We are past the days where words alone can excite users and customers on social media.
In today's world, the power of social media comes not through great written tweets, but through an image which truly can sum up everything in a thousand words. Rising social media platforms like Snapchat and Meerkat on one side, and old titans like Facebook and Twitter on the other are more and more dependent on visuals to show and excite viewers. In 2013, it was estimated that Facebook users upload 350 million photos each day. And on Snapchat, over 8,000 photos are shared every second.
This is a huge opportunity for businesses both small and large to jump in and find new ways to expand their social media footprint. But how? How important is it to use visuals in social media? And what are the best ways to use it?
It may be true that visual forms of communication are becoming more popular. But how effective are images? How more likely are they to be shared, retweeted, or acknowledged in some way by a social media platform's audience?
Perhaps one simple chart thanks to Social Media Examiner should show the power of images. According to them, a ridiculous 87 percent of the most shared post on Facebook over the month of March 2014 were photos. And even a good chunk of the other 13 percent were videos and albums, further visual content to attract fans. Just 6 percent of the top social media shared on Facebook were either links or statuses.
And Facebook is far from the only example. Whether on Pinterest, Instagram, or even in traditional press releases, people are more likely to be engaged and share it if there are images or a video in it. And people on average will spend 100 percent more time on a web page which has videos or images to attract their interest.
The importance of understanding your audience
So now that we've established the importance of photographs and having a highly visual social media platform, the question then becomes what sort of images to use.
The first thing that has to be understood is your target audience as well as the sort of place the Internet can be. A lot of social media failures, visual or otherwise, resulted because social media managers misunderstood just how they were perceived over the Internet.
Bill Cosby fell victim to this back in November 2014. The former actor invited the Internet to meme him and linked to a Cosby meme generator. Cosby's social media team appears to have thought that the Internet would use funny images of Cosby to make innocuous, wholesome jokes.
Instead, the Internet promptly made memes relating to his rape allegations and provoked a discussion on rape culture. Perhaps the discussion on rape culture was enlightening, but this disaster resulted because Cosby's social media manager fundamentally misunderstood how Cosby was perceived over the Internet.
Empower your social media followers
But while people over the Internet can at times appear mysterious and not a little crazy, the best way to win them over to your side is to make them a part of your visual social media experience.
While the Cosby failure did not understand its audience, it had the right idea in enabling ordinary Internet users to make their own images and partake in the Cosby brand. As the Internet creates millions of images every day, it is only logical for social media platforms to use the collective creative power of the Internet for their own ends.
These do not have to be memes. In fact, memes are probably not a good idea as they can be more unpredictable compared to cartoons or photographs. But a terrific example is Tiffany & Co.'s "True Love" series. The jewelry retailer asked its Instagram followers to send in images from trailers which showed true love and asked them to describe what love is like. Such an example showed social media followers that Tiffany cared about their stories, and massively empowered their brand and social media presence.
The power of words
Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Other times, a picture is just a bizarre, jumbled mess which confuses followers about what a company is after.
So while images may be more important than ever before, the combination of words and images can boost your signals and further improve an image's ability to attract its brand. An inspiring quote, the company slogan, or other simple, pithy words can emphasize your marketing message and inspire more followers.
Make some images!
Images can be so much more complicated than words, and business may be worried that an image could be interpreted the wrong way or backfire somehow.
But given the potential, humongous benefits of social media marketing, the best thing which any business can do is to just get out there and experiment. The worst visual social media platform of all is to have no social media platform whatsoever. As long as there is something which intrigues followers, whether on Facebook or Instagram or somewhere else, it will be a significant improvement compared to the old days of 1000-word essays.