9 Reasons Why We Avoid Stock Photos

Using stock photos is common practice in web building today. At The Social Brand, we've gone against the flow a bit and we actually don't use stock pictures for any project.  Stock photos tend to be cheaper in web projects, they're easier (because you don't have to get in front of a camera) and that's why so many people use them.

So, we are going to start this blog out with a disclaimer or preface.  We don't judge people for utilizing stock images and we certainly don't question their usefulness. In fact, on occasion, we do have to pull a stock picture and tuck it away in a project if we don't have a good picture for that particular instance. So, please approach this blog post with that understanding.

With all that being said though, we have made the decision to eliminate stock pictures from as many of our projects as possible. But, why?  It takes more effort, requires more time of our clients and it's more expensive. Below are a few reasons:

  1. It's more authentic. The most important job of your branding and marketing is to help your website visitors or new contact feel like they know, like and trust you.  If your whole website is full of fakey stock pictures that aren't your team members, your customers or even in your location - how are we building trust? When we are authentic about something as simple as putting our face forward, the entire image changes.
  2. It feels more professional. Oftentimes, it won't be a conscious thought that the website visitors have of "oh that's a stock image."  But, when you replace the stock pictures with a real picture of you and your team, there's a noticeable difference in their perception of you. They feel like you're more professional, more polished, they feel like you really have it together.  We've heard this feedback from our clients time and time again that their end customers are noticing the added layer of professionalism.
  3. It builds authority. When your customers have seen you and your team performing the services you offer or your products before you ask them to spend money with you, it legitimizes you. It makes it easier for your potential customers to trust you.
  4. Stock photos are repetitive. There is a shortage of stock photos (and especially free stock photos). So one mistake we see businesses make is pulling from the same stock websites that their competitors are pulling from and before too long - everyone looks the same! It's hard to stand out when all the images on your site are identical (or at least similar) to those on your competitors site.
  5. Your customers pick up on stock pictures.  It's a new digital age and now more than ever, our potential customers are aware of things that don't feel right. Consumers notice things like corporate stock images and it ultimately ties back into a feeling of inauthenticity.
  6. Lack of control over your brand's image. You've worked hard to build your business, it's reputation and to accomplish the level of quality you provide.  However, you lose quite a bit of control by allowing someone to represent your company with a stock image. The images often don't convey all of this hard work.
  7. It's generic.  Marketing is about standing out in a crowded world.  Often times these stock images are taken in a way that is intentionally generic and your chance to showcase your brand's personality or unique features is lost.
  8. Everything about business is social. Hopefully, if you're reading this blog post - this isn't the first time you've heard this from us... because it's kinda the backbone of every single thing we do here. We believe that everything about business is about people. So showcasing your people, yourself, your customers... this is the biggest tool you have! People connect with other people - they connect with nice photos of corporate desks or random examples of your industry off the internet.
  9. Puts your customer at ease. Allowing your customers to see your services, see your team, see the product before they are asked to take any action will put them at ease. Can you imagine ordering a product off of Amazon that didn't have a photo? What if you ordered something off of Amazon and the product you received looked totally different from the product you received in the mail? Probably wouldn't go over well. Especially in service-based businesses, allowing your customers to see the team member who will be performing their service goes a long way! For example, a handyman business where an older woman is having a stranger come to her home. Making sure she's seen the face of her service provider before he's at her door knocking really improves her experience.

There are even more reasons on why not to use stock photos for social media. To hear my thoughts on that one, click here.

At the end of the day, it's a compromise on finding something that works for your business and budget versus creating something that makes sense.  Having a website that has stock photos is always better than not having a website at all. However, having a website that properly and authentically represents you and your brand is a step up from this.  Our goal as an agency is to provide top-notch, top-performing branding assets for our clients and that's why using stock photos is something we avoid whenever possible.

The Deal with Online Reviews

Studies tell us over and over again, that online reviews help move the needle when it comes to bringing in new customers.  According to reviewtrackers.com, "approximately 53% of consumers visit a business within 48 hours of performing a local search on Google."  If you are brand new to online reviews and the profiles you can receive reviews on, consider starting with our blog on Local SEO or Being Found Online where we talk about the more foundational aspects of online directories. If you already have profiles set up, then keep reading!

Typically, these directories help customers who are either looking for your business directly or are looking to discover someone who does what you do. In either instance, having solid customer reviews will help you convert those searchers into paying customers. There are a few different factors that we should consider when it comes to reviews:

We'll talk through each factor below.

Number of Reviews

The number of reviews your business has on your various platforms is important in a couple of different ways:  the algorithm of the platform and customer perception.

