Our data shows that social media posts with images almost always perform better than posts without images. If you aren’t already, you should start sharing images with your audience. They can be a powerful way to communicate, but only if you do it right.
Images take up more of your audience’s screen real estate and bandwidth, so honor your audience by sharing images that will delight and educate them. If you don’t, you’ll bore them and they’ll ignore you. They even might stop following you.
Here are a few quick tips:
Avoid stock photography
People will ignore it. Jakob Nielsen did some eyetracking research and found that people ignore stock photos of generic people. If you want to use pictures of people, use pictures of real people.
Similarly, photos of products should show details or context of the product’s use. A generic photo of the product will be ignored. Really, read Nielsen’s report and refer to it whenever anyone recommends posting stock imagery to social media.
The images you share should be meaningful in some way. They should not be used as fluff or mere decoration, which is how most stock photography is used.
Create emotion through abstraction
From Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.
When people see a photograph of a person, they see that person, but when people see an abstraction of a person, such as a cartoon or even an animal, they see themselves. Because of this, people are less likely to respond emotionally to photographs of generic people, but they will respond to abstractions of people. This is why emoji and even simple emoticons are so popular. It’s amazing how the human mind will draw emotion from a few dots and lines like these:
Sorry. That was rude. How about this?
The reasons for this are complex and rooted in cognitive science. I won’t attempt to explain them here, but if you’re interested in learning more, I recommend reading the 2nd chapter of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics which is one of the best books on communication theory I’ve ever read.
Understand your medium
Different images do better on different platforms. How images perform on a platform is a function of that platform’s interface, who uses the platform, and why they use it.
For instance, animated GIFs work well on Tumblr and Google+ because users don’t have to click through to see them animate. Animated GIFs don’t work on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest, so they’re not as popular there.
A recent study attempted to determine what kind of images work well on Pinterest and found that vertically-oriented images do better because Pinterest’s narrow columns make horizontally-oriented images too small.
That tip is useful for Pinterest, but keep in mind that all social media platforms will show your images in various sizes, usually smaller than you’d like. This is especially important if you’re posting images with text. Your audience will appreciate it if your image is still legible when it gets scaled down to fit in their news feed.
Honor your audience
Above all, take the time to think about how your image will be seen by the people you’re sharing it with. Will they be at their desk or on their phone? Will they be in bed or on a train? Will your image mean something to them? Will it enlighten them? Will they remember it? Will they want to share it? Will they care?
Who’s doing it right?
Here are a few organizations that do great work with images on social media:
- The U.S. Department of the Interior shares beautiful images of America’s public lands on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr every day.
- Patagonia’s Tumblr blog is nothing but photos of people enjoying life outdoors. It’s Facebook page is a mix of images and marketing and advocacy communications.
- USA.gov shares images of amazing work being done across the entire U.S. government on its Facebook Page, Twitter account, and Tumblr blog. To get a good overview, look at the images from the USA.gov blog that people have saved to Pinterest. (Disclosure: we’ve consulted with USA.gov on its social media strategies)
- Oreo’s Daily Twist campaign was a masterpiece. In celebration of Oreo’s 100th birthday, they created 100 thought-provoking and fun images based on the iconic cookie. It’s amazing what they did with such a simple premise.
If you liked this, you might be interested in a webinar I’m planning about best practices for images and infographics on the web. If you’re interested in attending, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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