Images capture moments, define concepts, they speak a universal language reaching beyond linguistic barriers. Basically, images transmit messages more effectively. When, on top of that, consumers have little time to process any information, knowing that humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text is a vital fact for marketers.

No wonder Instagram is becoming the most popular social network with more frequent daily check-ins, most time spend and more user signups per day than any other channel.

Knowing that humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text is a vital fact for marketers. - Highlight to share -

But an engaging image is not just any image. Visuals encompass a wider variety of content types, most obviously photographs, but also images of drawings, diagrams, quote cards, infographics, tables, models, etc. – even video. Over the last few years, consumer behaviour has shown that they are most likely to engage with images and photographs. It’s not just B2C marketers affected by this trend; B2B efforts are also increasingly moving away from whitepapers to video and Slideshare – shifting the emphasis towards a visual experience with brand content.

Consumer behaviour has shown that they are most likely to engage with images and photographs. - Highlight to share -

The kind of image you choose must not only appeal to the preferences of your buyer persona or target audience, but it must suit your brand voice, the situational and timely context, as well as the platform it is posted. As per the definition, the visual in visual communication ‘aids’ the conveyance of ideas. An image may speak a thousand words, but the moment it appears on a particular channel in front of a defined demographic is just as essential, if your goal is to reach beyond a ‘like’ and build a relationship with the consumer. That is, you do not only want to capture your audience’s attention, but also keep them. Context helps making sense of the brand experience in relation to one’s own personal situation. That’s where a proper distribution strategy becomes crucial.

We all know that cat pictures get a lot of engagement. But does it relate to your post? Most of us have heard about images being clean and easy to digest. What does that mean? Let’s revisit the basic types of content and how they apply to visuals.

1. Own content created in house

Carefully selected, your own images reflect the brand culture and that resonates with consumers. A brand that invests in and gets creative with their brand identity in visuals builds trust. Ideally, we all have an in-house design team (because on social media even individuals are building brands), that is involved in all stages of the content creation process, especially, when dealing with visual content. But even when looking to amplify written content or otherwise, it pays off to consult a creative professional who is actually trained in connecting the message to a visual.

Carefully selected, your own images reflect the brand culture and that resonates with consumers. - Highlight to share -

Now, if this resource is not available to you, there are tools one can use to customise visuals, among the most popular are Picmonkey and Canva. These allow you to edit photos, create quote cards, infographics, memes and more.

A nice cat meme image may actually work for you, if the context fits, i.e. if something about that cat relates to your message, and your brand has that kind of cheeky personality. If not, you may be better off with a custom design and message text. Text in image must not be too long, in fact Facebook and other channels have rules around the amount of words in image posts to keep images clean. Finally, even though many brands are using the logo in every image, for some this looks tacky. You may find a visual language that is unique to your brand or start using a campaign theme or hashtag instead of putting a logo stamp on it.

A nice cat meme image may actually work for you, if the context fits. - Highlight to share -

2. Curated and repurposed content by related brands and users

Sharing content and curating as part of the content is a great way to safe resources and mix content on social media. This is where a thorough mapping of your brand’s market comes in handy: your competitors, consumers, media outlets and influencers. What you share has to make sense for your overall content strategy and also relate your brand to the right kind of community.You don’t want to share the same as your competitors.

Let’s say your brand has a content campaign about the best travel destinations in the winter time. If you are looking for some humor, you may publish adjacent/supporting content about reasons to travel in the winter featuring funny images about horrendous snow storms, or kids having a killer time in the snow. Make sure you check your resources first: trusted media outlets, top bloggers in your industry, influencers are all good sources. Sharing regular content from an influencer is also a nice way to build a relationship and test the waters with them.

3. User Generated Content

All brands use stock images at times, but that can get expensive and may feel soul-less over time. These are but two good reasons why your brand should look into UGC campaigns in addition to curating. With social media and mobile, we all want to produce and consume at the same time. Marketers are keen to analyse and understand not only what users want to see and share, but to co-produce. That sort of active participation makes them feel like part of the community.

The MINI was one of the brands that stood out with such a consumer-driven approach to visual content this year.

In their ‘Not Normal’ campaign they asked consumers to reimagine their product in unexpected ways, and post an image using the hashtag #mininotnormal. On Instagram, the hashtag currently yields over 40,000 results featuring creative custom designs, MINI made from sand on the beach and more. By now, the hashtag has become synonymous with a community of die-hard MINI fans. What is more is that MINI was able to reuse some images on other channels and for offline campaigns. From over 200,000 social engagements, the company was able to report 11% qualified leads.

But one does not have to rely on users’ images. TripAdvisor has an ongoing UGC campaign going that asks followers to submit quotes that complete the sentence “I travel because…” The campaign started on Facebook as a conversational campaign but was soon repurposed onto Instagram with custom images created by TripAdvisor. This is a great example of a company picking up the trend of inspirational quotes on Instagram and pairing it with scenic travel imagery. Using the widely used hashtag #WhyWeTravel, the company reaches a broader audience with their co-created images.

Make sure to give precise instructions for UGC and then amplify that content in retweets, shares or a dedicated content hub on your website.

Most of your brand’s visual content will be targeted at and live on social media, because that’s where most of your audience lies. There is to say that different platforms must get the attention to detail they demand with their distinct frameworks and audience consumption patterns. What works on Instagram may not work on Facebook, what works on Twitter will likely not work on Pinterest. On Twitter the images are horizontal and on Pinterest they work better as square. Get familiar with the image requirements first and then re-assemble and edit images accordingly. Same attention should be paid to timing. While it may be completely appropriate to post an image set of four images to Facebook, on Instagram, you want to spread them out over the course of week.

At this point, be creative and explore interactive opportunities with your content and platforms. In fact, I’d always try to play with the framework, even if the content is restricted by brand guidelines and more rigid decision-making structures. Know your brand voice, your audience and your channels very well. And then it’s simple: hit them with the right images and trigger the emotion you want most to be related to your brand.

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The power of visual