With content constantly overwhelming people’s social streams, marketers have to get creative in order to break through the clutter. The latest and most predominant trend of using visuals in social media marketing has become the key to overcoming this challenge. In this SES session, Krista Neher, CEO of Boot Camp Digital, expand Cara Phillips, Photo Director at Federated Media, explored the value of imagery within the social space and how it can work to a brand’s advantage.

Visual Marketing

As the title of this session states, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This cliché is actually backed by scientific proof. The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. To prove this point, Neher presented an image on the projector for two seconds and then took it down. The majority of the audience chuckled at the picture of a baby dressed as business women. She then asked us to describe what we saw and many confidently responded. She then projected two short sentences of text for two seconds and then took it down. Everyone tentatively peered at the screen but no one laughed. She then asked what the text said and no one could answer. Moral of the story: text is overwhelming to read in a matter of seconds. Not only does it take more time to read but it takes the brain more time to process and react. Considering the real-time, fast-paced nature of social media, this is not ideal. On the other hand, the picture was able to be processed immediately and it elicited immediate emotion and response.

Hence, the latest trend in social media marketing: visual communication.

There are a lot of ways brands can incorporate visuals within their social media strategy but the key is to have a strategy. First thing to consider; visuals have the ability to drive more quality traffic to websites. Across social media networks, photos are more likely to drive interactions and engagements on Facebook and twitter, and people tend to spend more time on blogs that contain images than without. It is important to note that if you want people to share your content on any social network, make sure you have great pictures imbedded in the content because those are the images that will appear in news feeds and timelines next to the link to your website. If your website doesn’t include good, quality images, you run a higher risk of people missing your content and losing the opportunity to drive people back to your website.

However, the idea isn’t to find random photos to attach to content. To get better results from social media marketing, you want to include images that are engaging and that help communicate your point.

Phillips presented three basics for creating effective visual content:

1. Tone of Voice
Images speak similar to the way inflection in our voice speaks. The way images are lit, the way they are photographed, etc., all communicates emotion. Consider what invokes humor and what doesn’t, and make sure the tone is relevant to the message you are trying to convey.

2. Consistent Strategy
Make sure the imagery is relevant and can be associated with the brand. You want people to feel comfortable and confident in the images you are associating with your brand so it’s important to align your visual strategy across all digital assets.

3. Know your platform
Each platform has an audience that consumes content in different ways. Before investing in a photo driven social media campaign, consider how people digest information on each platform and how you can create content in a way that is also relevant to the brand. For example, GE jumped on the Vine bandwagon early on and created a campaign where they invited users to share videos of their science projects which gained a lot of attention. Although you might not think of Vine as an ideal platform for GE, they were able to relate their brand concept of innovation and technology through this newer space.

The GE example brings up another point. Regardless of what type of business you are in, you can utilize visuals within your social media strategy. Visuals are an opportunity to better communicate your brand and/or product; you just need to be creative in how you think about them. As mentioned above, think about each platform, how the audience digests content and how your brand could use it to grab attention and effectively engage. Some of the most predominant visual marketing tools include:

Over 80% of pins on Pinterest are re-pins. Pinterest is a source of shared content, so even if your business is not naturally visual or in a “Pinterest-friendly” category, it’s still important for driving traffic back to your website. For example, if you are a B2B company, you can look at Pinterest as a resource guide and share your resources visually. Adding quotes to an image is another great way to communicate if you’re not a naturally visual business. Pinterest is also beneficial because it has a longer life span compared to Facebook and Twitter so older content could get periodically re-pinned regardless of when it was originally posted.

Instagram and user-generated content has become increasingly popular. People often feel mislead and lied to by advertisers and most of the time, professional pictures can give consumers that same impression. On the other hand, instagram allows real people to share their experience and provides real referrals. This is why we’ve seen more and more brands incorporate user-generated images into their campaigns. The best way to use this tool within a campaign: chose a hashtag, give people a small incentive and start asking them to share.

Infographics are a great way to grab people’s attention, but before creating an infographic, make sure you have a unique story to tell. One way to do this is to take a blog article that has gained a lot of traffic on your site and turn it into an infographic to share among other social media outlets. People are likely to share links to infographics, either through their social networks or on other websites, so infographics are also beneficial for SEO.

Bottom-line: if you want to be successful in social media, you need to create a visual strategy. Using images will not only help grab your audience’s attention, it will better communicate your message more quickly and efficiently and result in better engagement.