The rising popularity of networks like Instagram and Pinterest have brought focus on the visual elements of social media. Now is the time for marketers to adjust how they approach their audiences on social media.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter
The recent history of the business world and consumers is a lot like "The Wizard of Oz." Consumers take a long, treacherous journey until they finally reach the product or service they've been searching for — yours.
Traditionally, when a consumer finally approached, and began interacting with a company, what they experienced was a lot of smoke and mirrors combined with a big, booming voice of authority meant to awe the consumer into purchasing.
The advent of social media, however, has allowed consumers to yank back the curtain and glimpse the wizard behind it. But, unlike Dorothy, they haven’t been disappointed. Businesses are realizing a transparent approach — showcasing their employees, facilities and day-to-day practices — has been one of the most successful and potentially valuable tactics to use in social media.
Images have proved to be an extremely effective tool with this transparency, as marketers are using the visual elements of social media to bring their consumers into a virtual company picnic where consumers are associating products with real people.
According to Apu Gupta, CEO and Co-Founder, Curalate, a marketing and analytics suite for the visual Web, around "70% of the social media conversations today involve a picture."
Aside from that, one in five women in America use Pinterest, according to a September 2012 report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That translates to about 12% of the total adult population in America.
The same report states overall, 56% of Internet users have either uploaded photos they have taken themselves or shared photos found online via sites designed for sharing images with others, such as Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The following three ideas from Gupta, as well as Tori Tait, Senior Community Manager, Daily Grommet, and Krista Neher, CEO, Boot Camp Digital, will show you why visual social media may be able to help you improve your social media marketing.
Tait said she believes visual elements are a win for "both the person that is consuming them … and also, the content creator."
An important first step in approaching visual social media is understanding why users are showing an increasing interest to engage with brands using images.
According to Tait, the appeal of visual elements is simple — they are less time consuming. Their meaning is generally immediately apparent and allows users to quickly understand your message and decide if they want to interact further with it or not.
Visual elements, she said, are less of a risk by being much more upfront and transparent about what to expect on the other side of a click.
"You might get a tweet that sounds interesting, but you are not going to click on every link and explore why. It is time consuming. You might click and enjoy the article, or you might click and realize that it is nothing like you expected," Tait said.
Gupta added he finds pictures may be more effective at evoking an emotional reaction that causes consumers to take "some kind of action and in many cases, it is, 'I want to discover more.'"
What happens then, he said, is people do something magical in the world of marketing — they click.
Whether it's a Like, retweet, share or re-pin, consumers will "actually engage with it. … This emotional loop that is created is driving huge amounts of traffic to brands."
"On our website, everyday, they launch a new product, and we work really hard at telling the story of a product and the people who created them," said Tait.
If you are a successful brand, Gupta said, you will have many fans who want to learn more about your company, and many of them can be "insatiable, and I think the day of really manufactured marketing messages where you have to go through eight layers of approvals. … I think that is rapidly ending," he said.
More agile brands, he continued, are trying things that are "a lot more conversational in a way, and what we are finding is that when they do these kind of behind-the-scenes things … it forms a connection that you just cannot get in a completely manufactured medium."
Gupta gives the example of Curalate recently posting a picture of "Flannel Friday," where the entire team wore flannel to work, "and it was one of our most successful posts ever, it was amazing — it is humorous, it is fun … and it [showed] personality."
Gupta said especially with Pinterest, some brands are guilty of just pushing their product catalogue.
Visual social media "should be a way for you to help people envision how your products can be used in their life, and so that means taking your product and putting it in context and that context can really provide a connection for people," he said.
When utilizing visuals, companies need to be aware the goal is "storytelling and community creation," he said.
Gupta expressed the paramount importance when beginning visual social media that marketers understand the nuances of interaction on the platforms.
The core problems brands have with working with visual social media, as well as the platforms in general, is they haven't learned how to "differentiate between those areas — how to think natively, if you will," Gupta said.
An important aspect to keep in mind, Gupta said, is for platforms like Facebook and Twitter versus Pinterest is the notion of time.
Since Facebook and Twitter are chronological, he said "I post something in the morning and I post something after that, it pushes the thing I posted before down."
This means on Facebook and Twitter, Gupta said it is important to try to engage your audience with a singular image, as it is harder to build them as a cohesive whole, like Pinterest allows with boards.
Tait said images make a frequent appearance on the Daily Grommet Facebook page, and they weigh on images heavily to "translate a product or as a conversation starter."
Images also play well on consumers' Facebook Feed, breaking up the "ongoing scene of status updates and links, and I think that it is eye catching, and for Facebook, I think images do well for that reason," Tait said.
Twitter is a bit harder when it comes to sharing pictures, Tait said, because you can stay on Twitter to view an image, and aren’t automatically linked to the brand’s page.
"It adds a little bit more substance to a tweet when you can share an image, but I don't see Twitter as being somewhere I would go to create a strategy around telling our story through images," Tait added.
Daily Grommet is still learning on Instagram, according to Tait, as only fairly recently have companies determined where their place is on that platform.
She sees their account on Instagram growing with images that "show off our personal style" including inside their building and with their employees.
"Really pretty pictures" are also essential to building an Instagram following she said — it is expected because their filters and photo settings designed to produce just that.
Even though pictures need to be attractive to other users, Tait maintained, "You do not have to be a photographer" to use the site, because it is set up to make a photographer out of anyone.
The question with this platform, she said, is to see how it evolves over time and if they are able to see people moving over to the website.
"On Instagram … We can share our pictures from the trade shows, when we are out at the farmer's market, meeting artists, and we can quickly … share those photos to tell a little bit more of our brand story," she said.
"A good infographic is visually appealing and easy to read, has an interesting and intriguing subject, and is organized in a way that tells a story," Neher said.
