The other day I was commenting to a friend that I was on Facebook when it was still 'The Facebook.' If you're in my group, you may remember at that time it was just for college students, and you couldn’t do much more on it other than see what one friend was saying to another; there were no status updates, no news feed, and no sharing of videos or photos. The point is, I’m only 25 and I already feel old in the history of social media.  

But as Bob Dylan famously said, the times they are a changin’, and social media seems to be doing it more frequently than other marketing channels. The most recent trend to come to social media is the dominance of visual content. Facebook has turned its walls into timelines and Pinterest, the online photo scrapbooking site, is now the number three social network in the country for total visits, and videos and infographics are peppering blogs everywhere.

If you aren’t prepared for the visual content revolution, you may be left in the dust. Not convinced? Let's take a look at exactly how visual content is positively contributing to marketing strategies -- it may just give you the push you need if you haven't yet hopped on the visual content bandwagon (or are trying to get the resources to do so)!

Gives Your Brand an Identity

Visual content draws people in, letting viewers better understand your brand's identity. The way the new Facebook timeline is set up, for example, companies have the opportunity to share their company history visually, like Coca-Cola has done below.

coca cola facebook

Then there are brands like Starbucks who aren’t just telling you what their employees are doing on a daily basis -- they show what is going on behind the scenes with real employees and customers. This creates a human connection that helps translate the brand experience, and promote brand loyalty between companies and consumers that can't be achieved through words alone. They've used visuals to make a powerful statement about their brand's stance on important issues -- take a look at these photos on their brand page that show employees volunteering for Home for Children. Fans understand how important a specific charitable cause is to a local Starbucks' employees and their families when they see these images of volunteers in actions.

starbucks facebook photo

You probably understand your brand in your own head -- think about how you can translate that visually, though. Do you have a picture of your first office? Or do you remember moving day when you upgraded from that first office to some swankier digs? You could show that before and after process in photos to tell the story of an important, bitter-sweet milestone in your company's history. Or maybe your staff does something fun together to unwind -- capture that moment to help differentiate yourself as more than just any old company.

Drives User Engagement

If you've ever read a book with a child, you probably know they find pictures more interesting than words; but are adults really that different? I wouldn't be surprised (or offended!) if you found yourself gravitating more towards the picture in this post than the copy. But images drive more than just attention -- they drive engagement. In fact, just one month after introducing timeline for brands, Simply Measured reports that engagement is up 46% percent per post, and visual content (photos and videos) have seen a 65% increase in engagement. 

If you think using visuals to drive engagement is a B2C marketer's game, take a look at how GE is doing it on their Facebook page.

ge facebook

They've proactively asked for fans to engage with the photos of their products, and just look at the results! Explaining what those parts are in a status update would be, frankly, boring, and not the best use of the medium.

Condenses and Explains Large Amounts of Information

Today, there is so much information on the Internet you have about 3 seconds to catch someone’s eyes so they'll consume your information. Visual representations of data -- like charts, graphs, and infographics -- take all your data and information that in written format would be overwhelming to readers, and makes it palatable by highlighting the most important points through visual representations. Whether you spend 20 minutes or 20 seconds looking at an visual content, a reader can take away meaningful information. In fact, instead of continuing to write about why visual content works, I'm going to use a visual representation about why infographics work from Social Media Chimps! Take a look.

benefit infographics

Do you have data to report that you really want customers to understand? Condense your information into easily understandable terms by boiling down the most important points, and then find a way to represent them in a more visual way. If anything, it will make some people stop and look for just a little longer than before.

Creates Opportunities for User-Generated Content

Your customers are on at least a couple of the visually-friendly social networks like Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Why not get them involved in helping shape the story of your brand in a more visual way? It not only helps take some of the content creation burden off of you, but don't forget that there are multiple industries in which prospects won't make a purchase without first consulting user-generated content. Let's take a look at how Dunkin Donuts is encouraging fans to create visual content that gets them excited about their product.

dunkin donuts instagram

They've asked customers to upload photos of them enjoying their Dunkin' Donuts on Facebook and Instagram, and are then featuring the best ones on both sites. It makes perfect sense with their "American Runs on Dunkin'" slogan -- get their incredibly mobile customer base to use their mobile devices to share visual content!

Create easy pathways for your fans and customers to participate. Are you having an event? Releasing a new product? Invite people to share their experiences, and let them know you appreciate their interaction by sharing their content.

Drives Referrals and Purchases

Referral traffic from social media sites to brand websites is on the rise. You might be surprised to know that a Shareaholic study revealed Pinterest generates more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined; only Facebook and StumbleUpon generate more. What does this mean? Social networks are a direct link to how customers get to your actual website. When brands interact through more visual mediums, customers are then taking the next step and going directly to your website.

Some early data is indicating that Pinterest is even driving sales directly from its website -- in a survey of people with Pinterest accounts, 21% have purchased an item after seeing it on Pinterest. In fact, I have a personal anecdote to demonstrate this happening already. A friend posted this dress to her fashion board:

pinterest purchases

Guess what happened? Her lovely boyfriend saw it and purchased it for her as a gift. Think about it -- what easier way to do some birthday shopping than visiting someone's Pinterest boards? So make sure your images stand out from the clutter. Showcase your product or offering in a visually stimulating way. Now that you have control over what image you display on your board covers, you can ensure each board is unique in its own way and accurately depicts the content that will be found on that board.

Sometimes, visual content lets you say more than you could with all the words in the dictionary.  If this post has convinced you to make the jump to the visual content bandwagon but you still need some inspiration, reference our complementary blog post that offers some creative ways to make content visual. And you know the best part about increasing your use of visual content? It’s fun! Make sure you have fun with this, and your customers will too!

How are you integrating visual content into your inbound marketing? Share your creative ideas in the comments!

Image credit: Visual Mashups

social media marketing assessment


Originally published Apr 9, 2012 2:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


Content Creation