Using photos of real company people in your courses

Interesting question came up this morning from an e-learning developer:

"I am creating a scenario for my first presentation, but I want to grab some attention of my sales reps. It would be great to insert the photo of my Sales VP at the start of the presentation. What's been your experience with company folks acting as the picture graphics in your presentations? Is this a very complicated under taking and a task to be wrestled with at a later more experienced time?"

Thoughts?

91 Replies
Steve Flowers

The one thing you'll want to be sure to get is a release documenting their permission to use that image. We get mixed results with image requests. Some folks don't mind a bit. Some people would be honored to *star*. Others really don't want to *star* in a public showing. The release document is key to validating how a model feels about being included. There are plenty of places on the net to get examples of photo releases.

It's easy to do and uncomplicated. But dotting your i's and crossing your t's will cover your butts

Saenna B Ahman

Yes, definitely interesting question. I have done this successfuly in a previous organization...we needed to develop a training on some safety procedures for a manfuacturing site. one of the perceptions at the site was that it was okay (expected, even) for people to cut corners on safety procedures, in order to get more product out the door. In otherwords, production was king (in their eyes) and safety took a distant 2nd place!

So, one of the things we did to change that thinking was, in the safety training module the site manager was the "host" of the training. We used her voice for many of the slides and we used images of her throughout the course. Even a video in which she demonstrated how to use hearing protection in the manufacturing area. This was very significant, because it helped correct the idea that the site manager was only interested in productivity. The trainign made a much bigger impact because she was visibly supporting it (as compared to if we had just had a regular narrator/host or the safety manager do it).

That said,any time you pin a lot of significance on a specific person, you run a little bit of a risk. Will that person always be recognizable and well respected? Will they leave the oerganization? Then what? So it's improtant to weigh those considerations. Updates can be really costly!

Amanda Westendorf

Saenna Ahman said:

That said,any time you pin a lot of significance on a specific person, you run a little bit of a risk. Will that person always be recognizable and well respected? Will they leave the oerganization? Then what? So it's improtant to weigh those considerations. Updates can be costly!

I agree. You'll have to take into consideration if the person ends up leaving the company/position (either on good or not so good terms), what impact will this have? 

We do use employee images in our training products on a frequent basis, but some other things to consider are:

  • Are they in proper uniform?
  • Are they always demonstrating 100% correct procedures?
  • If it is a scene, are the other people in the background also in proper uniform and demonstrating correct procedures?

We've found for the most part our employees like to be featured in training, and of course we always clear it with them ahead of time.

Amanda

Tracy Parish

I have recently done this using photos of various areas/units around our facilitiy and then then place a cartoon host over the image.  I did this to give our users some familiarity in context to the course.  I would make it difficult if we ever wished to sell the course, but it was well recieved.

Image attached of one of our more familiar lobbies.

Zara Ogden

I work in an organization of camera shy leaders...So it is hard to get great photos or head shorts of Sr. Management.

However, If in the right context I think that using photos of employees is perfectly ok. Sure we all know a story about a VP or manager who at the Christmas party was busted... But typically speaking our organizations will hire or promote certain individuals who are going to run our organization in an appropriate manner. So if they are Sr. Managers I say it should be fairly safe to include them. When it comes to general staffers I think that it is important to limit names and personal touches. As an employee if I see a co-worker I feel pride that that is my cube mate. Or it is fun to see Sally from the other side of the country. However we live in a fast paced world that change is constant so although Sally may work with me today and be a great employee she may find an opportunity elsewhere and therefor her opinion no longer matters to me or my company.

For employees as long as they agree sure add them in but don't use names or quotes. For Sr, Management as long as they agree I think that their commitment to your project can only add value. Again if the context is right.

As for the set up and process...

If you have a group or person willing to participate then it should be fairly straight forward. Now if you are seeking superior acting skills you may be disappointed. But with simple point and shoot photos I think you should be successful. Just be prepared with what you want and the requirements to be successful.