Infographics can be challenging, she added, because they need to provide insight to the reader, as well as convey a large amount of information but still be "easy to consume and understand."
In her experience, Neher said researching on a topic allows the story to emerge organically.
"We'll notice data points that all point towards an interesting trend, or groups of data that tell a story," she said, adding the key successfully analyzing data and turning it into a story is to go from "'what' to 'so what' to 'now what.'"
Neher said one of the common formulas for infographic success is a set strategy and process.
"It isn't about throwing numbers into an image and hoping that people see them," she said.
The steps for creating successful infographics involve:
"Definitely like any other social channel, we use Pinterest first to listen and learn," Tait said about how Daily Grommet uses the platform.
Gupta agrees Pinterest "encourages collaboration, and it is a real community building tool" for a brand to have at their disposal for consumer communication.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, time plays a much smaller role on Pinterest, and the biggest positive with that aspect is it "encourages storytelling as opposed to announcements," Gupta said.
What he encouraged trying to do with Pinterest is to help consumers travel through an entire visual story through Pinterest boards — something that can be facilitated across social channels.
He has observed companies successfully using Pinterest’s strengths will "take an image, put it on Facebook, but then draw the consumer over to Pinterest to get the bigger picture."
One of the challenges brands are facing with Pinterest, according to Gupta, is "it requires patience. … A lot of brands have been trained to believe in vanity metrics like follower counts and they get to Pinterest and they go, 'I want to increase my followers by five times.'"
Gupta said the correct response to this thought process is simple — why?
He explained on Pinterest following a brand means a lot less in many ways than it does on other networks.
"That is partly because I can still consume your story and engage with your story even if I don't follow your brand," he said.
Pinterest encourages putting out great content that has a very real possibility of reaching far beyond just those who follow your boards.
Page activity versus organic activity
Gupta said marketers also need to be aware Pinterest is broken up into brand page activity and organic activity.
Understanding this can be important to use as a communication channel, because "successful brands are finding that if they tap into what consumers are saying that they love about a brand and then leveraging those insights they can do much more interesting things," he said.
Learn about your consumers
"Read and learn," Tait advised with Pinterest.
For Daily Grommet, she said, the main objective is to see "what is resonating with people."
The questions she said they ask in order to learn from Pinterest are:
Not only can the images people decide to pin be surprising, but there is something to be learned from where those pins are being placed.
"A product we categorize as a problem solver may be pinned and re-pinned to gifting boards," she said, so her team is able to view the product in the light consumers do — something they categorized as a problem solver could now be focused on for a Mother's Day present.
"It is meaningful to us because it allows us to see how our community are viewing our products," she said. "How are they seeing them enter their lives? Are we aligned with how they are viewing our products, or are we off?"
One of the features Daily Grommet takes advantage of is a Community Board, where after a user follows the brand, they are invited to pin into the board. This feature enables brands to invite users to help curate content.
The creation of a community board has allowed Daily Grommet to "naturally extend everything we do on our site and it is really exciting. It has quickly become a part of how we discover products, how we discover entrepreneurs," she said.
The Community Board serves to further Daily Grommet’s story, Tait said, because its brand heavily encourages consumer interaction, so this unique aspect of Pinterest allows it to display that.
Contests can be a great way to continue the narrative of your brand, according to Gupta. The most important thing is thinking about it strategically.
"If I am a brand, one of the things that is really cool about Pinterest contests specifically is that unlike a lot of other social media channels, Pinterest contests actually drive sustained lists on revenue," he said.
Gupta said in Curalate's experience with Pinterest and multiple client contests, "one of the things we will see is that if you look at revenue before the contest, during the contest and after the contest, certainly revenue builds up during the contest. But what we were so fascinated to find is that there is sustained increases in revenue after the contest."
He attributes this to "the unique nature of Pinterest … when you pin something, that represents a link to the brand's website."
Because of that, pins can circulate widely on Pinterest long after a contest has completed, and bring consistent traffic to a brand's website.
Tait said for a Pinterest contest, the key is to keep it simple, and not ask your community to do a lot of heavy lifting to participate. She has seen brands conduct contests a few different ways:
Tait's advice for a Pinterest contest is, "You have to have a goal, and you have to be able to test that goal. … What do you want them to pin, and why?" she said.
Tait concluded using sites like Pinterest for contests, as well as generally, has been "really meaningful for [Daily Grommet], in a full circle way: Discovery, creating our catalogs and in helping to amplify these stories back on to Pinterest."
For more how-to articles and case studies, sign up for the free MarketingSherpa Inbound Marketing newsletter.
Pinterest for Businesses
Pew Internet & American Life Project Report
Content Marketing: Interactive infographic blog post generates 3.9 million views for small insurance company
Facebook Ads: How Zappos.com manages a $10 million strategy
How to Create an Awesome Infographic (via Mashable)
Content Marketing: Mindjet’s infographic strategy boosts blog traffic 420%, Facebook views 313.4%
Mobile Search [Infographic]: 72% of smartphone users look for information on the go
Increase Mobile Conversion Rates
These five free micro classes (each under 12 minutes) apply 25 years of research to help you maximize the impact of your messages in a mobile environment.Get the Course >
Test Discovery Tool
Show business leaders all the results of your testing efforts with this free tool.Get the Tool >
A Model of Your Customer's Mind
These 21 tools and concepts have helped capture more than $500 million in test wins.Download the File >
Research-based Lead Generation Swipe File
22 valid marketing experiments to give you ideas for your next A/B test.Download the File >
Free A/B Test Planning Scenario Tool
This simple tool helps you visualize factors that affect the ROI implications of test sequencing.Get the Tool >
Receive the latest case studies and data on email, lead gen, and social media along with MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.