As the growing number of photo-sharing platforms might indicate, people are taking and posting more photos on their mobile devices than ever before. But the millions of user-generated images floating around the Internet aren't just selfies, screenshots and pilfered celebrity images: Pictures of brand logos and products frequently find a home on sites like Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest. For companies featured on consumer accounts, a picture could be worth a whole lot more than a thousand words.
"Technology has turned us into a very visual culture," said Gabriel Shaoolian, CEO of web design agency Blue Fountain Media. "Cameras are in phones, watches, tablets and laptops. As a result, there's been a dramatic increase in photo usage and instant display channels to feature them. So for a brand that is trying to communicate a marketing message, image-based content is becoming one of the strongest tools [to do so]."
How can marketers tap into the immense value of image-based social media content? First, you need to understand how your customers are using visual platforms. Marketing experts offered the following tips to help brands harness the power of a photograph. [Need Visual Content? The Collaborative Marketplace Helps Businesses Find the Perfect Fit]
Have a clear strategy
As with any social media marketing effort, your business needs a clear strategy for using image-based platforms, one that directly links into your other marketing goals.
"Many businesses are understanding the value of using sites like Pinterest and Instagram, but have no idea how to visually represent their brand properly on this medium," saidChristopher Tompkins, CEO of online marketing firm The Go! Agency. "[Brands must] not only to attract their target market's engagement, but also properly represent their brand and humanize their business. I suggest looking at your targets and goals and then formulating a complimentary visual strategy, which should also include video."
Shaoolian agreed, adding that the end goal for utilizing visual platforms should not simply be to gain followers.
"Have a plan with a strategic direction," he told Business News Daily. "Don't be fooled into thinking you're just going to post one-way messages and expect people to care. [Your goals] should be to get ambassadors for your brand. It should be to have a visual and verbal dialogue with your customers. It should be to entertain and inform them, even call them to action. And most of all, it should be to listen to what they have to say."
Know who's using each channel and how
Success in marketing is all about reaching the right person through the right channels at the right time. Each social media channel has its own user demographic and posting pattern, so knowing your potential audience is especially important.
"Understand the demographics of each network and also how your audience is engaging with that network," said Jim Yu, CEO and co-founder of SEO platform BrightEdge. "For instance, 80 percent of Pinterest users are female, and 75 percent of traffic comes from its mobile app. Pinterest users also spend more money and trust their networks to recommend quality products, so it's a great opportunity to highlight consumer goods through images — especially if you sell products targeted toward women."
Yu also recommended optimizing your content for the mobile experience by linking your images to your mobile site, choosing visuals that look good on smaller form-factor devices, and taking advantage of new mobile features, like the ability to embed Pins with more information.
Think beyond the obvious
While posting photos of your company's products is certainly a good start, it can't be your only approach to image-based social media. You and your customers already know what your products look like; users want content they can truly engage with. David Rose, CEO of photo analytics company Ditto Labs, noted that user-generated photos are often the most effective, especially on Instagram.
"Consumers interact with brands through photographs that are discovered and curated through their social networks," Rose told Business News Daily. "Most of the time, the photos they do consume of brands are taken by friends. The fact that they are user generated makes them more authentic and trustable, and ultimately more persuasive."
To increase the amount of user-generated content on your feed, Rose suggested setting up a contest encouraging users to share actions and experiences with your product, rather than simply taking a photo of themselves with it. For example, you can ask your followers, "Where's your favorite place to strut with your bag?" or, "Show us who you share your pizza with."
While the "formula" for success on each social media channel changes constantly, one thing is certain: Visual content marketing is here to stay, and marketers need to keep up with the competition.
"Images cut through the clutter as they appeal to us on a sensory level," Yu said. "Humans are programmed to find visuals appealing. The trends and acquisitions in the social landscape, from Instagram to Pinterest to Snapchat, suggest that people are choosing to communicate through visuals now more than ever. With ever-increasing competition, content marketers must be strategic about the content they create, how they distribute it and how they promote it."