Algorithm of the Platform

From a purely algorithmic perspective, having more positive reviews helps your profile show up more frequently and be more prominent (closer to the top of the list).  The various goal posts that I've noticed from working with many businesses on Google My Business over the years are:

Some of these numbers have studies to back them up and some are just purely my observations over the years. The first goalpost of 17 is based purely on observations. I have noticed in my experience doing this that when a Google My Business profile goes over 17, they tend to start getting more free traffic and they tend to start getting more inquiries from their Google My Business account.  I like to focus on this first goalpost because it's a very reachable goal. Almost every business has seventeen people they can ask to leave them a review on Google! It will take some effort but it's very reachable - even for a new business. 

Now depending on your industry and your location, these numbers will change. For example, a restaurant in a major city can easily reach over 250 Google reviews and still not have the most in their area! But, I am providing general numbers for the local businesses I see in east Tennessee.

Customer Perception

Beyond getting your profile seen by more folks and being displayed more prominently, having more online reviews will compel the people who do see your profile to trust you more, engage with you faster and be more likely to do business with you. Why? Because online reviews act as social proof. Social proof is other people saying that you do a good job, that you're trustworthy and you won't give them a negative experience if they choose to do business with you.

In service-based industries, studies tell us that the magic number of reviews from the customer's point of view is 34. If you have 34 or more reviews, customers feel that you are more trustworthy and the likelihood of them clicking through to your website or calling you directly goes up significantly.


The Sentiment of Reviews

When we say sentiment as it relates to reviews, we mean the overall attitude or overarching theme of the reviews your business receives. So, for example, if you're a small business with a 5-star rating (out of 5), then your business reviews has extremely positive sentiment. On the flip side, if you're a business with let's say an overall rating of 1.7 stars, then the sentiment is going to be negative and will need some attention on your part! So, the sentiment is the overall sum of the reviews your business has. There are two types of reviews - positive and negative. Both are valuable.

Let's start with negative reviews and we'll work our way back to good reviews.

Negative Reviews

The first reason why negative reviews are valuable is just from a customer service point of view. An unhappy customer will typically 7 people and a happy customer will typically only tell one person. If an unhappy customer takes the time to express to you on Google what their experience was and why it was negative - this is a gift! Because you will actually get a chance to fix the problem and prevent it from happening again. Perhaps one of your team members isn't treating customers how they should when you're not around or perhaps a certain aspect of your process doesn't make for a positive experience - having this feedback allows you to fix it. Now, trust me, as a business owner who has had to take negative feedback from time to time - getting that negative review doesn't feel like a gift at first. At first, it's easy to puff out our chest and become enraged... write up a response that tells that person off. But, wait. Keep reading... and for the love of God, please don't reply like that.

Studies tell us that most consumers understand that not every single customer's experience is going to be stellar and they are used to that. One negative review will not be the reason why someone doesn't work with your company. With that in mind, studies do tell us that 87% of consumers care more about your response to the review.  Meaning, they care about your responsiveness (did you actually respond), your professionalism, and your attitude (were you nasty and defensive or were you genuine and apologetic).

So, if you can't respond in this way at first - just pause. Or, perhaps have another team member write the response until you are less emotional. This is value for many folks in outsourcing this part of their business. We like to see the responses to a negative review do a few things:

A great example of a response to a negative review would be something along the lines of: "(Person's name), we are so sorry to hear about your experience. We genuinely want to help make this right and would love to have the opportunity to talk to you about this directly. Would you please reach out to me directly so we can talk? (Insert phone number or email address by which they can reach you). Looking forward to hearing from you. -Victory, Co-Owner." There are lots of teachings on how to best handle negative reviews. But, ultimately, handling a bad review is just about humanizing the experience as much as possible. Sometimes it will require a bit of humility on your part to try to fix the situation... and sometimes, you just aren't going to be able to fix the situation!

In addition to that, studies tell us having a perfect 5-star rating can make customers a bit suspicious of your company. It makes them feel that perhaps you bought your reviews or that they aren't all real. So, having a few negative reviews that you respond to professionally and apologetically is actually a positive for your business!


Positive Reviews

When you are asking people to leave reviews, it is always a good thing to have them mention particular services or products that you want to rank for - as these will help make your profile more findable. It's important to remember that being responsive, even to positive reviews, is important! It's a chance to show your friendly and interactive side not only to the person who left the review but to the other searchers who will see your response later! The rating that most consumers look for is around 4.5 stars because it's not "too perfect" but it still shows an overall positive sentiment from the majority of people who have interacted with your company.

So, take the pressure off of yourself! You don't want a perfect or untarnished record. You just need a pretty good one. You can do this.


