Photographs are powerful. This is not news to most people, but this year we’ve seen some particularly memorable examples of how a simple photo can impact the global news agenda. Emotionally charged images of the refugee crisis in Europe provoked public anger which forced fence-sitting political leaders to take action.
Ever since the invention of photography we’ve been having similar arguments about these kinds of photos; on the one hand they are considered too intrusive and too graphic to be made public, but others argue that they are necessary to show the world the unvarnished truth of a terrible situation. The simple fact that this debate has lasted so long is proof of the power of photography, pictures have an enormous power to influence. Even the most persuasive piece of writing cannot hope to have anything close to the instant emotional impact of a photo.
So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that a staggering number of photos are shared online. In 2014 the KPCB analyst Mary Meeker estimated that 1.8 billion photos are shared online every single day. Instagram alone gets 80 million new photos per day.
This makes a lot of sense – if you’re on holiday, at a music festival or doing anything else fun, it’s a lot easier and more interesting to share a photo than try to write a descriptive status update. And people love to consume photos as much as they love to share them. Across all social channels photographs are consistently shown to be the most engaging type of content by a significant margin.
2014 research from Social Bakers found that photos on Facebook get an 87 percent interaction rate, compared to less than 4% for all other types of post, even video. Tweets which contain images are 35 percent more likely to get shared than those which only contain text.
This, of course, is not news to brands. Analysis of 30,000 Facebook pages found that images make up 75 percent of all content. But just because brands understand the power of photography, that doesn’t mean they always get it right. In fact, the get it wrong more often than not.
Here are a few tips for brands to get the most value from images in social media:
Invest in quality
We’ve all seen a lot of bad business photography that is simply dull and uninspiring. This used to be good enough for the old world of marketing, for static websites, printed collateral or sending out with press releases, but brands need to update their thinking for the social media era.
If you don’t invest effort into your content, how can you expect your audience to invest their attention into it? If you want people to share your images, you need to invest in producing photographs that aren’t just technically competent (although that’s a good start), but have a great subject matter.
This means taking a creative approach to visual storytelling and getting people from across the business involved in the process. Think about all of the things that happen in your organisation that others might find interesting, and how can that be brought to life with photography?
Ask these two questions of all your ideas: would people who do not work for our company still want to share this photo with others? Is the image interesting in its own right with little or no accompanying text?
Encourage and amplify user generated content
All this might sound expensive, and it can be, but you’re serious about winning at content marketing then it’s an investment you’ll need to make. But there’s good news; social media is full of people who will happily create content for you, if you let them.
Encourage and reward the people who do this, and that will send a clear signal to others to get involved. If a fan takes the time to create a great image for your brand, the least you can do is share it with your followers, but you can go further than this and run competitions or offer other incentives to encourage people to make the effort.
It won’t be easy for all brands, especially B2B, but with creativity and experimentation you can make it work – there are plenty of UGC case studies for B2B brands that can give you inspiration.
If you’re an international brand of any significant size, the chances are you’ve got a complicated network of social media channels for different brands and products, in different countries, across all of the major platforms.
A social media management tool, like Sysomos Expion, will enable you to bring all of these disparate social channels together so they can be run in a more organised, joined up manner. The reason this is important for visual social media is that it will enable you to easily identify what images are working well across the network and push them out across other channels.
Maybe there’s some UGC that is performing well in a tiny market that doesn’t get much attention, so it’s in danger of being overlooked. Or maybe the smaller markets don’t have much resource to create content and manage their social channels, so you can use a management tool to make sure that the best content from the better–resourced areas of your network is pushed out to those backwaters that need the extra support.
You can also use tools like this to keep tabs on your competitors. By plugging their pages into your own dashboards you can identify what’s working well for them, spot images which are going viral and identify rising trends.
Eliminate your blind spots
We know that there are all of those billions of photos being added to the social web every year, but with conventional social media monitoring tools we can only identify a small fraction of the pictures that are relevant to our brand. Although people are very keen on taking and sharing photos, they’re not so interested in methodically and accurately tagging those images.
So if you’re only searching for images based on brand names or other keywords, then you’re missing a lot. The good news is that technology has solved this problem. With improvements in artificial intelligence it’s now possible to automatically identify things like logos and other trademarks in social media photos, regardless of whether they have appropriate tags or descriptive text.
This technology is available now, through products such as Sysomos Gaze. This product is also capable of performing highly intelligent, automatic analysis of images which feature your brand so that we can gather all kinds of useful contextual information from those pictures. What this means is that you can identify a far wider range of ‘visual brand mentions’ in social media and get a much more complete understanding of how people interact with your brands, use your products and share those experiences online.
So, to summarise, our five tips for unleashing the power of visual social media for your brand are:
- Invest in good quality photographic content
- Find the best visual stories to tell about your organisation (look beyond the marketing department!)
- Encourage and reward your fans when they share photos of your brand
- Use a more joined up approach to managing large scale social – identify and share the best visual content more easily
- Make use of new technology to automate the identification and analysis of relevant images