How good is your public image?

Food for thought

I had a phone call today from a really pleasant guy called Andrew, a photographer in Warrington. It came as a welcome respite from wrestling with Internet Explorer and we had a very interesting chat. He called to ask about what I thought about 'Meet the Team' type pages on corporate websites as regards the quality of the photos. He was wondering if there was a gap in the market for this particular page of a website to be done 'professionally'.

How good is your public image?
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To clarify, he said, “I have found that a surprisingly large number of individuals and organisations are neglecting this important area of their business and are either not using staff images at all, or are displaying poor quality or poorly executed images on their websites and marketing material . . . succumbing to the temptation to take the DIY option of instant results and minimal cost. However, the potential for damage to their brand image in taking this approach could be ultimately far more costly. Overlooking this area of their business gives their competitors who do take advantage an undoubted edge.”

And, he’s absolutely correct. As a web designer, nine times out of ten the images are the last thing to be added to a website. Primary concerns are usually the design, the written content and the site structure. Often, temporary images are included during the build, or even image placeholders, only to be replaced just before the site goes live. This may be simply my mode of working but, nevertheless, I always say to my clients that high-quality images are an absolute must for a website to look good. Poor quality images stand out a mile and can bring the whole site down as regards its perceived quality – we’ve all seen badly pixelated images on websites and noticed how shocking they look and even noticed the newly-uploaded 1,785 nasty and samey blurred photos of our acquaintances on Facebook when they were hammered in the pub. You don’t have to be a designer to see they’re bad images and yet, they are still used. Why is this?

Corporate ‘Meet the Team’ pages are a useful addition to a site and can help to make the company look friendlier, more informal and approachable. But Andrew is right in saying that it’s a badly neglected page. Why do companies pay thousands of pounds for a website and say, ‘Yeah, we want it to look really professional,’ and then let an office monkey wander round with his iPhone at lunchtime taking photos for the ‘Meet the Team’ page? Why spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar? Cameras on smartphones are good and have their place: taking impromptu family snaps, pictures of your mates hammered in the pub (see above), etc, but you wouldn’t attempt to try and recreate a family portrait studio, take a picture of the kids and then have it made into a canvas for the living room wall. Why? Because it would look rubbish and like you’d done it yourself. Instead, you have it done professionally in a proper environment by someone who is a photographer and knows what to do to get the best results. The same should go for your website personnel images.

Andrew continues, “A dedicated section, such as [Meet the Team/About Us], on a website, is an area that many competitors and other businesses are increasingly utilising and investing in to convey and promote a more personal and professional image. It’s always such a shame when a company will go to the trouble of having a professional website built and then go on to jeopardise their professional credibility by using DIY sub-standard profile images that look like they have been thrown on as an afterthought.” Well said. How do these sub-standard profile look to potential customers? Like they don’t care? The company’s a bit rough round the edges? Slapdash? Don’t have an eye for detail? Probably all of these things and more. A website creates an immediate emotional response as soon as it appears on the screen; a web visitor has formed an opinion, either consciously or subconsciously, in a split second and this can affect their actions from the word go and will ultimately influence a decision to either stay and explore the site or find another company that offers the same services. Andrew also said that everyone can tell if an image is bad but don’t know why it’s bad. Again he’s correct and that’s because most of us aren’t photographers.

Also, Andrew very pointedly stated, “[Sub-standard images reflect] on the web company who have designed and produced the website, as the images will be viewed as part of the whole finished site.” which is an interesting statement because my name is on the bottom of every site I build. Do people think I took them and how does that reflect on their perception of my work? In truth, many companies are now on there second or third generation website and a lot of web content is recycled from previous versions, including the iPhone snaps of the staff taken by Craig in HR in 2008. However, one would assume that in most companies there is an emphasis on being smart, well turned out and tidy of appearance because customers will make value judgements based on first impressions. But how many first impressions come from a company’s website? It’s the shop window on the world and, more often than not, potential customers will check out a website before making any contact and a poor website and, specifically, a poor Team page is going to have a bearing. As Andrew said, “Those companies who have invested in [professional personnel photos] really do stand out from their competitors. Those that haven’t also stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.”

Ironically, Andrew called me to find out about a few things but talking to him made me realise some things too. We spent nearly an hour on the phone and he sent me a lovely email afterwards. The next time the subject of ‘Meet the Team’ arises in client discussions I’ll be taking an entirely different tack and emphasising the importance of a thoroughly well-considered page, even if it means a few extra bob, because if you want people to meet you, you may as well look your best. I really enjoyed talking to Andrew – he’s won a ton of photography awards, he’s a smashing chap,  incredibly genial, very interesting and he definitely knows his onions. I’ll certainly be recommending him to my clients and within my network.

They say that a good picture can be ruined by a bad frame but in web design the opposite is true. Do your company a favour and invest in decent images as a forethought, and, next time you’re on a corporate site, have a look at the photos on the Team page – were they professionally done or was it Craig in HR? It’s easy to tell, isn’t it?

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