Picture This

You’re scrolling through your Facebook feed, past pictures of babies and videos of puppies, and political screeds, and you come across a graphic from your favorite coffee shop. There’s a gorgeous photo of their new matcha latte, with an artfully-arranged croissant on the table. It’s pretty, you could use a pick-me-up, and the shop’s hours are helpfully right there in the caption.

Basically:

That photo is doing exactly what it’s meant to: catch your eye and break through the clutter of your feed to make you think about lattes. And the stats prove that it works:

But the art of social media visuals goes beyond simply attaching a random stock image to your latest post and calling it a day. You want to spend some time finding an image or creating a visual that really represents you.

Consider Nike. Their images are carefully selected to represent not only what their typical customer might be doing in their clothes or shoes, but also the kind of lifestyle their customer might want to have. Are you planning your next workout over a healthy snack? Check. Are you staring down your next big fitness goals? Check and check. Are you so extreme that you need gear for rainstorms, oceans, and deserts? Checkcheckcheck with a celebrity cameo

Nike’s image choice, quotes, and hashtags help the audience make the connection between the gear and who they are as a result of buying the gear. The shoes are tied, the Apple watch is strapped on, and even the tell-tale swoosh is subtly scattered throughout. But the images and captions aren’t screaming “BUY THIS NOW PLEASE.” They’re illustrating how a customer might feel as a result of tying on those shoes or zipping on that jacket, and that’s a powerful motivator.

Why go through the trouble of investing so much time and thought into your visual content? If done correctly, even your stock photo choice can work its magic on your audience by:

  • Increasing brand awareness and trust. People love a great photo or video. You know what people like to do with things they love? Share them. Even if someone just sees the image in passing, they’re also seeing your name and logo and associating that visual with who your company is and what you do. So if you choose a photo that doesn’t reflect well on your brand, or that’s too obviously a cheap stock photo, it can have a bigger negative effect than you intended.
  • Communicating your story without words. Use your choice of visual to reinforce your company’s values or mission. Maybe you want your audience to remember you as an organization that truly stands up for the rights of consumers, or as a graphic design firm that wants to change the world for good. Whatever it is, convey how you want someone to feel after interacting with you. Should I feel fired up and ready to take a stand, or inspired to go out and volunteer? Show me; don’t just tell me.
  • Being memorable. Have you heard about Taco Bell’s fried chicken taco, or KFC’s fried chicken pizza? These Frankenfoods haven’t been brought to life for “culinary innovation’s” sake; it’s for the “you won’t believe this until you see it” effect, which has the added bonus of sticking in your brain and making you think about fast food a little more. If you want to stand out from the competition (and there’s a lot of competition out there), consider what might surprise, entertain, inform, or inspire your target audience. If you do it right, your followers will know that you are the one that truly understands them, and that’s even more powerful than a deep-fried cheesy gut bomb.

Want to get inspired? Scroll through your feeds and use Pinterest or Evernote to save the images that make you stop and pay attention, so you go back later and think about why they work. Bonus points if you research within your industry and see what your peers are doing well.

Next week, we’ll give you the 411 on our favorite (free!) tool that you can use to create your own stand-out social media visuals.