Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash
3 min Read
April 16, 2020

Visuals to avoid during COVID-19

We’ve said it before—communicating about the coronavirus isn’t easy. Your nonprofit is likely all hands on deck right now, creating emails and posts quickly and responsively in order to communicate as the facts change on the ground. It’s tough to be thoughtful in this environment! 

We’ve already shared some tips about writing responsibly during the COVID-19 crisis. Now, we have thoughts on the visual side of communications, too. Here are some pitfalls to avoid, and things to consider, while crafting your content about the challenging effects the virus and physical distancing is having on our nonprofit communities.

Please stop using this image.

Or this one.

Or this.

That is unless you’re a nonprofit that’s communicating about the science behind the virus itself. 

But if you’re not a science- or research-based nonprofit, or your community isn’t mainly composed of scientists or healthcare providers, we doubt that these images are reflecting your brand’s personality, goals, or are in service to your mission. 

In fact, they’re scaring people. 

When we see upsetting images, we emotionally recoil rather than engage—which is the opposite of what you likely are hoping to achieve right now. Your nonprofit’s community wants hopeful messages—visual and verbal—that remind them of your nonprofit’s vision, mission, and work. 

Select images that speak to how the coronavirus is affecting your community. Or show images that represent what your nonprofit is all about. Show healthy people (or if you’re a garden, healthy plants). Lead with a quote about the topic you’re communicating about, paired with an image of the speaker. And, if image selection is just too difficult, don’t use images at all.

Don’t erode trust by straying from your brand’s personality

We’ve received many emails in the past few weeks and seen numerous homepage takeovers where nonprofits are using all caps or bright red callouts to convey urgency. 

Yes, these times are unprecedented. 

But when you use off-brand images and alarming visual signifiers, you run the risk of creating a feeling of panic for your audience.

Try other visual tools to call attention to your message. Stick to your color palette, brand typefaces, and photo styles, but use hierarchy and placement to emphasize content. Position urgent information at the very top of your website (pushing down all the content below), or in the headline of an email—these are probably the most effective ways to signify importance.

There are critical messages that need to be conveyed right now—messages about health, about closures, about urgent need for funds and support. But use the tools you have in your brand tool box and communicate the messages you need to convey in your own voice. The effort to present your brand as consistently and professionally as possible to your community is well spent right now when audiences are exclusively interacting with you via the communications you put out. 

Continue to be sensitive to the moment we’re in

You are likely already being careful about image choice right now—great. It’s essential to anticipate how images may be read through the lens of the COVID-19 crisis. Keep questioning potential choices, like an image showing groups of folks gathering before physical distancing guidelines were in place, and think how they’ll feel to a viewer right now. Look at elements of the photo beyond what you normally curate for—like specific locations that could associate the virus with a certain place or people—to make sure you don’t create meaning where you didn’t intend.