Today we’re explaining to you all about using stock photos for social media to grow your business!
Social media marketing –when done right– is a powerful tool to get more people to discover your brand, products, or services. Photos (the perfect photos) play a big part in achieving it.
So if you are a solopreneur, small business owner, or if you got asked to manage a company’s social media accounts or social media marketing strategy and you have no idea where to start, we got your back!
We’ll walk you through this whole thing, from where to find social media images to which ones to select to how to use them wisely.
Our Fictional Case: The Little Coffee Shop around the Corner
To further clarify who can benefit from this, we are going to imagine there is a coffee shop, a typical cozy, familiar place around the corner, owned by an eager senior lady who is finally realizing her dream of owning her own coffee establishment. (She is the perfect example of what modern senior stock photos are about!)
One day a 30-something patron is snapping selfies on his iPhone —just like a Millennial would do--, and later mentions to the owner he tried to tag the shop in a photo of him having coffee, to share with his friends, and he couldn't because the shop is not on social media.
This sparked interest in the owner, as she saw an opportunity to grow her business. Despite not being a big fan of tech, she does have a personal Facebook account (to share pictures of her family and cute cat videos) and knows how hashtags and other basic social media tools work. So she's now wanting to put the Coffee Shop on Facebook, Instagram, and every other main social network, to give it a go.
She needs to learn a lot, though, as digital marketing and social media campaigns are a lot more complex than sharing cat videos, and high-converting images are science on their own.
Luckily for them, and for all of you small business owners and newbies out there, here you will learn it all!
Before we go on, we highly recommend our awesome guide with 102 Expert Tips for Visual Content Creation that is a must-read for eager DIYers like you!back to menu ↑
Social Media Lets You Reach Out to Billions of People with Little to No Investment
In case you were not clear why every day more businesses are using social media to promote themselves, it’s really this simple: there are around 3.8 Billion people using social media today (according to a study by Finances Online).
Everybody has smartphones –android or iPhone– and everyone is a social media user, including your target audience. Imagine the possibilities for growing your business if you can reach out, engage, and get just a small fraction of these people to buy from you!
And you know what the best is? You don’t need to spend a lot of money on this. All the main social media platforms are free to sign up and use for anyone, including businesses. Sure you can invest in promoting posts, creating ads, and stuff to increase your visibility and reach out to more potential customers, but this expense is nothing compared to other traditional ways to grow your business. And you can also do this organically on your channels, using resources like the Instagram stories or Facebook image posts.
Of course, it’s not as easy as creating an account and posting stuff online. Social media has its own codes and tricks to get users to like you, love you, use your, share you, tell their friends about you.
Images help you nail all this much faster and better than any other resource, that’s why you absolutely must know the secrets of social media images –image creation for social media– if you want to have a strong online presence.back to menu ↑
Images are More Popular on Social Media than Any Other Content
Why images, you may ask? The shortest answer is: because people love them. That is really the key to it all.
Furthermore, color in images can affect the viewer's mood and influence their actions. More on this in our article about color psychology and the best color combinations for marketing.
- Two-thirds of the population consider themselves visual learners
- Facebook posts with images have 180% more engagement than those without. That’s 20% more engaging than posts with videos, and a huge 325% more engaging than posts with links alone
- 67% of Internet users judge a product image to decide on a purchase
- Younger demographics prefer visual-first platforms like Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram
We think it’s safe to say images are a must-have in any business’ social media channels!
To make her coffee shop stand out in social media, the owner will definitely need compelling photos.
Quick snaps of their signature caramel macchiato and yummy cinnamon rolls won’t cut it, although she sure should throw them in.
No, if she's to do this right, she'll need more. Pictures of people having a meeting over coffee, artsy shots of steamy hot coffee mugs with decorated foam, and many other inviting concepts related to relaxing, warming up, and having a nice time.
Where to Get Photos for Social Media?
The cheapest and most obvious answer here would be to snap pictures yourself, even with your phone if the camera is good enough.
