Estimated read time: 6 minutes
Virtual backgrounds on Zoom are a bit of a thing to do right now with more and more people working remote and taking video calls from home. Even if you aren’t currently using them it’s worth considering. This article looks at:
- What are virtual backgrounds?
- How are people using them?
- Do virtual backgrounds block out when people accidentally walk in?
- How brands can share great virtual backgrounds for everyone to use
- How companies can maximize virtual backgrounds for their client-facing staff
What are virtual backgrounds?
A virtual background is basically a picture inserted behind you on a Zoom call. It blocks out what is actually behind you. Like a messy office, a boring printer or something like that.
You can add a virtual background in a variety of ways:
- Use one of the ones Zoom has in its library
- Take a picture and upload it
- Use a stock art image
- Download one of the images offered by brands
I also have used virtual backgrounds to promote a project or a book. But keep in mind that you can overdo it as well. Here’s an example of my latest book publishing in March 2021 and I would say it looks a little overkill.
What size should the virtual background image be?
Zoom advices that it should be 16×9, but when I use an iPhone and iPad for my calls this didn’t work for me. 16×9 (with a minimum of 1920×1080 pixels) should work if you are on a laptop. On an iPad keep trying.
How are people using virtual backgrounds?
We certainly can have fun with our virtual background as well.
- Tim Jones used George Lopez as his background.
- This Twitter user had a picture of himself – dressed like the real version – next to the real live version
- Here’s a dramatic graphic of President Trump carrying two babies to safety
- A picture of yourself watching over the shoulder of your real participating self
- A video of yourself nodding in agreement. While the real you is taking a nap or doing something else.
- Plain colors
TV backgrounds are also popular.
The Simpson living room:
Some people are now going on Zoom dates and there are backgrounds for that, including these from Hinge.
What you pick is certainly a personal choice but remember that when it’s a business meeting it should fit the business environment. That doesn’t mean certain ones can’t be used under any circumstances but think it through.
For example, the one of yourself being the background so you don’t have to be in attendance can easily backfire. How would you feel if you are presenting something and people aren’t even there? But it could work as an ice breaker. Start with that background and then 20 seconds in walk in and say “Thanks for holding my space, buddy. I’ll take it from here.”
I probably wouldn’t do any highly political backgrounds either. Sports teams might be okay. Pictures of the area could work. So could pictures from company outings or team photos.
Do virtual backgrounds block out when people accidentally walk in?
You’ve seen the Zooms where people forget to turn video off. People taking their live video stream with them going to the bathroom or somebody walks in – sometimes in their underwear.
Do the virtual backgrounds block out those issues? I didn’t test the going to the bathroom use case, and would simply recommend that you turn your video off and mute yourself while going to the bathroom.
I did test what would happen if somebody walks in behind me. In other words.: There’s movement behind me. I threw up a background and you can see me in the left corner. My wife was about 10 or so feet behind me and walked around. As you can see her face shows up. Now, the virtual background tried to cover her back up quickly and it was actually somewhat hard to get a screen shot that would demonstrate my point.
Virtual backgrounds don’t completely block out people walking in. But if they freeze and stop moving they are likely just seen as regular background and the virtual background will be center stage.
How brands can share great virtual backgrounds for everyone to use
If you use Zoom for webinars, you can consider selling the virtual background spots as ads. Or add a logo of your sponsors. Companies that use Zoom only internally likely wouldn’t see value in ads in the virtual background. “Oh yea, five coworkers saw the ad.”
Another ways brands can currently participate is by simply offering their own photography to people to use as virtual backgrounds.
Some brands that I’ve seen do this are:
- Content Marketing World
- The Points Guy
- The Florida Gators
- Teleport.fm is offering images to teleport somewhere else
- Continuing the TV background popularity, Schitt’s Creek shared images
- Moulin Rouge the Musical
- The Patriot Act – a Netflix show
- Local areas – like cities. Example from Athens, Ohio.
Just be sure to not be too promotional with your backgrounds. Why would I add your background if it’s just an ad? But if you have great photography, why not offer it to people to use? I think it’s a great idea.
It’s okay to add your logo in a corner for some minimal branding.
How to share your virtual backgrounds for everyone to use?
There are few different ways I’ve seen that work.
- Share a Google Drive/Box/Dropbox/etc. link with your audience where they can download them – That’s what TPG did
- Share images directly on Twitter. That’s what the Gator did.
- Write an article and include the images in there. That’s what Content Marketing World did.
Of course, basic Create Once, Publish Everywhere principles apply. Get your virtual backgrounds in front of people by:
- sharing an article on your website
- sending your audience the link in email
- tweet about it
How companies can maximize virtual backgrounds for their client-facing staff
For companies that have client-facing staff, consider providing a virtual background template for account managers, strategists, sales people and others to use. Don’t go to wild, though. We don’t have to list 10 case studies on there! But some branding could make the meeting look more professional and dare I say: “On brand.”
Toastmaster Gretchen Vaughn said “at Toastmasters a solid blue brand color with the logo in an upper corner would work well.”
Why not ask the design team to come up with a number of backgrounds that employees can use on their Zoom meetings.
Now that virtual backgrounds are so popular it’s probably just a matter of time before we see them in other platforms, including FaceTime maybe? I like the concept and it can help us improve our background without having too reorganize or redesign our office.