I am in the plans of creating a video heavy program on how to operate an electric pallet truck. We intend to use on site employees to demonstrate the techniques or me. It should be fun but I have to be prepared with all the details. I will be using a SME to ensure all Health and Safety considerations are met.

Bruce Graham

I used this technique in a previous life with an online Staff Induction programme, I used press pictures of the Execs. that linked to short "Bios and Responsibilties" sections. Seek permission.

This was based on MY experience when I was on Day 2, and having 1:1s with each Exec.

I asked one of them (Don..), "How long have you been here?".

He answered "I'm one of the 2 company founders".

I wished the hole had just filled in over the top of me..........  :(

Bruce

Shawn Stiles

I've used images of colleauges and management in a number of courses. I really believe that having images of colleauges in the course can improve the perceptions of the learners, becuase they see their friends involved and figure if they felt it was worth the time to participate in the development the content may be worthwhile.  Using leadership on the other hand can be even more powerful, short video clips at the beginning discussing value/importance of what they are about to learn and even placed in strategic parts of the course to reinfoce the message I have found to be very effective.  Anytime you use an image of a colleauge/leader there should be a release signed. Personalizing the training with real people has been really effective.

Jenise Cook (RidgeViewMedia.com)

I like the option @Tracy has used.

Many organizations are concerned with using photos of employees because of the reasons many of you stated above, especially... what do you do when that employee: leaves, is fired, or laid off.

We also ran into a situation where an individual wanted his/her photo to be used as the Narrator or Host, but .... ehem... that individual wasn't well liked by almost everyone in the company (and, didn't know that). So, we gracefully encouraged the use of either:

  1. Clip art people (Tracy's option), or
  2. People photos from www.eLearningArt.com

Option #2 worked so well, the SMEs forgot about using employee photos.

In fact, Bryan Jones has a sale going on right now! $199 packs on sale for $99.

(I'm simply a happy customer of eLearningArt.com ... nothing further than that. )

Will Hampton

Jenise Cook (RidgeViewMedia.com) said:

Many organizations are concerned with using photos of employees because of the reasons many of you stated above, especially... what do you do when that employee: leaves, is fired, or laid off.

I've heard that from so many places - what do you think the real concern is? It's not like companies cease using the work created after you're gone - why should it be an issue if your picture is used? 

Okay, I propose a new terms of service for using employees in elearning courses:

  • Current employees: used for protagonists in courses
  • Former employees: used for antagonists in courses

Serves the organization on a couple levels: encourages people to stay for fear of being the antagonist in the next OSHA course and serves as a visual reminder of what happens if you leave.

Gerry Wasiluk

Willoughby Hampton said:

Jenise Cook (RidgeViewMedia.com) said:

Many organizations are concerned with using photos of employees because of the reasons many of you stated above, especially... what do you do when that employee: leaves, is fired, or laid off.

I've heard that from so many places - what do you think the real concern is? It's not like companies cease using the work created after you're gone - why should it be an issue if your picture is used? 

Okay, I propose a new terms of service for using employees in elearning courses:

  • Current employees: used for protagonists in courses
  • Former employees: used for antagonists in courses

Serves the organization on a couple levels: encourages people to stay for fear of being the antagonist in the next OSHA course and serves as a visual reminder of what happens if you leave.

I'm assuming that you are being "tongue-in-cheek" here?

Gerry Wasiluk

"Snarky," I like it.    I also want an old curmudgeon emoticon.

It'd be good to have the emoticons available again for easy insertion for folks to tell their post mood--or a reference of all the ones you could use yourself.  How'd you do the wink in one of your posts?

And adding the smilie is weird.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't . . .

Oops, bordering into curmudgeon-dom again . . .  

Will Hampton

Gerry Wasiluk said:

 I'm assuming that you are being "tongue-in-cheek" here?


A little, but also a little serious I've created quite a few courses that relied on homegrown, internal photos. There was never a policy around maintenance or refreshing courses when employees left. 

For what it's worth, employees did sign something when hired that stated their photos could be used internally. But that's standard for a lot of places.