But here’s the thing: you need really great photos to stand out on social media. Even more so in picture-first sites like Instagram, users are incredibly picky and have really high standards when it comes to images. Post one low-quality photo and you’ll lose your chance to lure them into your page. Using photos that don't suck is of the utmost importance.
And there is yet another obstacle: establishing a good social media presence demands you to push lots of new photos through your feeds all the time.
So, unless you’re a great amateur iPhonographer and you have lots of free time to take photos… this option isn’t viable.
Running a coffee shop is hard work, and her owner doesn't have the time to shoot pictures all day. Add to this that she's not the greatest photographer either. Also, she just can't fork out thousands of dollars for paying a photog every time she needs a new image as she assumes the big coffee house chains do.
Luckily for them, and for anyone in a similar boat, there is stock photography! And you know what else? The big coffee house chains use it too!
Stock Photos for Social Media: Professional Images You Can Afford
Stock photography is an awesome resource for anyone who needs professional photos right now and can’t afford photographer rates. Stock images are perfect to use in social media posts! So let’s quickly learn it all about them.
What is a stock image? Stock images are pictures (photos or digital illustrations) that are already created and ready to be used. They are produced by professionals, and you can buy a license to use them in your work. For more details, read our complete explanation on what are stock images.
How do stock photos work? There are stock photo agencies, companies that offer big catalogs of images from multiple artists, and sell you licenses to use them. When you pay for a social media stock photo you get the right to download it, and the agency automatically issues a license for the downloaded file under your name. Simple as that. To further learn about this, check our article on what is a photo agency.
What is a license? It’s the legal agreement that gives you the right to use any image in a certain number of ways, in exchange for a fee. Most stock photo agencies today work with Royalty Free licenses, which are very flexible and cheap, plus they’re a one-time-fee type of deal. Very convenient for those wishing to reduce expenses. Wanna learn more? Go to our dedicated post on the benefits of Royalty Free images.
7 Social-Media-Approved Stock Photo Agencies
If you need help selecting a stock photo provider, here we list 7 great options. All the following agencies are top-quality services and verified they accept social media usage for their pictures.
Stock Photo Secrets: Budget-Friendly Social Media Photos
The Stock Photo Secrets Shop offers royalty-free photography at very affordable prices, with plans and packages tailored for small and medium-sized businesses.
The point A.2 of their license agreement states it allows the use of images in social media as well as other online publications and websites:
The library of almost 6 million pictures is sure to have what you need to make your social media images pop up on everyone’s feed!
Photocase: Artsy Pictures for Social Media
Photocase is a German stock photo company focused on out-of-the-box, unconventional imagery that is perfect for catching the eye on any social media platform. And their prices, while a little higher, are still very reasonable.
Point 6 of their license agreement establishes they accept the use in social media content like posts and cover images for various main platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Whatsapp.
They feature a tightly-curated catalog full of Instagram-worthy photos for you to discover!
Shutterstock: Millions of Photos for Social Media
Shutterstock has one of the largest stock photography collections on the web. It has very low prices and multiple buying options too.
Their royalty-free license specifies on part 1, point 1.a.i, that digital reproductions including on social media are permitted, so you won’t have trouble using these photos in your channels.
With over 280 million images, all strongly commercial-style, you won’t have issues finding freshly new pictures for your timeline.
- Shutterstock review
- Shutterstock Free Trial: 10 free images for 30 days
- Shutterstock Coupon Code: up to 25% off in your purchase
iStock: Exclusive Pictures to Beautify Social Media
iStock is renowned for its large selection of exclusive, high-end images, which they complement with a big pool of budget, yet professional, pictures for everyday needs. With a variety of credit packs and subscriptions available, there is a buying option for everyone.
In their content license agreement, point 2 clearly says “Examples of how you can use licensed content include: websites; blog posts; social media; advertisements; marketing campaigns…” so there is no doubt these are ok’d social media images!
Whether it is a unique and high-value photo for a social media ad campaign, or a cool, simple image to enrich your timeline, iStock has it all.
