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Leveraging the Visual on Social Media



Leveraging the Visual on Social Media

By Karen Geier

The only thing constant about social media is change. This year, many of the most popular social media networks made profound changes to their layouts and focused on how their sites work in mobile environments. The reason for this? The content with the highest number of shares tends to be visual posts that don’t require a lot of reading (consider the average word count of a Buzzfeed article).

What this means for your brand is that for the foreseeable future you’ll need to plan your brand updates around the Hollywood motto “Show, don’t tell.”

There is a brevity and impact to keeping things primarily visual and using an economy of language. Not only do you have a higher rate of people consuming your content, but you also can capture those whose understanding of your primary language might not be 100%, which opens up your brand to a new segment of the population, and younger demographics.

The less you demand from your audience, the greater your potential reward in engagement and sales down the road. If you have a visually enticing image (or Vine, or video), you can stop that potential customer from scrolling past you, and your chances of them liking, faving, or sharing your content increases.

The most important question your brand needs to ask is “what’s the story that needs to be told?”  Focusing on the short, simple message you want to convey will help you tell visual stories.

Telling Visual Stories

Visual storytelling is all about using symbols to express what you are unable to with words. Consider foreign films. If you didn’t have subtitles, you could probably still understand the basics of the story: A man and a woman meet at a train station. They fall in love. They part at their destination. This is a complete story.

To tell visual stories, it’s important to write out all the points you need to cover in your content first. This accomplishes two goals: One, it helps you focus your ideas; two, it helps you see if ideas you have can be combined or need to be separated. Focus and editing are the key precursors to an efficient visual story.

Once you’ve got your message whittled down to the essential bits you need to communicate, you should work with a trusted designer or design team to come up with options that are visually  interesting, but not complicated. Don’t spend time on ornamentation. Only include what’s necessary to express the story visually. Consider popular visual memes that exist. There is usually the hero (a dog, a frog, etc.), a background, and a few words. Seek an economy of visuals so that your story has more impact.

You will need to test your visuals with someone (or many people) who have no prior knowledge of your story. You’re seeking an instant recognition of and reaction to your story. If you get mixed results, your story has a problem.

What Not to Do

Don’t make a complicated, long, or scrollable graphic. This will backfire on you with mobile users. If you’re the only thing they can see, and your story looks too long, they will likely not finish your content.

Do not explain your story in a block of text below your image. This makes the exercise of seeking an economy of language a wasted effort. You need to consider your users at all times.

Try not to use stock images. Designers might incorporate stock into their work, but you should look for original designs to make your stories “ownable.”

Where to Tell Visual Stories

The most obvious use of visual stories is single images (or galleries) on social networks. There are many more options available to your brand, and it’s a good way for you to test out whether fans might follow you on other networks.

Remember, images can be posted to Instagram as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. Consider posting some of your images there (remember to use popular hashtags to ensure sharability).

Infographics are another way of expressing complex ideas in a shorthand way. Steer clear of the long, drawn out infographics, and instead aim for a “cover of USA Today” style graphic that illustrates one idea that you’re trying to convey in an indisputable visual method.

If your brand counts many digital natives among its fans, consider interesting twists on popular meme images (for guidance on what’s happening in the moment, consult Tumblr or Know Your Meme). Meme images, when leveraged correctly, have the possibility of high sharability.

Digital attention spans are measured in seconds, and as marketers it’s your job to seize every opportunity to touch potential customers with your content. Keeping your messages short and visually interesting is the key to engaging and consistently grabbing your audience at key moments during their day.


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