Visual content in all its forms has become the driving trend online, as improvements in technology and bandwidth push the boundaries of what can be done with visual media.
Nowhere is this more true than in social media, where having a good visual strategy can be key to taking advantage of marketing and promotional opportunities.
In recent years, the popularity of visual social networks like Instagram and Snapchat has made them an increasingly important source of visibility and ad revenue, while new players entering the social media space also frequently revolve around visual content like videos, graphics and animations.
In the last part of this article, we looked at two out of four major visual social networks, their unique features and how you can gear your social strategy towards them: the dominant titan Instagram, and the dark horse Pinterest.
To round things off, we’re going to look at why you shouldn’t ignore the creative teen hub that is Tumblr, how you can turn Snapchat’s disappearing media to your advantage, and some general tips that you can use when planning out your visual strategy on any social network.
Tumblr often tends to be overlooked in round-ups of visual social media, but there’s no reason why it should be.
The visually-focused blogging platform boasts a highly engaged user base, which research by Adweek has revealed is also the wealthiest amongst any of its rivals.
Tumblr’s users tend to skew young, tech-savvy and cynical, and are quick to share ways of blocking the adverts and sponsored posts appearing on their dashboards, so a well-thought-out content marketing strategy is likely to go further than advertising.
Some marketers may be put off by the popular image of Tumblr as an obscure, cliquey and jargon-filled hive for Millennials. While the last part of that stereotype might be true (69% of Tumblr’s users are Generation Y-ers), Tumblr is also a creative, interactive and social environment.
Interesting, shareable and funny content goes a long way, which is why brands from McDonald’s to the White House are using Tumblr to enhance their image with young internet users.
Being on Tumblr says something about where you want to take your brand that will pique people’s attention, and being effective on Tumblr will keep it there.
So here are some pointers to get you started:
Keep it short, catchy and visual
Tumblr posts can be longer and can be based around text as well as gifs, images and videos – which we’ll get to in a moment – but for the most part you want posts that will grab users’ attention as they’re scrolling through their dashboard or browsing the main page, and make them want to share.
Speaking of sharing, reblogs are a key component of Tumblr, similar to repins on Pinterest.
As Tumblr founder David Carp said in 2014, “90% of content on Tumblr is actually reblogged.”
The vast majority of Tumblr blogs are elaborate pieces of curation, so if you can create good shareable content, a boost in visibility and engagement will follow quickly behind.
This goes both ways, of course, so interact, engage with the community and find relevant pieces of content to share and repost.
Make your tags count
Although the first 20 tags of any Tumblr post are searchable, the first five are the most important, and will determine which posts show up if a Tumblr user is tracking that tag for updates.
Also, Tumblr users often write little messages in their tags once the important ones are out of the way, so tag on a funny little epithet for some extra cred.
Mix it up
Tumblr has the flexibility of being a platform for text articles as well as images, so you can mix it up with some long-form written pieces and reports.
IBM’s The Social Business blog is a great example of Tumblr’s text capabilities used effectively. Tumblr can support all kinds of embeds as well, so splash out with data visualisations, infographics, videos and of course, gifs.
Snapchat is a bit of an outlier among the four platforms listed here. It’s also one of the newest major entrants to the visual social media scene, but that hasn’t stopped it from making a huge impact as its popularity grows and more and more brands rush to take advantage of its young, mobile-obsessed userbase.
Several key things set Snapchat apart from the other platforms we’ve looked at in this article. For one thing, it isn’t possible to connect with another user on Snapchat unless you already know their handle or have them in your contacts.
This creates an intimacy within the app as people share content with genuine friends rather than ‘followers’ or acquaintances, as Mike O’Brien points out in his article on Snapchat and ‘bestie brands’.
Its ‘vanishing’ media might be frustrating to some brands who would rather build up a more permanent presence that customers can come back to; but it also guarantees the attention and constant engagement of users who repeatedly check the app for updates.
And while Instagram is chiefly a mobile app and Tumblr and Pinterest are increasingly mobile-centric, Snapchat is the only one of these platforms which is mobile-only, without even the possibility of a user accessing the site via desktop.
So if you want to take advantage of Snapchat’s audience of young, snap-happy mobile users, where should you begin?
Whether you’re shooting video for a Snapchat ad or just snapping Story updates, Snapchat users vastly prefer content that they don’t have to turn their phone to view.
Vertical video drives a much higher engagement rate on Snapchat as it fits more naturally with the way that mobile users hold their devices; and all signs point to vertical becoming the dominant trend on mobile in general.
Real-time updates and ‘live’ content
Snapchat’s ephemeral style lends itself to real-time updates and ‘live’ content, such as General Electric’s collaboration with Buzz Aldrin on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.
The astronaut took over GE’s Snapchat account to deliver an exclusive message to a transfixed audience of followers.