Adobe Stock: Social Media Photos in Creative Cloud
Adobe Stock is a stock photo service owned by Adobe, that works independently as well as fully integrated into the Creative Cloud platform. It’s ideal if you use Photoshop or other Creative Cloud apps to edit your photos before posting them to social media, and it has very reasonable price points.
Their Standard License highlights tell you that the use in social media as well as in email marketing, mobile ads, and more, are accepted.
Adobe Stock has over 60 million files in its catalog and the added functionality with Adobe’s most popular image editing apps makes them a great choice.
123RF: Affordable Social Media Pictures
123RF is a stock photo agency that offers royalty-free images at very affordable price points with multiple plans according to your needs.
Their license agreement includes the use of photos in social media platforms, but adds two very important conditions:
- You must make sure the platform you’re uploading the image to does not claim ownership of the said image
- You must include your logo somewhere on the image, or otherwise use it in a bigger graphic design of your own creation
Following these requirements, you can totally use the pictures on social media channels.
And having millions of photographs to choose from, we don’t doubt you will find beautiful shots to use!
Dreamstime: Great Images for Social Media Use
Dreamstime has millions of stock images ready to download and use in various ways, and you can buy them with either credit packs or subscription plans.
Their license agreement specifically lists social media posts between the many accepted uses for their content, so you are absolutely clear to use them in this way.
Their collections are full of lovely, current, and professional-looking photos to light up your stories, timelines, and profiles!
7 Free and Easy Image Editors for Social Media Images
An impactful social media visual isn’t one that you simply downloaded from a website (or snapped away), uploaded to a platform, and published. Social media stock photos need a certain level of design and customization to them if they are to fulfill their goal.
If you have no clue on how to edit an image for social media –Johnny doesn’t!– don’t despair. It’s actually a lot simpler than you’d think, and there are plenty of tools to get it done fast, even if you’re not a consummated graphic designer.
Some of these solutions are built and owned by the same companies that sell stock photos, and others integrate stock photography libraries into their software, making your life so much easier.
Here’s our pick of the best free image editors for non-designers:
Available right on Shutterstock’s website, the Shutterstock Editor is totally free to use and you can even launch it from any image you want on their library. This tool lets you perform quick edits like cropping, resizing, adding filters, and overlaying text and logos. Best of all? It includes preset sizes meeting all main social media standard sizes, you can edit an image before deciding to license it, and you can export the finished image directly to your social media pages!
iStock Editor is, as you guessed, a web-based editing tool offered by iStock that is free to use for all its customers. You can launch it by selecting “edit this photo” on any iStock image you like. It lets you perform simple edits like cropping –standard sizes for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are included–, adding text, graphics or logos, and filters. Once you’re done designing you can download the final image and upload it to your favorite networks!
Fotor is an easy-to-use yet powerful image editing tool for professionals and beginners alike. It offers photo editing and collage making features. It has templates and design canvases for social media that already come in the standard sizes, and it even has a mobile app available to edit on the go. Another extra is that it includes multiple video tutorials to make the best out of their functions.
Adobe Spark is an app developed by Adobe that is available within the Adobe Spark platform both on the web and mobile. It helps you create visually impactful social images in minutes –especially if you’re used to Adobe software– and it includes a free version. Additionally, the same platform has Spark Video, to create short videos in no time.
RelayThat is a digital asset management (DAM) tool + design platform with the particularity of being very simple to use for the non-designer. It is packed with a load of preset layouts that you can customize adding your own images and logos, and perform further edits like resizing for social media platforms, zooming in, changing fonts and colours, adding photo filters and effects, and more. This lets you create the perfect social media images that you can download and then upload to your channels.
Canva is an online design tool especially thought for non-designers. It’s very user friendly, with clear and easy drag-and-drop features, and packed with templates, images, and graphics to personalize at your discretion. This includes standard sizes for social media images and designs thought for these platforms –like Facebook covers–. You can either upload your own images (stock images too) or use the ones they provide. Some elements are paid, but the free service is quite complete and sufficient to create cool social media pictures.
