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The Importance of Images in Social Media
Posted on June 24th 2014
For several years the battle cry of online marketing has been "Content is King!", and that is still true to an extent. Longform articles have increased in readership and sharing to far outpace short posts, and the trend towards in-depth writing that keeps readers engaged and entertained for multiple pages is growing. However, if content is king, then images are the emperor. Or whatever you would consider to be above a king.
It's an interesting dichotomy. The reigning 'common knowledge' is that people's attention spans have been massively shortened due to things like social media and content overload, causing folks to browse quickly through a sea of information to pick out the few things they will pay attention to. This is all true. From multi-page magazine articles to blog posts, then to Facebook posts and finally tweets, the length of our messaging keeps getting shorter, even if the links are more often taking us back to longer and longer articles. The exception is images - pictures and videos - and that exception is a big one.
The Psychology of Images
It's easy just to say that people like pictures and leave it at that, but it's just as important to understand why images draw us in so much more than text. You always need to understand the why of anything you do, or you will forever be stuck following endless advice rather than making your own decisions. There are two primary reasons that image marketing has become the dominant force online.
The first is as old as humankind: images have a strong emotional factor, and emotions have a powerful pull on us. The right picture can bring out strong emotions in us of compassion, joy, disgust, or even hate, a fact long known by sociologists, psychiatrists, marketers and politicians alike. An image can convey a wide range of information or it can focus in on a single thought or emotion, and it can cover all of the ground in between handily as well. It just needs to be the right image.
The second reason is much less emotional but just as human, and that is that we get bored quickly these days. Perhaps it's not as much boredom as it is content overload, however. What is perceived by many to be shorter attention spans can also be attributed to trying to get the information we want out of the massive flood of options. We inundate ourselves with sources and tributaries to feed our hunger for information, but we aren't very good at building dams and other means of filtering that flow efficiently. So we try to keep from drowning ourselves, and that means that we scan things much more quickly and filter them out much more easily.
Images solve that problem. You may be old enough to remember when department store catalogs were always laying somewhere in your home. My sister and I would go through them for hours marking the stuff we wanted. Those catalogs were hundreds of pages, containing about everything that store carried, layed out with pictures and a text description, and it kept us captivated.
The New Catalogs
That catalog layout is now the driving force behind the most successful online marketing campaigns and platforms. Facebook and Google+ both have moved to image-centric layouts, Twitter's images are much more front and center, and Pinterest is the fourth highest traffic driver worldwide. Photos in Facebook posts get more than 150% of the likes on average than posts without images.
Pinterest is the most compelling example of the catalog carryover, as they have skyrocketed from where they were just a year or two ago. People also spend much more time on the site. That's because we can browse through 30 pages of images with a little text much more quickly than we can long posts, or even short text posts. The image by itself will filter things quickly through our brains, allowing us to sort through more information faster.
Another case study is Flipboard, the app that lets you read in magazine format, or create your own magazines. In reality, you're usually creating catalogs instead of magazines since the collection will likely be chocked full of info on a subject or genre. The Flipboard layout is in essence just like Pinterest, images with a little text to help you quickly filter what articles you want to read.
Exposure and Some Suggestions
From the marketer's perspective images are also a great thing, because they double the chances of exposure. Your image has separate metadata from your post, and when that metadata is set properly you have another, separate search result generated from the same location, which helps your search optimization.
If you aren't already using images in your posts extensively and originally, there are two web apps that will make it easy to get started, PIcMonkey and Canva. Canva has a very nice and extensive collection of free templates and tools, and there are options for paid templates as well.
While you are honing your image and infographic-crafting skills, you need to be able to track the reach, likes, shares of your creations to see what types are well received. The best way to do this is with good social media monitoring software. Of course, you should be tracking all of your posts with social media software, but you knew that.