Picture Perfect — The importance of images in social media marketing

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If Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of Instagram proves anything, it’s that photo sharing is big social media business. (It also proves that Facebook has a whole lot of cash. But that’s another topic altogether.) The importance of images in social media marketing has been pretty widely touted lately, even before Facebook’s big acquisition announcement. And for good reason.

Exhibit A: One estimate from the Harvard Business School study says that about 70% of all Facebook activities revolve around photos, whether people are uploading, viewing, liking, or commenting on them. For a social network with 800 million users, 70% of the activity is nothing to sneeze at.

Exhibit B: Pinterest, a wholly image-based social network, was the fastest independent site in history to snag 10 million unique page visitors. This picture-pinning program is already the third most popular social network in the U.S., and it’s only two years old.

But pictures aren’t just important for individual social media users. They’re also vital for successful social media marketing.

Pictures are great for your company for several reasons. First of all, they’re easy to share. Literally. When you update your status on your company’s Facebook page, your fans can either like that status or comment on it. But when you upload a photo, that magical “share” link appears, making it incredibly easy for your fans to repost your images to their own circles. They can’t share your status updates, but they sure can share your photos.

Secondly, images are quick to digest and easy to remember. Cliché as it may be, a picture really is worth a thousand words, and there’s no faster way to get all one thousand of those words across than to put them in an image. A picture can tell a much deeper and more emotional story than your status updates ever will, especially when you’re posting via Twitter, where you’re restricted by that pesky 140-character limit. Linguistics professor Mark Lieberman says that the average length of a word on Twitter is 4.8 characters…so if a picture truly is worth a thousand words, than tweeting that picture one time communicates your thoughts better than 34 separate tweets.

Thirdly, people just seem to like interacting with photos. Your social media fans and followers are more likely to retweet, like, share, or comment on your post if it’s image-based. And when it comes to digital marketing, this interaction is key. Each time a fan engages with one of your posts, she puts your company on display to her own social circles. Social media interaction can be a huge catalyst for brand growth, and since photos are the best drivers of that interaction, strong images can really accelerate brand success.

Finally, photos can really humanize your company in a concrete and relatable way. Photos give your customers the chance to peek behind the content curtain and see what really makes your company tick. Copywriters can spend hours, days, even weeks on a marketing message, carefully massaging the words in order to illicit the best possible response, and of course there’s tremendous value in that. But an Instagram photo tells the story of now. It says, “This is who we are, and this is what we do.” And there’s value in that, too. Real, monetary value.

Social media photo sharing was worth one billion dollars to Facebook. How much will it be worth to your brand?

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