- Learn more about Canva
- Open Canva right now
- Need more options? Check out a cool list of 19 websites like Canva
Visme is a very round solution for social media images. It provides image editing for various purposes including social media graphics and even offers millions of images to use in them, as well as bonuses that let you add audio and video to your designs for extra visual impact.
A few more online graphic editors you can find in our article about 19 websites like Canva.back to menu ↑
How to Upload Images to Social Media Platforms
Here we present you the essential steps to put up images on the main social media platforms making sure they look as great as possible.
Each social network website has its own standard image sizes, so when you upload a photo on them, they get automatically adjusted to that standard. If you upload pictures bigger than the preset sizes, the final version on the platform will have lost resolution and overall image quality.
How to avoid this? Simple: by optimizing the photos according to the channel’s standards before uploading!
The image editors we listed above all have the capability to optimize graphics for the main social network sites, so many of them will simplify this task for you.
Uploading Images to Facebook
To add an image to your Facebook profile or cover:
- Go to your news feed and click on your name/photo on the top menu
- Hover over your profile picture or cover image and click to update
- Choose a photo from your available ones at Facebook or from local storage
- Add a frame (optional for profile)
- Crop the photo (optional for profile)
- Save changes
Now to add a photo to your “wall”:
- Go to your news feed and click on the “Photo/video” option right below the “Create post” feature. If you’re working on a Facebook business page, select “Upload Photos/Video”
- Select the image you want to upload from local storage – you can add multiple photos at once by holding the ctrl button while clicking on them (on mobile you just tick them) and hit “Open”
- If you wish, hit the “edit” button on the photos to use Facebook Editor, that adds filters, stickers, backgrounds, crops, and more
- Optative steps: create an album, add a text description (copy), tag people and/or places, select your audience
- Select to share in your timeline or story, and hit “Post”
Uploading Images to Instagram
Before reading these instructions, keep in mind you can only upload images to Instagram from mobile.
To set up a profile picture on Instagram:
- Go to your profile and select “Edit profile”
- Hit “Change profile picture”
- Choose Library/Gallery and select the image – you may also select to import your Facebook profile picture onto Instagram
- Hit Ready/Next
To upload images to your timeline:
- Hit the plus sign at the bottom of the screen
- Select Library/Gallery at the bottom of the screen and choose an image
- If you wish, use the Instagram editor to add filters or effects, description (copy), and location tag
- Hit share
To upload images to your stories:
- On the Instagram app, slide up anywhere on the screen to open up Library/Gallery
- Select a photo to upload
- If you wish, use the tool buttons to add hand drawings, text, or stickers
- Hit “Your story” at the bottom of the screen
Uploading Images to Twitter
To define your Twitter profile photo:
- Go to your Twitter username on top of the screen, click on it, and select Settings
- Click on the Profile tab and select “Choose file”
- Choose a file and hit Ok/Open
- Save changes
To add a photo to a Tweet:
- Go to the Tweet composing screen and tap on the Image icon
- Choose an image (or GIF) from local storage
- If you wish, you may crop, add filters and stickers and tag people on your image, as well adding copy to the image Tweet
- Hit the “Tweet” button to publish
Uploading Images to Pinterest
To pin an image to your Pinterest board:
- Click on the “+” button on the lower right of the screen
- Select “Upload a pin” from the pop-up menu
- Click “Drag and drop or click to upload”
- Choose an image from your computer and hit “Open”
- If you wish, enter a description to accompany the image, on the appropriate description field
- Pick a board to pin the image to, or create a new board
- Hit “Save”
5 Bankable Tricks for Social Media Photos: Authenticity, Color …
We keep telling you how important it is to do social media images right. And this isn’t just about buying legally safe images, resize them and correctly upload them to your channels, but also about picking out the perfect photographs that deliver your message, represent your brand and connect with your audience, all at once.
Next, we give you five expert tricks to choose the ideal pictures for social media!
Authentic, Authentic, Authentic
There is no question about what photography style you should use: social media is the ultimate realm for authentic images. In fact, it’s where the authentic photography trend originated years ago, through the user-generated photos of everyday people doing everyday things that invaded everyone’s feeds in the early 2000s.