While many would shy away from live updates on platforms like Twitter and Facebook where the resulting posts can horribly clutter up your feed, live updates on Snapchat bring all the benefits of increased attention and engagement with none of the drawbacks.
For the same reasons, Snapchat is also an ideal platform for ‘sneak peeks’ and exclusives, as the content is there and gone, and is logistically much more difficult for users to share elsewhere, requiring people to tune in directly to your Snapchat channel if they want to catch the exclusive material.
Fashion brands in particular have embraced this aspect of Snapchat, with Burberry running an exclusive 24-hour campaign on Snapchat, shot by photographer Mario Testino, to preview their spring/summer collection.
Designer brand Michael Kors also used Snapchat to showcase live, behind-the-scenes content at New York Fashion week in February 2015.
Snapchat exclusive content is also the perfect opportunity for cross-platform promotion, using your other social media channels to build the anticipation while directing your followers over to Snapchat to catch the big moment.
Having a buzz on other platforms around your Snapchat-only content also creates a sense of mystery that will compel people to check it out.
This worked well for Audi in 2014, when it partnered with The Onion to create a series of hilarious captioned images to be broadcast on Snapchat during the Superbowl, which kept viewers chuckling the whole way through.
Audi’s snapchat campaign is honestly my favorite part of #SB48 so far
— Denton Baird (@DentonBaird) February 3, 2014
— Lauren Kortbein (@laurenkortbein) February 3, 2014
— Kye Strance (@KyeStrance) February 3, 2014
Approaching visual social media
Having a list of dedicated tips for specific platforms is useful of course, but what about those times when you want to plan your approach to a new platform that’s visually based, or want to improve your strategy for incorporating visual media on channels like Facebook and Twitter?
Here are some go-to tips for approaching visual social media that you can apply across the board.
Always keep mobile in mind
More and more internet users are accessing content primarily through a mobile device, so make sure that your content looks as good on mobile as you would want it to on desktop.
This can be anything from shooting for a vertical screen to just making sure that the information around your visuals appears how you want it to.
For example, pin descriptions on Pinterest for mobile are shorter than on desktop, which could result in some important information being cut off.
Don’t be afraid to throw in a GIF!
This is the internet, after all, and a well-placed GIF is almost always a good idea. Platforms are increasingly catering towards this – for example, Twitter recently added a dedicated GIF button to let tweeters search for the perfect animation to express their feelings.
On Tumblr, meanwhile, GIFs have been the currency of the realm since time began.
Adding in a GIF can quickly add some personality or a bit of humour to a social media update, as well as making it more eye-catching.
You can also make your own to show off a product or feature, as Samsung did for the Galaxy S6:
— Samsung Mobile (@SamsungMobile) March 10, 2015
Think about the visuals that match your brand
Even if you don’t have a product or business that lends itself easily to visuals, there is a huge array of options for creating visual content based around your brand.
Think about your brand ethos and what best represents it visually.
Take Red Bull for example: it would be pretty boring if all of their visual media showed pictures of drinks cans. But Red Bull has expertly built a brand image around daredevilry and adrenaline-pumping activities, so its social media channels are full of dramatic photographs and videos of death-defying stunts.
To use another example from the drinks industry, Indian mango drink Frooti uses its Instagram account to post brightly-coloured graphics and stop-motion animations featuring mangoes and mango drinks.
The overall effect is fun, original and memorable (and makes you really want a mango).
Look out for free tools
If you don’t have the resources to allocate to paying a graphics designer or animation team to create dedicated visuals, or if you just want to create a couple of one-off images, there are some great free tools out there for creating professional-looking images and graphics.
Pinstamatic is a flexible tool that allows you to create a variety of slick-looking graphics, from ‘sticky notes’ to quotations, photo captions and calendar dates if you want to highlight an important event or day coming up.
They’re designed to be Pinned on Pinterest, but you can easily save them for use elsewhere.
Don’t take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to visual media
All platforms have their individual quirks, and you can achieve the best effect by playing to those, like Instagram’s square format or Snapchat’s immediacy.
As Liz Nixon said in our piece on thinking vertically in the age of mobile video, “Visual elements that artfully play into the functionality of the platform will always perform best.” It might be more time-consuming, but it will pay off thoroughly in the long run.
Think about how to draw your reader into the content
Content should be not just visual but interactive. Challenge them to find something in an image, or put together clues to win a prize.
Fashion retailer Ted Baker used Instagram’s filters to truly ingenious effect with a competition which encouraged people to ‘regram’ a specially designed picture using different filters.
The image would reveal different clues depending on which filter was applied, leading to a solution to the riddle.
The campaign deftly played into Instagram’s unique features and encouraged people to interact with the brand, all while promoting its product.