Images have long been some of our most powerful marketing tools—from “Uncle Sam Wants You!” to Barack Obama’s 2008 “Hope” posters. Now that social media is coming to rule the Internet, images have become more popular and more ubiquitous than ever—and with good reason.
Since images are among the most efficient forms of marketing currently available, it is critical for businesses and individuals to learn how to harness their potential. So what is it that makes an image successful on social media? And how does one take a concept—from a newsflash to a full-length story—and compress it into one little graphic? Below, you’ll find some tricks to help you come up with the perfect attention-grabbing image for social media.
What Are Images Good For?
One of the best things about images is that they can basically do anything you want them to. Any story you want to tell, data you want to share, or breaking news headline can all be conveyed via images.
Images are particularly effective in the following arenas:
Yes, it’s true—images can make or break your marketing campaign. Whether you’re running a major campaign for an international company or you’re trying to get the word out to your friends about a good book, images are crucial. A few eye-catching images and some quick accompanying blurbs about the product, service, or company, and you’re good to go. (On the other hand, a few not-so-eye-catching image and some less-than-stellar blurbs, and you might be in trouble.)
Remember the photo of the firefighters raising the American flag in the midst of 9/11 rubble? And how about when that picture was juxtaposed with the old black and white photo from Iwo Jima in 1945? In the months that followed September 11, 2001, these two photographs were everywhere, tugging at the heartstrings of every American from every newspaper and magazine that we picked up. And we all felt a little more patriotic every time we saw them. If you’re trying to tug at heartstrings for whatever reason—starting a rally cry? encouraging general unity?—images are the way to go.
When it comes to spreading information, the infographic is rapidly becoming a crowd favorite. Infographics are simple, to the point, and require minimal effort on the part of the reader, yet can convey as much information as you need them to. Most importantly, they’re fun. Sure, bar graphs and pie charts were all the rage back when that was the best we could do, but now there is a seemingly endless supply of graphics at our fingertips, so we might as well make the most of them.
What Do the Most Effective Social Media Images Have in Common?
It’s hard to determine which images will go viral, which will make the rounds a few times before fading out, and which will fail to make it off the ground at all. However, there are a few common threads that most successful image share. If you’re trying to maximize your images’ effectiveness on social media, here are a few simple rules to keep in mind:
One way or another, your images must be pleasant to look at. It doesn’t matter if they’re photographs, hand sketches, or computer-generated graphics—as long as they’re aesthetically pleasing, no one will be able to look away. Avoid overly loud or distracting graphics and if you can, include features that people are universally drawn to: people’s eyes, breathtaking nature scenes, or action shots.
Often, the most powerful images are also the simplest. If you’re making a graphic with the intention of encouraging people to share it, makes sure it’s simple enough for everyone to understand. Make sure that the image is focused and straightforward. Avoid distracting clutter and try to establish a clear path for the eye to follow.
This one depends on the type of image you’re sharing. If the purpose of the image is to inform or educate, including your message as quickly and clearly as possible will be crucial. If you include text in the graphic, make sure that that the font is easy for people to read and that it doesn’t draw attention away from the image.
Again, this one depends on the type of image you’re sharing and the message you’re conveying. As long as the subject is light enough to merit some laughs, take advantage of the opportunity. If you make someone laugh, they’ll love you (and your brand/company/product) forever.
If you hit all the other bullets on this list, your image is probably as sharable as it can be. A sharable image is one that perfectly encompasses all of the above elements: it’s visually pleasing, widely appealing, simple, informative, and catchy.
When it comes to getting noticed on social media, images are your greatest ally. While images were once mere complements to more copy-heavy campaigns, the tables are turning significantly. Now, images are becoming the most effective way to convey messages, especially online.
It’s important to keep in mind that this wide-scale turn away from copy-heavy content does not mean that the public’s thirst for information is dwindling, merely that it is changing shape. People still want knowledge—they just want to absorb it differently. This means that if you’re trying to get your message out there, your approach may need to change as well. It’s time to start thinking—and marketing—visually.