Authentic imagery is still very strong in 2021 photography trends. In social media for business, the key is in turning it up a notch: you want professionally created photographs that look and feel natural, spontaneous, and effortless. There are many subcategories, all must-haves in a visually appealing social media profile:
- Lifestyle images, basically photos of people. Trust us, people never have enough of these
- Diverse stock photos that depict people from various backgrounds. Everyone is positive when seeing themselves represented in a brand’s’ narrative
- Styled stock photos for female-led and/or female-oriented content
- Hipster stock images are very sought-after still
- Hispanic stock photos is a rising theme, as they're a very large community and have been misrepresented in photography for a really long time
- Stupid stock photos. They make for great fun posts and even original memes that can go viral
What would make for some cool visuals for the coffee shop around the corner to gain followers and customers?
Photos of culturally diverse groups of friends enjoying coffee on an outdoor-table. A hipster-styled man sipping coffee from a big mug in a rustic setting. A young woman with a milk foam mustache on her smiling mouth.
Let the inspiration flow!
Color Pays Off
There are various ways in which you can exploit the psychology behind color in photography, all the more in instant-consumption images such as social media ones. Through the strategic use of colors, you can catch someone’s attention, deliver a memorable message, and get them to share that message with others. All you have to do is:
- Pick only one or two dominant colors, enough to attract the eye but not too busy that it distracts from the message. Want a pro tip? Pick images where your brand’s main color is present in a key element. For example, if the coffee house’s logo is mainly pink, you want a picture of a coffee cup accompanied by lovely pink macaroons.
- Go for high contrast, as it’s an easy way to make your visuals pop in everyone’s feed. Black and white is a great option too, as it’s an instant eye-catcher and stands out among a sea of colorful images.
- Design creative duotones. Use images where a single shape, subject, or element creates a duotone effect against the background, for a minimalist and instant-appealing look.
Composition and the Good Ol’ Rule of Thirds
Photographers, designers, and even painters and drawing artists learn about this almost on their first day of school. The rule of thirds is a visual composition guideline that invites you to divide the image into thirds both vertically and horizontally, resulting in a grid with nine squares, and then decide where to place the subjects and other elements in your image following this grid.
The best-performing social media images are those where the focus subject is… non-focused. That’s right: you don’t want an image where the main element is centered, but rather one where it’s a bit out of focus, yet clearly visible.
Coincidentally, the negative space is super important too. All the “free” space left on a photo becomes a canvas for strategic copy, and where on the picture this copy space is, is also relevant. Again, you don’t want a traditionally centered image with little to no negative space around the subject. You want a wide-open spot somewhere on the frame.
Keeping up with the Trends
Social media is the land of the right now. Ten minutes ago is old news, yesterday was ages ago. These platforms are huge trendsetters in terms of business, content marketing, and visuals, so to do them right you must (must!) be up to date with the latest trends.
- Our Photography Trends 2021 report has the main trends the industry experts identified that will dominate this entire year. Known them, embrace them, find creative ways to use them
- This cool list of 10 2020 social media trends by Searchenginejournal.com picks up some very interesting strategies to tackle this year across various mediums
- Keep an eye on your feeds, as it’s a real-time updated showcase of what is getting shared and liked on each channel
Laughter is the Best Viral
Social media is an informal medium, and as such, a lot of people who is on it take it very lightly. It’s the perfect place for humor: people enjoy seeing funny things as well as cute things, and are very inclined to share the content that made them smile or laugh.
Playful pictures that poke fun into concepts and topics, even original memes you can create from stock photos in connection with your brand and field, are a very good idea.
Memes of cats to make her customers start the morning with a warm laugh along with their favorite brew, cute and feel-good photos of cats trying to sip coffee from their owner's cup, or of reading corners complete with armchair, book, blanket, hot coffee, and a chubby cat.
The sky's the limit here!
Best Social Media Practices for Business
Building up a strong social media strategy is no walk through the park, but this list of simple tips, we hope, will put you on the right path to achieve it!
