I’m coming in hot with a controversial opinion today: stock images don’t belong on Instagram.
Don’t get me wrong, stock images absolutely have their place in the world - on websites, in print media, for Pinterest pins and even perhaps in Facebook or Twitter banners? I completely understand that not everybody has the time, the resources or the money (??) to create completely unique photography every time they need it. But on Instagram? I’m going to need a better reason for using stock photography on what is meant to be a creative visual platform…
Maybe because I spend a lot of time looking at websites and scrolling through social media, but I can almost always tell when someone has just saved a photo they found on a stock website and banged it up on Instagram. Or worse, they’ve right clicked and saved it from Pinterest or Google (guys, this is most likely copyright infringement! Be careful with what you take and use from the internet). I may be overreacting but it doesn't appeal to me and it definitely doesn't make me want to interact with that account.
Authenticity on Social Media
But let me explain. We talk a lot in social media marketing about being authentic: about engaging authentically with your audience and adding value to your community. So why doesn't this extend to the images we are posting? Instagram is a creative platform; it’s where you get to show your brand personality and what’s special about you. If you’re using an image that you found online, that everybody else in the world also has access to, how is this differentiating you from the millions of other people / businesses on Instagram?
I get it; your audience is on Instagram, so you feel like you need to be there too. But I have to question if that’s true. I don’t believe anyone needs to be on every platform, and if that platform is doing more harm than good to your brand, then absolutely don’t use it. Failing to be authentic or unique on Instagram won’t help you, and if your audience is anything like me, then it may actually be corrupting their opinion of you.
Stock Imagery on Instagram Saves Time, but at What Cost?
If you do want to be on Instagram but you don’t have the time to take a photo every morning to pop up online, well… don’t! No one is telling you to post every day; yes, you need to be consistent but that doesn’t mean constant. On Instagram (and indeed any social media) it’s way more important to prioritise quality over quantity. Quality images, quality captions and quality engagement with your community. Every time you post a photo (or indeed, anything online) you should be asking yourself:
- Is this adding value?
- Is this unique to my brand?
- Am I proud of this content?
Using stock photography or images you found online isn’t helping you to cultivate a brand identity, and I honestly believe that in the long term it could actually be detrimental to your growth. As I said, Instagram is a creative platform and the best and most popular accounts are consistently producing content that is unique and identifiable to them. So yeah, having a themed feed and a consistent posting schedule may get you some attention in the beginning, but how far will it get you in the long run?
When I started my business I never imagined that "stock images don't belong on Instagram" would be an unpopular opinion. My favourite accounts on the platform are unique and genuine, and seeing these generic images over and over again began to feel kind of fake. Instagram is a source of inspiration for me, and there's nothing inspiring about being the same as everyone else.
What do you think? Is there a place on social media for stock photography?
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