“Blogs were one of the earliest forms of social networking where people were writing 1,000 words. When we moved to status updates on Facebook, our posts became shorter. Then micro-blogs like Twitter came along and shortened our updates to 140 characters. Now we are even skipping words altogether and moving towards more visual communication with social-sharing sites like Pinterest.” – Dr. William J. Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University, in a recent interview with Fast Company
Dr. Ward’s analysis is right on the mark.. In the past year, the unbelievable growth of visually focused sites like Instagram and Pinterest, the redesign of Facebook with the introduction of Timeline and the cover photo, and the rapid increase in use of smartphones with high-resolution cameras highlight changing consumer preferences in favor of images over text in the digital space.
The statistics supporting this trend are overwhelming:
• Weekly visits to Pinterest from North American users hit nearly 29 million in July, up from 1.27 million a year earlier, representing an increase of 2,183%, according to Experian Marketing Services.
Photo and video posts on Pinterest now refer more traffic than Twitter, Stumbleupon, LinkedIn and Google+, according to data provided by Simply Measured for M Booth.
• Instagram’s mobile network saw its weekly visits increase from just 56,360 last year to more than 12 million last in July, according to the Los Angeles Times. A recent study by an app analytics firm found Instagram to be the second-most-popular app behind Facebook globally.
Facebook recognized Instagram’s potential and is in the process of purchasing the site in a deal worth $1 billion. Today, 40% of top brands have a presence on Instagram.
• 44% of respondents to a 2012 study by ROI Research said they are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures.
• Photos and videos drive the most engagement on Facebook’s top ten brand pages, research by Simply Measured for M Booth found. The data also indicated that photos on Facebook are “liked” twice as often as text updates and that videos on Facebook are twelve times more likely to be shared than links and text post combined.
Finally, the data revealed that 42% of Tumblr posts are photos, compared to other categories of content including text, chats, quotes, video and links.
So what does this mean for your local business? In short, if visual content is not a mainstay in your social media strategy, the time is now to refocus your approach so that your business’ content remains relevant.
Here are five steps for your business to join the visual revolution online:
1) Brainstorm Ways To Communicate Your Messages Through Imagery
What is your business trying to say via its social media presence? What actions do you want potential and current customers to take?
If you’re a plumber, you’re likely interested in using social media to drive referrals when someone is building a home or needs a repair. You might also want to remind customers about plumbing-related issues and worthwhile check-ups to build loyalty and drive future business.
Alternatively, if you’re a dentist, you likely want to become a resource for good dental hygiene information for your patients and promote treatments that bring in extra income.
What are some ways these service-oriented businesses might use imagery to achieve their objectives? First, a plumber might post images of common problems he comes across – leaky faucets and toilets, broken pipes, etc. – and explain what the issues are and when it’s appropriate to call him to fix a problem. He might also post a coupon for a customer to use the next time they have an issue.
A dentist might post photos or videos of how to properly brush teeth or floss. He or she could also post before and after photos of patients who received fillings, whitening or braces.
No matter what the business category, there are ways to use images to promote your offerings and engage with consumers.
2) Put Processes In Place To Make Imagery Possible
Once you’ve brainstormed the types of images that will help tell your business’s story and generate engagement with customers, lay the framework for integrating imagery into your social media strategy.
The first area to tackle is how to build your business’ image archive. Does your business have a digital camera that can be used on a regular basis? Does your business need to hire a pro to help start the image inventory, especially if the quality of the photos is important in your field? (For example, a fashion designer or jewelry maker will want much higher quality photos than an accountant showing images of tax forms). Will you purchase photos from image galleries or ask others to reuse their photos?
A second area to focus on is what capabilities your business has available to enhance, build and format images so that they’re successful in social media. Does your business need to hire a graphic designer, or do you or someone on your staff have the time and skills to handle such work?
For example, you may want to create a Refer a Friend graphic for loyal customers on Facebook, or enhance the colors in a photo to be featured on Pinterest. Additionally, you may need to resize images to match recommended dimensions on Facebook, Pinterest and other social media sites so that images appear proportionally (To that point, website images greater than 554 pixels can’t be pinned on Pinterest, which is a major issue if one of your customers is unable to spread the word about one of your featured products).
Determining what you can do in-house versus through a vendor will be key towards developing worthwhile content.
3) Determine The Best Ways To Integrate Imagery
Imagery should be used to enhance social media channels that you are already using, as well as to introduce your brand to new sites like Pinterest and Instagram that are more exclusively image-focused.
On a channel like Facebook, take typical content like text updates and links and think of ways you can enhance those posts with imagery. Try out a few approaches to see what your business’ followers cling to – you might start with trying one-off images of a new store display, or a photo album featuring a variety of products.
See what garners the most likes, comments and shares, and what is more often ignored. Also note that shorter descriptions of photos result in higher engagement rates, according to research.
For new channels, do your research on whether your customers are present on the social network and if you think they’d engage you there. For example, a retail store or even a landscaper likely fit the profile for a local business on Pinterest, which has a strong female presence that enjoys sharing images of clothing, gardens, design, and the like. Once the page is launched, take note of follows and repins of your content to see whether your business is making headway.
There are some clear examples of businesses that probably won’t succeed on a site like Pinterest: an auto repair shop for example. Businesses that appeal more to men might not translate well on Pinterest, but do better on other social media channels.
In addition to social media, remember that business listings websites are a great place to showcase images of your business and its offerings. Take advantage of the images you collect to post on Yelp, Citysearch, YP.com, SuperPages.com and other listings sites to generate increased visibility and interest in your business.
4) Maximize The Relevance Of Your Business’ Content On Each Site
Whatever social networks you engage, learn how it works so your business can take advantage of all the work you’re putting in. You want to ensure you don’t stick out by failing to know how to participate.
• For example, on Pinterest, adding prices to photo descriptions creates a banner alongside the image, so that followers can easily see the cost of the products you’re featuring. But avoid missteps like posting too much of your own content too quickly (Pinterest will delay your future posts) or adding a PinIt button alongside a Flash photo album on your website, since users won’t be able to pin the content! • On Facebook, make sure you choose a great cover photo to promote your business and size your logo to fit correctly. But make sure you meet Facebook guidelines, which state that a cover photo should not include price or purchase information, a call to action, or contact information.
• On Instagram, use it as your go-to application on your mobile device and post regular and relevant photos while you’re on the go. Use a variety of appropriate and popular hashtags to further promote your content. But make sure your posts are relevant to your business and don’t extend too widely into your personal life.
• For listings sites, be sure to check photo guidelines to ensure your business is in compliance. For example, YP.com requires that photos are original and does not permit advertisements.
5) Solicit Customers To Participate By Sharing Photos Online
Find ways to encourage customers to share original photo content related to your business: it not only engages them, but provides you with new imagery to use. Some ideas include:
• Hosting a contest promoted on Facebook that solicits photos of customers using your business’ products
• Enabling your business’ Pinterest board to allow your favorite or most active fans to pin pictures to complement your own content. (Additionally, take advantage of a tool that allows you to track which photos on your website are being shared on Pinterest, so you know what’s resonating: visit http://pinterest.com/source/YourWebsite.com/ – replacing “YourWebsite.com” with your website URL).
• On Instagram, encourage followers to use your business’ hashtag when posting images related to your product as an incentive to receive a free gift with their purchase.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.