Entrepreneurs bootstrapping their marketing often turn to social media for quick and inexpensive pathways to growth. And social media can be a powerful tool if used correctly—but it can also be a dangerous waste of time when best practices for each social network are ignored.
A critical component of successful social strategies across every social network is visual content. Add a visual to anything you share on social media, on any network, and it can help to drive more engagement and click-thrus, and ultimately help build a larger following and brand and establish your reputation.
Visual content means any kind of imagery. This might be a photo you took yourself, or something you found online. It could also be an original graphic, whether that's a complicated infographic illustrating a piece of data or an idea, or a simple quote or a few words on an interesting background. Even a meme or screenshot is a great way to add a visual to your text.
Why? Let's look at the numbers. According to Twitter, a tweet with a photo gets 35 percent more retweets than a plain, non-visual tweet. BuzzSumo, a content and social media analytics tool, found that a photo on Facebook receives 2.3 times more engagement than a non-visual Facebook post.
So how can you use visuals to help achieve your goals?
1. Find and research your audience.
Before you begin creating any visuals, take a step back and consider what you are trying to achieve. Are you building a business and an audience from scratch? Are you looking to drive new customers to your website? Perhaps you're more interested in driving foot traffic to a physical office, store or event?
Knowing what you want to achieve will help you determine who you need to reach. Who do you hope will see your content? Who do you want to click on your content? Who do you want to share your content and how?
Research this target audience. What social networks do they spend the most time on? What do they follow and what do they share on those networks? What style do they use? Are they using any hashtags or keywords in particular? Is a certain visual style more popular among this target audience?
Pay attention to the style as best you can so you can begin to imitate it.
2. Create and curate visual content.
A good visual marketing strategy involves a mix of creation and curation. Relevancy is key. How can you add to your written content and illustrate a point with a visual? Perhaps a screenshot is a great way to show what you're talking about.
Can you take a relevant photo on your mobile device to share something about your business? Use some of the free and inexpensive smartphone apps to edit and improve the quality of your images.
You might also find some stock photos are perfect to grab your audience's attention and communicate the emotions and feelings you hope to come across in your post. (Make sure though to only use photos that you have legal rights to use and credit the source properly as instructed.)
Creating a simple graphic can be a powerful way to get a point across visually. Share a quote or a phrase from your written content in a graphic. Use a design tool like Canva or Picmonkey to create graphics and photo collages that look professional but don't require a design degree to make.
3. Follow the social platform's preferences.
Your visuals can achieve better results if you pay attention to the sizing best practices for each social platform. For example, share tall and narrow images on Pinterest and horizontal images on Facebook.
Here are some image sizing preferences to follow:
Facebook: Keep your photos in the 1200 x 630 pixel range.
Pinterest: Resize your photos to fit the vertical pin standard. The recommended size is 600 x 1200 pixels.
Make sure your photos are tall and thin when sharing on Pinterest. This is a pin that my company, Viraltag, made to share a blog post.
Twitter: Horizontal images perform best on Twitter. Keep your images around 440 x 220 pixels.
LinkedIn: Horizontal images typically work best. In terms of size, keep your images around 646 x 220 pixels.
Tumblr: Keep your images to about 500 x 750 pixels.
Instagram: Although Instagram recently moved beyond the square format and started allowing vertical and horizontal images, for best results, keep your Instagram images to 1080 x 1080 pixels. You might like to experiment with different ratios, but consistency is still favored.
Then complement your images with the preferred caption style and tagging for that social network. For example, on Instagram, tell a story to pull the user in and point them to a link in your bio to read more. On Pinterest, adding more information in the caption can help you receive more repins. Use Facebook to start a conversation. Questions to your audience and opinionated text updates paired with an image perform well there. On Twitter, stay short (100 characters or less) to give your audience enough space to retweet and make it their own.
4. Share consistently.
Finally, getting the visuals out there at the best times and consistently will help you build up an audience. The timing will be different for each network, but afternoons and evenings are often popular times for most networks.
To help make sure your content is going out at the right time, when it's most likely to get the most engagement, use a scheduling tool to plan your content to be posted at the best times. Hootsuite and Buffer are great options for scheduling to Twitter. My company, Viraltag, allows you to schedule your visuals in advance to Pinterest and Instagram, along with the other social networks.
This image of Viraltag's dashboard shows how you can use a scheduling tool to plan your content in advance.
Finally, continue to watch your analytics. Are you getting more click-thrus from a certain type of visual or more engagement when you add certain tags? Iterate your schedule and you may see better results over time.