Little Hacks for All Platforms
These are some easy fixes that improve images for any social medium:
Add text to your images – A powerful and as-unique-as-possible quote is one of the best copy resources to trigger shareability and reactions.
Keep it consistent – In social media for business, you want to have a defined tone that matches your brand image and nurture that consistency across all channels and posts.
Brand and market subtlely – Don’t shove your logo and slogan on people’s faces all the time, don’t shout out your sales pitch on every post. People want to interact with you at eye level here, and doing so is how you’ll get to them. The best branding strategies are cleverly done through images!
Image Tips for Facebook
The original social network might be a veteran, might not be the most popular amongst teenagers, but it’s still one of the most relevant platforms out there. Here is how to rule it:
Choose bright images – Well-lit and clearly composed photos are a win on Facebook.
Use the human element – Photos that include a body part –such as a hand– interacting with a product tend to do better according to this research by Convince & Convert.
Keep copy brief – The shorter the caption, the better. Facebook photos must shine on their own.
Post once a day – This is the recommended frequency to keep your followers amused. More than twice a day and they tend to find you annoying!
Image Tips for Instagram
Ah, Instagram. The first social channel that was all about the photos, the one that made everyone feel the next up-and-coming photog. This is how you do it right there:
Bare images are better – Add as little text to your images as possible, people here are very into photography
Prefer photos with blue and pastel hues and a lot of texture – It’s proven they’re very popular!
Embrace people's photos – Instagrammers love to see people in everything. Not just their hands, but their faces.
Storytelling copy – You can go crazier with your captions on this platform, so it’s a great chance to build a good narrative that keeps followers engaged from one post to the next.
Post 3 times a day – This is the minimum required to stay relevant. Instagram is an image-craving monster.
For more tips, check out our article on the Best Images for Instagram!
Image Tips for Twitter
Twitter is still very much a text-first platform, but even here images can increase the appeal on a Tweet easily if you do it this way:
Go for bright colours – The pastels that kill it on Instagram will bomb on Twitter, as users here react better to bold, vibrant tones.
Resume long messages in one image – Images with quotes are uber-popular and easier to share. Infographics are also a great idea. Think of Twitter images as a bite-sized version of the full dish your message is.
Do your best with your 140 characters – Don’t cram too much info in a Tweet that already has an image, but do use your available characters wisely to complement visuals.
Post anything between 3 and 30 times a day – That’s your average goal to be someone on Twitter. Tweets have a very short shelf life and many top accounts post new stuff over 100 times a day!
Image Tips for YouTube
YouTube is a social media platform even bigger than Facebook, and while yes it’s all about videos, many people use images into videos to share on this site.
For all the details on the best image practices for YouTube, check out our complete guide to images for a video!
Image Tips for Pinterest
Pinterest has one of the highest conversion rates from all social platforms, so it’s certainly worth your time. To reap benefits, do this:
Aim for evergreen content – Pins have a longer shelf life so it’s better to create images that won’t go out of date soon.
Use keywords in the description – This will help people discover your boards and content, and consequently your business. Remember to optimize this copy for Twitter as many share directly from Pinterest onto that channel.
Use keywords in image file name and label – It happens that Google loves Pinterest photos, so if you do your keywording well, you can have your pins exposed to greater audiences.
Post between 11 and 30 times a day – This is the frequency recommended to keep driving people to your boards and direct them to your website or brand.
LinkedIn is a bit of a different story: while it's very fruitful for lead generation and brand awareness, this is a professional networking platform and many of the tips we gave you don't really apply to it – for example, funny cat photos have no place there.
If you want to boost up your LinkedIn game –and you should!– make sure to read our guide on how to tackle stock photos for LinkedIn marketing!
Start Posting Cool Social Media Images Today!
Congratulations! You’ve got to the end of our beginner's guide to social media images for businesses, and you now know all you need to know to get started.
The little coffee shop around the corner is already proudly on every social media channel and posting away. Now it's your turn!
Header image copyright: Radu Bercan / Photocase.com, all rights reserved.