The busy holiday season can make or break many retailers' annual revenue goals. Whether you're a brick-and-mortar store or an e-commerce business, the upcoming weeks will be critical for driving those important year-end sales.
Although you're probably already relying heavily on social media to spread the word about holiday promotions, focusing on visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube can take your marketing efforts to the next level. That's because images are an incredibly powerful communication tool: According to an MIT study, the human brain can process and identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds.
"It's anthropological," said Apu Gupta, CEO of visual social media marketing platform Curalate. "Our ancestors communicated through pictures on cave walls, and now we're doing the same thing [on social media]. There are so many things competing for our attention today, and you need shortcuts to process it. Images allow us to do that. They're mental shortcuts that allow us to understand our world better and faster."
If you want to use visual marketing to your advantage this holiday season, follow these expert social media tips. [Picturing Success: How Photo-Sharing Can Boost Social Marketing]
Use eye-catching images. Product images can be extremely valuable on social media, but if those pictures are small, uninteresting or low-quality, you're doing more harm than good to your brand. Noelle Federico, chief financial officer of stock photo provider Dreamstime, advised using bright, vibrant images that jump out and catch consumers' eyes.
"All of your social content has to have visual appeal and draw attention," Federico told Business News Daily. "Pictures that aren't done well or don't look good [will only] deter people from shopping [your brand]."
Create video content. Video content is taking center stage in year-round marketing campaigns, and the holidays are no exception.A recent survey by premium video marketplace Tremor Video found that more than half of all consumers ages 18 to 34, and about 80 percent of consumers over age 35, describe product videos as very or extremely motivating when deciding what to purchase. According to the survey, consumers seek out videos of consumers opening, examining and using a product, as well as product comparisons.
"Leverage unboxing videos as part of your holiday marketing strategy," said Ariane Gut, vice president and head of insights and analytics at Tremor Video. "To make them look authentic, enroll the help of actual customers or social media influencers instead of trying to recreate one yourself."
Because consumers are increasingly using mobile devices to consume video content, Gut also advised optimizing your video for smaller screens. You can do this by leveraging short-form content, creating shorter ads that mimic content, and including close-up, clutter-free shots, Gut said.
Incorporate user-generated images. User-generated content from real consumers is perhaps even more powerful than brand-produced images, Gupta said. Customers love getting recognized by their favorite companies on social media, and in most cases, they're happy to create and share content to be used by a brand.
"During the holiday season, it's advantageous to run promotions that are all about your fans creating content," Gupta said. "Having people take photos [of your products] around the holiday season that show how much they're enjoying them is a great way to spread awareness."
"By running a holiday social media campaign, you can almost guarantee an increase in sales," added Nicole Bandklayder, co-founder and chief marketing officer of jewelry retailer Bijouxx Jewels. "[For example, host] a contest to win something, and [to enter], you have to post a photo with the campaign hashtag."
If you do decide to run a contest, Bandklayder said, make sure to publicize it well across all social platforms, to ensure your followers know about it.
Pay attention to your analytics. As with any marketing effort, keeping a close eye on your metrics — to discover what works and what doesn't — is the key to creating holiday social media campaigns that stick. This is especially true on Pinterest, where most pinned photos are taken and shared from brand websites, Gupta said. If your followers are sharing photos of specific products, you can use those insights to plan your next move.
"You can learn a lot just by observing which photos [customers] take from your brand and share," Gupta said. "[If you see] what's trending for you are holiday photos or photos of sweaters, [you can] use that to inform your advertising this holiday season and make better decisions."
This article was originally published in 2014 and updated Nov. 2, 2015.