How a stock photo site increased the visibility of its LGBTQ+ content

Pexels noticed when users searched for topics like “love,” the results were largely one-sided.

Campaign: LGBTQ+ Photography
Company: Pexels
Agency partners: Wunder (media outreach), ASTRSK (PR) 
Duration: June 2020

To be more inclusive of couples in all different kinds of relationships, the multimedia library Pexels updated its algorithm to increase visibility of content that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community. 

Strategy
Pexels has been working to increase the diversity of its free stock photos and videos since 2018. But while the company successfully increased the diversity of its content, it realized that for certain search terms - such as “couple” or “love” - the algorithm was still presenting users with heteronormative versions of romantic relationships. Because these options were presented at the top of the search results, they were more frequently used - reinforcing bias in the algorithm. 

Tactics
Pexels realized that to change search results, it would have to tweak its algorithm. First, the company selected high-quality photos and videos that captured a more diverse portrayal of romantic relationships.

From there, it embedded the pre-selected images into a range of search results, elevating them so users “would see people from the LGBTQ+ community sitting next to a photo of a heterosexual couple,” said Monica Silvestre, head of community at Pexels. “We wanted people to reconsider what they might normally select.”

A collaboration between developers and the platform’s curation team, the algorithm update was completed at the end of May. Pexels wanted to highlight the changes, and worked with the agency Wunder to pitch the media and promote the update on social media in mid-June. 

It also created a video explaining the campaign, which was published on its homepage. 

View this post on Instagram

More diverse search results for all types of relationships ???????? ? We noticed that when users searched for popular topics like “couple,” and “love,” among many others, the results were largely one-sided: there was no shortage of photos featuring heterosexual couples, but images showing LGBTQ+ relationships were lacking.? ? Today, we are launching an update to our algorithm which gives LGBTQ+ couples greater presence.? ? Images have the power to make or break ideologies, challenge the status quo, and humanize experiences. Images fuel stories and create movements.? ? This is why it’s our responsibility as a global platform to act as a force for good—a force for progress. That’s why we’re improving our search experience.? ? Check out this video explaining our initiative & read more on our blog.

A post shared by Pexels (@pexels) on

Results
Compared to one year prior, an additional 3.5 million LGBTQ+ photos were downloaded from the platform in the month of June, while views of LGBTQ+ content increased by 35%. 

The campaign video on Pexels’ homepage has been viewed more than 53,000 times.

The campaign generated 15 earned media placements, including coverage in Forbes, Entrepreneur and Vogue Business.

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