By Alexandra Reid
Humans have used images to tell stories for millennia, beginning with the rock art, tree carvings, and even tattoos of our ancient ancestors. Since the birth of the practice, marketers have used images as a powerful communications method for company branding and to influence the purchasing decisions of other businesses as well as mass populations of people. It should therefore come as no surprise that images have recently risen as a focal point in our most modern communications practices.
There’s no doubt that social media is becoming more visual. The rise of Pinterest, new developments at Vimeo, the domination of YouTube, the proliferation of new image sharing tools, and Facebook’s new Timeline developments and recent acquisition of Instagram demonstrate that social sites are both acknowledging and encouraging a more visual web.
As Social Media B2B explains, “Facebook already told us that photos and videos are the most important types of content because they encourage the most engagement.”
“In a general sense, (Facebook’s) acquisition (of Instagram) on the heels of the dramatic growth of Pinterest in the last few months is a massive reflection of just how fast the Social-Stream is becoming visual in nature, meaning evolving social engagement driven purely around visual media, not text — and just how valuable that will inevitably be to every major participant in the social media landscape,” Michael Downing, founder and CEO of social video service Tout, told ReadWriteWeb. “This is a huge endorsement of the shift to the visual web and visual conversation in a social media framework.”
Images help businesses tell stories
Businesses are beginning to come to grips with using social media to tell their stories online. The next step is to meet the demands of their online marketplaces and learn how to support those stories visually by incorporating images as part of their overarching social media strategies. While also a traditional practice, content marketing has been awarded a lot of attention lately. Similarly, I predict that images will slowly but surely become a larger component of the user- and business-generated online content marketing portfolio.
But their meanings can be easily misconstrued
The use of images to successfully tell business stories has many caveats, ranging from the professionalism of the images themselves to how they are shared and otherwise distributed. The use of images can be a double-edged sword. While they provide businesses with the means to show a story rather than tell it, it’s quite easy for viewers to misconstrue the meaning of a visual. As images can be tagged and shared via other social streams through uploading tools like Twitpic, a poorly crafted image has the potential to spread like wildfire and become the butt end of every joke. Even the conglomerates with huge budgets for this stuff aren’t perfect. While Pepsi’s logo was created for wider marketing purposes than social media channels, the re-crafted version nonetheless managed to spread from channel to channel, page to page and stream to stream. Imagine what could happen if you uploaded an easily manipulated image such as this one directly to social media. It sure would be engaging, but perhaps not in a good way.
Strategies are put in place to avoid situations such as this one. Yet even when things seem perfect, people have a talent for seeing things differently. Unlike text, where we have more opportunity to explain ourselves, images can be perceived from multiple angles depending on the viewer. And with all the new photo-editing tools available today, there really is no end to the artistic flair people can add to your brand images. Also, like most things in social media, images can sometimes be out of a business’s control, and as we become more comfortable with displaying and sharing our images online, there are bound to be mistakes. We only need look at the errors of young people who share inappropriate photos willy-nilly on social media to see where some brands could be headed.
For example, you host a staff party and, naturally, your guests begin to take pictures. The next day, one of your guests uploads an inappropriate photo of your senior executive on her or his personal Facebook profile, which is then tagged on the company’s brand page by a friend who doesn’t understand professional guidelines, and likely doesn’t have any personal guidelines either. Your community manager notices the image and promptly deletes it. However, as many of us are now aware, what’s uploaded to the web stays on the web. By the time your employee deletes the images, it’s already too late. It has been uploaded to the personal profile of its taker and likely commented on by his friends and retagged.
So, what do you do?
You want to participate visually in social media while keeping your business’s reputation safe. While social media image strategies aren’t mandatory, they can be very useful in avoiding dangerous situations as they call for a plan and a conversation with other people who have various perspectives before big decisions are made. But I have found that very few organizations are having conversations about image strategies. In fact, a Google search of the term “social media image strategy” turned up just eight results. It is a relatively new area of social media and it’s my understanding that people aren’t yet giving it enough consideration. Please correct me if I’m wrong; I’d love to have your expertise shared here.
Here are some important points to consider:
Pinterest has raised the bar for professional image sharing. Ensure all your visuals are of high quality and high resolution so they look great when shared on social sites that weigh heavily on visuals. Facebook has made some new developments that put visuals front and centre for fan engagement, but these new features can be difficult to work with and understand at first. Here’s the complete guide, with information on images, for optimizing new Facebook brand pages for your social media marketing strategy.
Professionalism: Employee conduct
Have a conversation with your employees about what is and isn’t acceptable online. This has been a hot topic lately among social media professionals because we have all seen how things can go horribly wrong when employees aren’t given strict guidelines for how to represent themselves (and, by extension, their employer) on social media sites. While employees can be invaluable to companies in terms of spreading brand awareness and building a positive brand reputation, they can also cause damage if you haven’t laid down the rules for engagement. We’ve written on social media guidelines, employee empowerment and social media champions here before, which I suggest you check out for more information.
Questions and conversations
The purpose of developing a strategy is to have a roadmap for success on a new endeavour. Developing a strategy requires you to do research and have conversations with other people to determine what is feasible. Even laying out a basic image strategy will ensure at least a few others have offered their input on the images that will be shared, how they will be distributed and what safety nets need to be put in place. If it isn’t within your means to develop a strategy, at least make sure you have a conversation with your colleagues and clients about the images you are sharing. They might just see something you do not.
Again, this is a new area of consideration in social media and I’d love to share your expertise here. How should businesses prepare for sharing images via social channels?