image

Midwest Fertility Specialists has opted for authentic photography for all the hero images on their website. These images not only showcase their team, but they give web visitors a sense of the atmosphere and culture their patients will experience when they walk through their doors.

Social Media Posts

It’s no secret that photos are one of the most engaging forms of content on social media. According to the social media analytics leaders, Socialbakers, photography is still king on Facebook. Photographs on Facebook received up to 87 percent of all engagements in 2014. Buffer’s research has shown that tweets that include images have earned up to 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more favorites and 150 percent more retweets. It would be foolish to overlook photography on social media, but what does that mean for stock photography? 

Social media, by nature, is about being quick and nimble. Because stock photography offers a plethora of images for any situation right at your fingertips, it can be extremely beneficial to have a Getty Images account as you implement your social strategy. While authentic photographs might speak better to your brand,  it can be difficult to build a library of images ready for any situation that arises on social media. To make best use of your time and budget, stock photography is an acceptable tactic to employ on your various social channels. 

Blog Content — Banner & Support Images

One of the most important components of content marketing is the actual content you produce. This most commonly comes in the form of blogs and long-form gated content on your website. According to digital marketing guru Jeff Bullas, blog articles with images throughout receive 94 percent more views. Deciphering when stock photography can be used will save your team time and effort. 

If your blogs are about products or your team members, original photos add a layer of legitimacy and professionalism to the content you’re producing. It’s important to be wary of overusing stock images of people (unless, of course, you’re writing a blog about stock photography).

For more generic imagery like cityscapes, plants or symbolic images, stock photography can do the trick in a pinch. If you choose to go this route, make sure that your stock images are either non-specific — achieved by avoiding faces, street names or recognizable landmarks — or the images are very specific,100 percent accurate and relevant to the blog you are writing. If you’re using blogs to become a thought leader, you can immediately lose credibility with an image that doesn’t apply or is inaccurate.

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For example, if you were writing a blog about the best places to go running in Indianapolis, it would be ill-advised to include a stock photo of the beach or a coastline. Anyone from Indianapolis would immediately recognize the mistake and your article would be discredited. 

Pros & Cons

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The Verdict

Deciding between stock and authentic photography comes down to a few crucial questions. How much time do you have to get an image? What is your budget like for this project? Would a stock photo convey the wrong message? The answers may vary but usually mean using a healthy mix of both types of photography. 

At the end of the day, your digital media should be fluid. If your stock photos aren’t converting, change them. Test social posts with original images of your team, and then use the well-worn image of smiling people shaking hands and see what happens. Each business is different, and there is no wrong answer when it comes to building your brand -- as long as you thoughtfully consider your options and stay true to your voice.

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In honor of the holiday season, the Tactic team has recreated some of our favorite corny stock photos. Feel free to use these image however you please (even if just to laugh at them), but we wouldn’t advise you use them on your website’s home page. Click here to view the full gallery. 

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