Visuals are much more engaging than text. That’s not a surprise. Thousands of studies have shown it, and it’s common sense. We can communicate much more information in one image than we can in a word. And since we have a very short attention span, we are more likely to engage with visual content. An image gives us a complete message within seconds of looking at it. So we can quickly understand the meaning and form an opinion on it. On the flip side, if getting a message requires reading, we’re more likely to move on before we even know what the content is about.
But it costs much more to produce an image than to produce a word. Whether it’s a piece of art, a video, a photo, or an illustration, it can take minutes, days, or even months of work. So how can we increase engagement on social media using images without depleting our resources? That’s what we’re talking about today.
Make it beautiful, exciting, or meaningful
Let’s get the first common mistake out of the way: Don’t use stock photos. Many companies trying to use visuals while minimizing cost use stocks. The trouble here is, when everyone has access to an image, it’s likely that it’s presented by more than one brand. It could even end up on a competitor’s feed. Stock visuals can make sense in specific use cases where the actual image is not the center of attention. But on social media, visuals are often at the core of your message. So stay away from stocks.
Instead, create compelling visuals aligned with your brand identity. (If you haven’t defined your brand identity yet, you should figure that out first.) But what makes an image compelling, you may ask? A compelling image must have at least one of these 3 characteristics: Beautiful, exciting or meaningful. If you have all 3, that’s even better. The idea here is to get your viewer’s attention and give them a reason to consume your content over other content that’s available to them.
An image that is beautiful will stand out because of its quality. It can be beautiful because of the patterns it displays, its harmonious combination of color or the beauty of its subject. Either way, beauty will often rhyme with rarity. Whether because the subject is rarely photographed, or because the production level is hard to reproduce. GoPro does a fantastic job of showing beautiful pictures from its users on Instagram, which produce very high daily engagement:
Credit: Instagram @gopro
Another way to stand out is to create an exciting visual. What your viewers find exciting will depend on who they are, so make sure to know your viewers first. An exciting visual can be funny or give your viewers an adrenaline boost when they see it. Often, exciting visuals will make your viewers wish they could be there, too. Chubbies has really nailed the excitement part of the Instagram strategy:
Credit: Instagram @Chubbies
Finally, if producing exciting or beautiful content seems out of reach, you can focus on something meaningful. Again, what is meaningful to your viewers will depend on who they are. Viewers will connect with your meaningful images at a level that goes beyond the visual itself. Shopify does a good job of engaging its viewers in cause that go beyond the use of its platform:
The process seems straightforward. But, to have success on social media you’re going to have to devote some time to create a cohesive strategy. Photos, videos, memes, GIFs, and graphics are all visuals that can capture attention. Creating a variety will build an irreplaceable following. This is because your feed can only be found in one place.
Build repeatable processes and templates
Unique images will help engage your audience at a certain point in time, but are not enough. When it comes to building an impactful social media presence, you need to be consistent. Businesses don’t always understand why their social media investment isn’t reaping benefits. What you need to realize is that without consistency it’s hard to get your account noticed.
But creating beautiful, exciting and meaningful visuals in a consistent way is a full-time job. So how can you make it so that it’s not as time-consuming? That’s where templates and repeatable processes come in.
Start with a mood board – a framework for what your brand visuals should represent and communicate. In this article we explain how to build the visual elements that best represent your brand. The moodboard will help you ensure that all your content follows a similar direction.
Then, create templates. Your template should keep themes from your moodboard in mind. This could look like a lot of things. For quotes, you could create a simple background or color palette and switch out text. For photos, use the moodboard to give your team and users guidelines on what pictures they should take and how. Then let them do the work and feature the best ones on your account.
For many of the brands we talk to, creating a template isn’t always easy. The good news is, there are resources available such as Canva or Unsplash to generate content at a low cost. You might not be able to make custom content, but Canva builds graphics using free templates. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, try using a mock-up or flat lay on Unsplash. These images can be a background for your text-based graphics. It can still be difficult to manage the workload of building templates, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. We have a team of experts ready to take your social media presence to the next level.
Keep in mind, you might need to change templates over time. Digital platforms often rest on the pulse of a social or cultural moment. This means the norms and behaviors on social channels change and evolve as people do. Don’t be afraid to make updates to your template over time to best capture the relevant moment.
Another way to make your content creation more efficient is to create repeatable processes. For example, you may want to create a studio space for recording videos in your office from which you can quickly sit down and record. You can also hire a photographer for a full day to create hundreds of pictures of your product that you can then use over the course of 3 to 6 months. You can organize a monthly session with your team to go through user-generated content and select the best visuals to be shared for the month. Think about how to make your content easy to repeat, and then fill in with what your business does best.
Create bit-sizes from long-form content
As we’ve mentioned, your content should be compelling but easy to consume. Easy to consume doesn’t always mean short. After all, people are able to stay binge-watching a show on Netflix for hours on end. The problem isn’t the attention span that people have, but their decision span. Meaning you often only have a few seconds or minutes to get them interested and wanting to see more. This is especially true on social media, where you are competing with thousands of other pieces of content.
So when creating visuals on social media, make sure to keep it short. One way to do this is to cut bit-sized visuals from your existing long-form content. This isn’t just great for your social engagement, it will also reduce your costs by letting you recycle content effectively. For example, take a long form blog post, and extract quotes from it that you can turn into visual quotes on your social accounts. You can also cut short clips from longer videos, or make a photo-collage.
We have tools at our disposal to help generate this type of short-form content without taking too much time out of your day. For example, Lately uses AI to find the most interesting parts of your content and turn them into social media bit-sizes you can share right away. It can do this with long form written content of course, but also video and audio.
Of course, this can all sound like a lot of work. It’s hard to navigate when you’re not familiar with changing trends, algorithms, and social media standards. When in doubt, hire an expert. They’ll know when to update your template, how to A/B test strategies and ensure that your social media visuals are getting you the best results.