In a recent article for Fast Company, Ekaterina Walter took note of something we’ve been talking about for quite a while now. Social media has become increasingly visual, with photos taking center-stage as the most shared and most talked about form of content. This trend is more than just a passing fad, and brands need to make photos an integral part of their marketing strategies. As Walter puts it, “pictures have become one of our default modes of sorting and understanding the vast amounts of information we’re exposed to every day.”
The prominence of images makes total sense in the evolution of social media. Dr. William J. Ward, Social Media professor at Syracuse University, points out that it all started with blogs, the earliest form of social networking online. “When we moved to status updates on Facebook, our posts became shorter,” he says. “Then micro-blogs like Twitter came along and shortened our updates to 140 characters. Now we are even skipping words altogether and moving towards more visual communication.”
Walter notes that this move towards visual social media has to do with our overwhelming preference for mobile devices. Some studies have placed the percentage of people in the U.S. who access the Internet using their mobile handsets as high as 78%, in comparison to only 68% using a desktop or laptop computer. With mobile phone camera resolutions getting better and better, it’s much easier to snap a photo and post it to a social profile than to “[type] out a status update on a two-inch keyboard.”
This strong affinity for visual media among consumers makes the path clear for brands in terms of marketing. Encouraging users to take and submit their own photos is both a fun way to get consumers engaged with the brand as well as a useful way for brands to collect valuable earned media that can be used for marketing purposes on social media and beyond. Photo contests foster creativity and self-expression and help consumers to develop a strong, lasting relationship with the brand.
The crucial takeaway from an article like Walter’s is that this is an important trend that isn’t going away anytime soon. Brands need to embrace their customers’ fascination with images and incorporate photos into marketing strategies. Walter concludes her article by asserting that “brands that can rock visual media will find themselves market leaders.” We couldn’t agree more.