To Thrive On The Social Web You Must Understand Noise, Real Estate, and Window Shopping

AK Stout, Contributor

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Marketing Directors Support Group meeting along with the fabulous Leigh George at R2integrated in Baltimore. The topic of our talk, 'The Visual Web," comes at a very important time in the world of social media marketing. With the exponential growth of Pinterest during the past year and the purchase of Instagram by Facebook, there is no doubt that an emphasis on imagery is taking over the social web. But why? And what can we as businesses and marketers do to keep up? My answer falls under three categories: Noise, Real Estate, and Window Shopping. Allow me to explain... Noise: We Must Rise Above Now days we have information coming at us from all angles, from multiple mediums, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. We drive to work and see sign after sign, billboard after billboard while listening to the radio. We get to work and get on the computer - check our email, peruse our RSS feeds, see what's happening on Facebook and Twitter - all while continuing to listen to the radio. After work we get home and pop on the TV, flip through some magazines and get back online. Rinse and repeat. As businesses and marketers our challenge is to find out how to rise above all of this noise and have our messages be heard. A good place to start is with vivid, attention grabbing imagery. Social media data expert Dan Zarrella — who tracked and analyzed more than 1.3 million posts from the 10,000 most-Liked Facebook pages — has released details about which posts get the most likes, shares and comments on Facebook. Photos bring in the highest number of engagement across the board, followed by text and video. In a Twitter update that is still rolling out, the "Discover" tab has been redesigned to place an added emphasis on imagery. Rising above the noise on Twitter has always been tricky with a constant waterfall of 140 characters cascading by. However, adding an image to your tweet does give it an extra chance to pop. On third-party applications such as TweetDeck, your image auto-expands, making your tweet stand out among the sea of letters.

Twitter Feed

*Note: If you auto-post from your Facebook Page to Twitter your images do not expand. Consider discontinuing the auto-post and manually adding photos to your tweets to benefit from this expanded photo feature. Real Estate: Size Really Does Matter Not only does an image help a post pop, it also takes up more real estate on a page. In the previous example, you can see in the screen shot from TweetDeck that not only does the image help the tweet stand out, it also causes that tweet to be physically larger than the other tweets. In June, Facebook increased the size of images in news feeds. When this occurred, Page admins adjusted their link posting methodology to capitalize on this real estate opportunity. Instead of posting a URL and relying on Facebook's link display which includes a thumbnail image and link description, you began to see (and are still seeing) an uploaded image representing the link content - with the link living only in the description.

Facebook Link Display

On a platform like Pinterest where it is entirely based on imagery - real estate plays a crucial role. To stand out on Pinterest, it is recommended that you use long images such as infographics and tutorials which take up much more real estate than "regular" sized pins - giving you a greater chance of capturing eyes and clicks. Window Shopping: The Scanning Mentality We are busy people doing the most we can in the limited time that we have each day. We walk through the mall and decide whether or not we want to go into a store based on the window display. We flip through the pages of magazines, scanning the images in order to decide which articles we want to read.  And now we scroll through our news feeds letting the images, rather than the words, help us decide whether or not we want to further lend our attention to a particular piece of content. I believe that part of the attraction to Pinterest is that it allows you to scan quickly for information that appeals to you. It is much faster and easier to look at a page of images and decide what to click on than it is to look at a battlefield of text in an RSS feed reader. In my Facebook news feed, I admittedly glaze over the text and let the images do the talking. For years I've been preaching that I won't read a blog post that doesn't include images for easy scanning. Perhaps it's a personal issue, but when faced with a page of only text, I become instantly overwhelmed and disinterested. As marketers, it is important to understand these visual shifts and consumer behaviors in order to continue competing on the social web. To give your images an additional fighting chance - try adding bold text overlay to help people understand what your image represents. Adding words back into the mix may sound contradictory and counter-intuitive to everything you've read here thus far, but a few words on top of an image can really go a long way. You are still letting the image do the attention grabbing; the brief text simply gives a little bit more information and even an opportunity for call to action. Take a look at the two images side by side below - both will stand out in a feed, however, the one with text overlay adds to the decision-making process of whether or not someone will stop and devote their attention to that content.

Strong Call to Action Imagery

You can add text on top of images in PowerPoint, screen-grab programs such as Snagit, and web tools such as PicMonkey. Final Thoughts If your business lends itself well to capturing company culture, events, products, and services in pictures - consider setting up an Instagram account. Even before Facebook purchased Instagram, it integrated very nicely with Facebook Business Pages - helping you quickly and effectively share images with your fans. Don't overlook Pinterest. Despite its rapidly increasing popularity, I understand it still carries the stigma of being female focused and not "worthy" of a business' attention if it doesn't revolve around cooking, decorating, or wedding planning. The reality, however, is that there really are many opportunities and benefits for businesses outside of these industries. I invite you to view my Pinterest for Business slides which may help you make a more informed decision when it comes to whether or not to incorporate Pinterest into your marketing plan. Are you using images in creative and innovative ways in your online marketing? I'd love to hear about them. Please feel free to share in the comments below!
Tim Cooke

About the author: AK Stout

The R2i blog is a place for digital marketing and technology thought leaders to share their insights and perspective. We welcome contributions from experts in these areas and appreciate sharing fresh ideas, case studies, best practices, and innovations in online marketing. Interested in joining our esteemed group of guest bloggers? Send your ideas to marketing@r2integrated.com

Sign Up for Insights