Age of Reviews

The third factor to consider is the age of your reviews. If all the reviews on your company's Google My Business profile are two years old, it will definitely spur some hesitancy in consumers. They may wonder if you are still in business or if you are still doing a good job for your customers. But, having reviews that have some age to them is also a benefit - shows a consistently positive track record with people who are viewing your profile.  In the same vein, if all of your reviews are from the last two weeks - it may cause some hesitancy from consumers reading them.

We mention this to say that building up your online reviews will take some time and that's ok. Just like most other things in business, to do it right - it's going to take some time. Just embrace the process! Online reviews aren't something that are one and done. But rather something that you'll need to consistently put effort into both now and for the foreseeable future. Once you reach your goals, you can't kick your feet up and rest on your laurels. But rather, you'll need to continue requesting new reviews from customers so that your profile doesn't become irrelevant.


Asking for Reviews

The beautiful thing about online reviews is that getting reviews is free. All it takes is to provide a great experience to your customers and then ask for the reviews. Often just simply reminding your customers about the value of these reviews for your business will be enough to have them write one for you. In fact, 71% of consumers will leave a review if you ask! So, you start by just asking.

I wanted to make sure I gave you a couple of quick ideas on how to start asking folks for reviews. Remember, that you cannot offer discounts or anything in exchange for a review on Google. In fact, if you do this and they find out - your entire profile could be taken down. Don't do it!  Offering discounts or free stuff in exchange for a positive review is considered black-hat marketing and we both know you don't want to go there. However, you can ask and you can remind folks. Some of my favorite strategies for getting more reviews:

Do you have other strategies that you've implemented for your business to get more customer reviews? We'd love to hear them. Email us and let us know at info@thesocialbrandtn.com!

The Cycle of Promoting Your Business

At The Social Brand, we know that there are two parts of promoting your business - branding and marketing. We guide all businesses to start with their branding efforts and once they have a strong branding foundation, then it's time to move into marketing.  It's very important that you understand what these things are so that you can prioritize projects for your business.

We teach all businesses that the promotion cycle looks like this graph. Having a relevant image always comes back to your branding.  Your brand assets (which we'll talk more about in a moment) are like the seeds of your business. But, just creating a brand isn't enough anymore.  If you don't nurture your brand, it will never grow. When it comes to business, marketing efforts foster your business' growth. Marketing efforts are like watering those seeds you planted with your branding.

Your branding supports every facet of your marketing strategy and your marketing supports the brand and maintains a current image. Let me explain.



Let's start by first defining what branding is. Branding seems to be one of those words that has a million definitions, yet is still ambiguous. Why? Because everyone has a different perception of it. Meaning that branding can be everything and nothing all at once.

Entrepreneur.com defines branding as "your promise to your customers. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors." We love this definition. With this in mind, your brand assets help you communicate these promises and present these differentiating offerings.

One of our very favorite quotes is by a wise guy, Bob Camp, a business coach and mentor of ours. He once said,

Make your brand bigger than your company.

What does that mean? That means that the brand you have online (or in-person) should be one that enables you to connect with your customers, to grow your business and to be an authority in your industry (even if you don't feel like you are yet).

Branding, or brand assets, include things such as:

These brand assets enable you to grow your online presence and present a cohesive experience to potential leads, customers and community members about who your business is, what you stand for, the value you add to the world and can even help define workplace culture within your organization. For example, a solid mission statement would fall into this messaging piece and can certainly make a big difference. (Check out our recent blog post on writing a mission statement that doesn't suck by clicking here!)

Ultimately, what we want you to take away from this is that branding acts as the foundation of your company's promotion. The overall essence of who your company is should be communicated in your branding effectively. Once this foundation has been laid, marketing your company becomes easier and more effective.


Once you have a solid branding foundation, we can begin the conversation about ongoing marketing efforts.  But, first, let's define what the heck marketing is. One of our favorite quotes about marketing is by Seth Godin, when he defines marketing as "the stories you tell." We believe this wholeheartedly. Once you have a brand, you'll begin telling different stories. There are a lot of different platforms you can use - but ultimately it's about telling a story and getting it in front of the right people in the right way.

You tell a story on social media about how you can help potential customers, you may tell a story in a podcast as you discuss what's happening in your industry and you may tell a story in a Google ad as you attempt to attract new visitors to your website.

Marketing efforts are comprised of things such as:

Now as your marketing efforts evolve, the customers your company works with change, and as time passes - the cycle begins again. This is because eventually your branding will need to be revisited... and this is why we call it a cycle. For more information about getting started with improving your brand or marketing efforts, click here.