10 terrible cliché images that kill your written content

Images in blog and social media posts are essential, the gurus say. Trouble is, too often people slap up the first (copyright free, of course…) image they find on Flickr that does nothing whatsoever to make their written content look anything other than a bunch of similar clichés.

Here are my top 10 pet image hates and why I think they make your written content look awful…

1.Someone on the phone

Why you shouldn't use cliche images in your written work

Shots of people looking important while on the telephone, don’t work. A very old pic of George Dublya Bush – sorry for the blur, but I guess he may be a bit of a blur now, too, bless him.**

…usually sitting at a desk, dressed smartly, smiling in a patronising way and looking Very Important. No-one is fooled by that any more and that reminds me the following joke …

Joe grew up in a small American town, then moved away to attend college and law school. He decided to come back to the small town because he could be a big fish in a small pond. He really wanted to impress everyone. He opened his new law office, but business was very slow at first.

One day, he saw a man coming up to the door. He decided to make a big impression on this new client when he arrived. As the man came into the office, Joe picked up the phone. He motioned the man in, all the while talking.

“No. Absolutely not. You tell those clowns in New York that I won’t settle this case for less than one million. Yes. The Appeals Court has agreed to hear that case next week. I’ll be handling the primary argument and the other members of my team will provide support. Tell the DA that I’ll meet with him next week to discuss the details.”

This sort of thing went on for almost five minutes. All the while the man sat patiently as Joe rattled instructions. Finally, Joe put down the phone and turned to the man. “I’m sorry for the delay, but as you can see, I’m very busy. What can I do for you?”

The man replied, “I’m from the telephone company. I came to connect your phone.”

Need I say more? Hope not.

People who matter do sit at desks and talk on the phone.

It’s likely that they also sit on toilets and talk on the phone.

If you must show them (rather than some interesting shots of the topic concerned) … show them interacting with the, er, topic concerned: even if they are the boss or the current POTUS.

Just because still photos don’t move, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t represent activity.

2.Arrows, money signs and other crap rising up on charts

These are usually based on the idea that column charts suggest growth and are accompanied by lots of glittering dollar, pound, euro or other currency symbols. They look about as business-like and convincing as the latest Disney animated movie and are almost as realistic.

Meaningless symbols don't help to enhance your writing

Lots of dollars? ZZZzzzzzz…

Don’t. If nothing else works, show illustrations of the business you’re writing about, in action.

3.Photo of a laptop and/or someone using a laptop

(Mea culpa here, but never again.) Now that I have seen – and perhaps read a few lines of – dozens of blog and social media posts that use a shot of neatly manicured hands stroking a keyboard to accompany a piece of writing about something … anything … whatever it is as long as it may have been written on a laptop …

Cliche images don't help make your writing better

These days. using a laptop just means using a laptop. It doesn’t mean success/money/fame/etc., although it would be nice if it did…

Forget it. Look to the subject matter, not its means of delivery, for visual inspiration.

4.Beautiful people sitting around in a meeting gurning smiles at each other

Why phoney photos of meetings can ruin your credibility

No fake meeting smiles. Please.

Sorry to use the word “gurning…it’s an English word meaning, and I quote the meaning from Wikipedia … basically, “pulling weird faces.”

Fake smiles are “pulling weird faces.” Keep them out of your written content.

5.Wobbly, badly planned selfie videos

Oh, purleeeeze.

I bow to my younger peers who say that videos used on social media and in blog posts do better if they are seen to be done by the speaker concerned, i.e. in an amateur way, because those can be seen as more genuine, real, unplanned, spontaneous and a lot of other stuff that can tip you into the garbage dump of “unprofessional but lovable.”

Yes, OK, if that works for your audience.

No example here as the only ones I can find

are by people who know where I live…LOL…

No, not OK if your audience expects a more professional approach.

These days, with professional video production being many times more affordable than it was 10 or 20 years ago, there is no excuse for using wobbly me-shoots unless you particularly want to make your video look home-made.

Chacun à son goût.

6.Nanosecond GIFs of yourself looking stupid

Another place where I can’t use a live example if I don’t want to get sued or have someone come and let all 5 of my tires down should they happen to know where I live.

No examples of GIFs here either.

I’m chicken: don’t dare name names…!