I know the concern is there, I just don't know from where it originates. 

James Brown

I tend to agree with others.. what happens when the employee leaves?  Personally I don't want to be looking at e-learning materials showing a sales rep that we had to let go because he was caught doing something illegal. It would only shed a bad light on the company.   I think the easiest solution is to use creative commons licensed photos or purchase them.

Point in case;  say you created a e-learning course featuring Bernie Madoff as the chief spokesman. What would be the impact of this person on the target audience? Not a positive one, especially if one of the learners were one of the many taken by Madoff. 

In regards to the above post with the photo, If I were going to sell the content I would go with something like this.

David Anderson

James Brown said:

  I think the easiest solution is to use creative commons licensed photos or purchase them.

Great discussion and certainly an important topic for all of us working with digital media.

Is anyone using creative commons images in their courses - internal or external? If so, can you share how you manage those licenses? Do you have an audit system in place to revisit the licenses? 

Would like to hear your thoughts and recommendations for using them. 

Montse Anderson

Terrific discussion!

I once worked for a government organization and responsible for launching outreach programs.  My department photographed road side workers and their children as part of a safety campaign.  They were educated on what the campaign was about, signed model release forms and were happy to see their images on brochures, posters, websites, etc.  The local movie theater even used the images before previews started. 

As long as people know what the images will be used for and you obtain the proper permissions, it should be fine.  Using real people often lends greater authenticity to a project than stock photos.

David Becker

Let's also discuss the alternative. I rely heavily on sites like istock for my people shots, but this approach has down sides:

  • Often can't find the same person in many different poses/emotional states
  • Images are sometimes too professional and feel a bit 'staged'
  • I develop in Australia and many shots just don't feel Australia (if that makes any sense)
  • Many shots are not isolated on white and so add time in cutting out in photoshop
  • At the resolution I want, it can become expensive because you often spend 5-10 credits per shot
  • Images usually need colour correction to match the lighting and vibe of the background
Jeff Kortenbosch

I think there are always upsides and downsides to using photography. I guess I would use it when I feel it really adds something to the course. In general I prefer a more animated style. I really love Tracy's approach and am actually thinking creating some custom characters myself (or by an agency) that I can share with my community or just use in my own courses.

When using images of internal managers, board members and such you should be careful not to overdo it. If all brochures, classes and elearning modules start with 'a word from our CEO' people will easily tune out.

Jeanette Brooks

Jeff, I like Tracy's approach too - it's a nice way to incorporate a familiar setting that the learners will relate to.

I also like the idea of using real people but in some cases I've noticed that it actually becomes a bit distracting to the learners, if they know or recognize some of the people who are pictured. The learners' "engagement" with the course sometimes become less about learning the content and more about seeing how many people they can identify in the images, or making observations about the people's clothing, hairstyle, voice inflection, or whatever.

In one series of projects, we used a paid actor/narrator to appear onscreen, but he was dressed in a company uniform and did a good job of looking and sounding like he actually worked there. Downside to that approach is, it can definitely be costly. Upside is, you have a lot more control over how the person appears and sounds because they are a vendor and you can call the shots. And (assuming they do a good job) you can continue to use them in other courses, which can create a nice consistency. And of course you don't have the concerns that you might have if the guy were an actual employee (i.e., issues with his work reputation, street credit, etc.).

Jeff Kortenbosch

Jeanette Brooks said:

I also like the idea of using real people but in some cases I've noticed that it actually becomes a bit distracting to the learners, if they know or recognize some of the people who are pictured. The learners' "engagement" with the course sometimes become less about learning the content and more about seeing how many people they can identify in the images, or making observations about the people's clothing, hairstyle, voice inflection, or whatever.

Absolutely true Jeanette! It can be quite distracting. Another reason to work with a (mature) cartoon style character such as Tracy's if you ask me! You can have them drawn in a range of generic positions, different outfits and enticities and still get that same consistency. If you would need additional characters any decent design agency could (re)create them based on the ones you already have... add a professional voiceover and voila!

Now I really can't wait to develop some characters