Just when marketers thought they'd mastered social media marketing—creating and monitoring tweets, posts, and links—now the social Web is morphing again.
Today, social networks are all about images. Photo-centric social sites such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr are rising quickly in popularity, while Facebook continues to revamp its Web and mobile feeds to focus on the more than 300 million photos its members upload every day.
To succeed with social marketing, brands now need to move beyond text-based posts to develop an image-driven strategy, incorporating photos, logos, and graphics into their social content programs.
But, as a marketer, how can you effectively use brand images in social marketing? What are some proven tips and tricks to incorporate images into your social content mix? How can you track and measure the impact of these image-based posts on brand reach, sales, and overall marketing ROI?
Image-driven social marketing is still new, but there are some tactics marketers can start using today to get ahead of the competition. Here are four practical ways to incorporate images into your social media marketing programs.
1. Select shareable images
The best brand images are the ones that are the most shareable. Identifying your brand's most shareable images is the cornerstone of a successful "visual social" marketing program.
Comb through your company's likely vast repository of images—campaign images, product photos, logos, graphics, and more—to identify those with the most emotional appeal. Funny, beautiful, interesting, touching, and fascinating images are the most likely to be shared, and thus they are the best candidates for image-based social marketing.
Analyze your social pages to see what type of visuals fans post and share the most often—making note of the different types of images shared on different networks. For example, an outdoor sports equipment brand might find its fans share photos of Everest climbers most often on Facebook, but they share photos of the brand's coats and jackets on Pinterest.
Finally, mine your social media metrics to find out which ad campaigns resonated the most with your social followers, and then promote images from those campaigns.
2. Post on visual networks
Many brands have at least one Facebook page and a Twitter account, but do you have accounts on Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram? Those image-driven sites are growing far faster than Facebook, and they are highly popular among Millennials.
To get the most mileage out of your brand visuals, make sure to post them far and wide. Adding notes or comments can help drive engagement, but the most important thing is to choose high-quality, shareable images that "speak for themselves." (Some 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text, according to InfoTrends.)
3. Monitor and measure
Tracking and monitoring social-sharing patterns of your brand images is important, but doing so remains challenging since most social media monitoring tools track only text keywords in posts and tags. If you tag your brand photos, you'll be able to more easily track sharing patterns and their impact on engagement and marketing ROI.
The challenge lies in tracking the hundreds of millions of images posted by consumers every day, some of which feature your brand's products, campaigns, and logos. Consumers don't always tag the images they post, so you'll need to use image recognition technology to search for images that reference your brand at the pixel level.
Some social media monitoring companies have partnered with image recognition companies to add this feature; but not many have, so you may have to seek out an image recognition company on your own. The risk in not monitoring images posted by third parties is substantial: Consumers can post your brand photos in negative contexts, alter your brand images, or post images of counterfeit products. Finding and responding to such negative postings is critical to protecting your brand's image online.
Here are a couple of brand mentions, on Twitter and Instagram, without any textual mention of the brands:
4. Encourage brand advocates
The people who share your brand images are your best advocates; make sure to reward them for sharing, posting, and pinning your visuals. By using social media monitoring and image recognition, you can identify who is sharing your photos the most often, with whom, and how that sharing affects both engagement with your brand and sales.
Reach out to your most active advocates and offer them special incentives, such as coupons, discounts, or access to VIP sales. You'll help turn your advocates into "super influencers" who share your brand's images and other content with their larger networks, creating a ripple effect.
On the other hand, when people post your brand images in negative contexts or complain about your products or services, reach out to those disgruntled consumers as well. Offering to fix their problems can often turn a negative situation around.
Of course, if your brand images have been posted in an altered state that infringes on your brand trademarks, you can and should contact the social network to have the images removed.
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The social Web today is becoming all about images. If your brand isn't using its visual assets on social networks, you're missing out on positive customer engagement and increased sales.