Little GIF-ettes are cute, but they don’t enhance your business credibility unless you’re a magician, children’s entertainer, cupcake entrepreneur or unicorn fan. So if you are not in any of those markets, dump the silly GIFs.

Trust me, they make you look like puppets.

7.Your wedding photo, cropped or not

No, no, no.

Do you really want your clients/customers to think of you like this, no matter how important such a shot is to you?

Keep personal photos out of your business text

The most important day of your life – but is it the most important image for your business?

People often use these shots for their business pages, LinkedIn profiles and other places … largely because they are images shot by professional photographers and make the people concerned look good.

But they don’t make you look good professionally.

By all means share your wedding shots on Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms, but don’t try to make even a cropped version work as your LinkedIn or other business head shot.

No-one will be fooled by an image like this (above) … the hairstyle, necklace and dress somewhat give it away. Ditto for a man wearing a rented tux that’s too tight around the collar, showing bleary eyes and a silly grin.

8.A neat, tidy workspace with a cup of perfectly steaming coffee


How many of us actually own, never mind fleetingly visit maybe once a year, a pristine office set-up that places a laptop, cup of coffee plus another few smart items on an elegant desk?

You’re not fooling anyone by suggesting their office workspace looks like this. Anything other than sheer chaos screams out “props in a photo studio.”

ng10 cliche images that can ruin the credibility of your writimg

A perfect work environment? No, an honest no-bullsh*t shot of my desk about an hour ago. It may not be photogenic, but it works.

I don’t know how many of you can identify with this, but as far as I am concerned my typical working environment consists of something a little different (see above.)

Either bite the bullet and show something real, or show something that relates more directly to your subject matter.

9.A slide or document with unreadable type

You’d think most people would have figured this one out, wouldn’t you?

But no. Let’s put some incredibly vital information in the form of a slide or other textual representation and hope to Heaven that someone – either with souped-up 20-20 vision or a powerful magnifying glass – can read. (And who would want to read it.)

Cliche and useless images

Much as slides may look good in real life, shrunk down to online size may do them more harm than good. Instead, use images that speak more-or-less for themselves.

Do you honestly think – given how much stuff we all have to read online every day – that readers will bother with all that text, especially as it is so hard to read online?

Why not take the key points out of this mess and present them in a way that readers can appreciate?

GO! (If you want your audience to get your points.)

10.Your cat (unless it’s doing something interesting, like Grumpy Cat.)

No-one who knows me can deny that my love of cats, dogs, horses, wildlife, and other touchy-feely stuff drives me and my closest friends and family, because we’re all furbabe lovers.

But much though being a furbabe lover in your personal life, not all your existing and potential customers share your enthusiasm.

This pains me, but I need to say it.

Keep the furbabes out of your business communications unless, of course, they make a useful point. Not everyone loves them. (I know, they should.)

Why showing a cat at work helps your credibility

Shots of furballs don’t work unless they can be seen to be doing something productive for your business…

So how should  you choose images to enhance your written words?

1.Avoid clichés. Some people may suggest you use cliché images because they instantly flag up the subject matter concerned. In fact, they flag up the fact that you don’t have anything new to write about, or show via images. Look deeper into your content and focus images on that.

2.Don’t be lazy. I know, I know, writing blog posts and social media posts takes time that few of us have to spare. Bottom line: if you want promotional mileage from your posts, spend a little more time on illustrating with good, original images. Trust me, it’s worth it.

3.Don’t bleat about there being few resources of free images. There are loads – Google them.

4.If you can’t find images that work for your blog post, social media post, article or whatever, go out and shoot some. Unless you have a phone that dates back 10 years or more, you – on your modern-ish phone – can capture images that can illustrate your points perfectly, to a reasonable quality. And, with no possibility of copyright issues, either.

 5.If you want to photograph what you need to show to a higher standard than what you can do yourself, go find yourself a local, professional photographer (who has kit and experience that you don’t have.) Thanks to the internet and its open invitation for anyone to steal photographers’ images, this profession has been suffering recently. These people can make the difference between making you/your business look OK, and making you/your business look amazing. And the cost? Saves a fortune considering how much inappropriate DIY photos can make you/your business look stupid and amateurish..

What experiences can you share about using terrible – or terrific – images in your blogs and social media posts?

Please share your advice!


**With many thanks for the loan of this shot of George Dublya Bush busy on the phone some years ago, to Jenny Taft.