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ARTICLE Business TipsSeptember 15, 2016

Five free ways to source images for your business

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Adding images to your eCommerce site and social networks has many advantages, but procuring them can be time-consuming and expensive. We look at five free options that make the process easy.

In the age of content marketing, it takes more than just product shots to make an engaging eCommerce site. With pressure mounting to publish regular blogs and maintain a presence on multiple social media platforms, it’s becoming increasingly important to have access to a library of images that represent your brand. And not just to make your site look more attractive: according to digital marketing agency Optimind Technology Solutions, online articles with images receive 94 per cent more views than those without.

Aside from shooting photos yourself, there are plenty of ways to find and create visual content for your business. Here we look at five free options.

1. Free photo libraries

While photo libraries such as Getty Images and iStock are the go-to resource for businesses with an image budget, there are many free alternatives. Sites including Pexels, Gratisography and Unsplash offer free high-resolution photos without usage restrictions. The key to using such libraries is to check the licence agreements. Public domain images are the safest option, as they can be used any way you like. Images with a Creative Commons licence, on the other hand, may carry certain restrictions: no modifications, for example, or the mandatory inclusion of a photographer credit. Always read the fine print and make sure the images you download can be used for commercial purposes. 

2. Consumer-generated images

User-generated content (UGC) is a bit of a buzz term in the world of content marketing; it refers to any form of content created by everyday consumers. Not only can it be a source of free images for your business, but it’s also a way to connect with your audience – not to mention drive traffic back to your social networks and website. Plus, when customers share this content, they simultaneously endorse your business; according to Nielsen’s 2015 Global Trust in Advertising report, this is the third-most trusted form of advertising (though we still prefer recommendations from people we know).

So, how can you encourage customers to create content? If you sell a product, you could ask people to photograph themselves using it and share the images on social networks using the hashtag of your choice. Or follow the lead of vintage clothing brand ModCloth, which allows customers to upload photos of its outfits directly to the Style Gallery page of its website. Not only does this add a regular stream of new images to the site, it also offers inspiration to other shoppers.

When working with UGC, remember to provide customers with clear instructions of what you’re looking for to ensure the photos submitted are high quality, maintain a consistent style and are reflective of your brand.

3. Photo competitions

One way to get the ball rolling with your UGC campaign is to run a photo competition. Choose a theme relevant to your business, stipulate a prize and, if you plan to run your contest on a social network, make sure you follow the rules set by each platform.

Instagram is a straightforward and popular option for photo contests; simply tell users to post an image on their personal account using your hashtag so you can populate the entries. Men’s neckwear retailer Bows-N-Ties does this well, awarding a US$50 gift card each week for the best product photo that uses the hashtag #bowsnties.

One of the benefits of running a photo contest is that you can share the entries on other platforms, including your website – just be sure to mention this in the competition terms and conditions.

4. Collaborate with influencers

Another way to source images for your website is to work with influencers relevant to your industry – though some will charge for the service. Ask them to post images of your product accompanied by your hashtag to their blog or social networks; you can then add the images to albums on your own platforms. Find more tips on influencer marketing here.

5. Create your own images

Can’t find the right image? No problem: make your own using one of many tools that have been created with even the least design-savvy marketers in mind. Sites such as Canva and BeFunky allow you to create graphics from scratch or edit your own images, with either free or paid services. Elsewhere, Pablo gives users access to thousands of free images (courtesy of Unsplash), to which you can add text, logos or graphics. Plus, sites like Recite help you create artwork from quotes in just a few steps. With tools like these, you need never run out of images again.

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