GO DEEP: Can You See Your Genuine Story?

Photographer against a sunset

Photographer against a sunset

You already know about the requirement of posting Top Flight, Relevant, and Shareable content. You may even be working to make sure that you attach a photo or graphic to your posts, since people are attracted to pictures and tend to gloss over text-only posts.

Photos are even more important than you think!

In a recent article, Mark Schaefer listed out 15 Amazing ways social media is changing the world and the one that jumps out at me is that we now “talk” through photos. A photo or stream of photos is becoming an important mode of communication at the expense of text and voice. This assists those who are not sure of their communication skills, and takes advantage of the complex processing our brain goes through to interpret pictures.

What this does, though, is make it more difficult as a marketer to identify (and perhaps predict…) how popular a photo will be. That seems very “crystal ball” to me! Other than post another picture of my cats (a default for a LOT of people….), what can I do?  It turns out that there has been a lot of research and analysis around this topic. The references are listed at the end of this article if you care to dig through them yourself.
One recent study looked at the image content and social context to discover how photos become popular. The data are deep and wide, but the top take-aways I got are:

  • COLORS: Yellows and reds attract the eye and are more popular than blues and greens. This tells me, for example, that if I post a photo of trees, they should be bright autumn colors and not green Spring colors against a blue sky. From this single piece of information (which is NOT taking into account everything else…) I can start vetting the number of colors and their hue more effectively and make better choices.
  • ACTION: Open, serene, less busy spaces are less popular. This tells me that the idea of a picture of trees (unless trees are an integral part of the story I’m telling) may not be a good idea.
  • HUMAN PRESENCE: Any part of a person (head, hand, feet, etc.) is more popular than no person at all. OK, so maybe if there’s a person in my trees photo….?
  • PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPONENTS: Texture and gradient are more important than color and enhance popularity. Simply put, flat or sharp contrast is less likely to be popular (our eyes are attracted to gradients…), and an interesting or unique texture is more intriguing and attracts more attention than no texture.
  • QUALITY AND QUANTITY: If you post a lot of popular photos (attracting others to share them…), you are more likely to have even more of your photos be shared. Nothing breeds success like success! Here is where consistency, attention to quality, and good analysis help you. Your fans return regularly to your page to see “What’s New!”. Quality is the byword…..with the avalanche of visual content on the web today, posting a blurry picture that has no context, isn’t staged and has no relevance will not go anywhere. The analytics that your platform provides can help you see which photos do well and allow you to dig deeper into WHY. Replicate success.
  • CONTEXT: Tags, title length and description length are good predictors of popularity. Along with being relevant to the story you are telling, intelligent and strategic context (that LEADS your viewer to your story…) is crucial. Tags make your contribution more discoverable, good titles do, too (as well as help draw your viewer into the story…). Descriptions can act as the headline and hook for your story. Lengths are important, especially as the numbers of devices that viewers use to access your work differ in view-ability (screen size and rendering). If only a portion of the title or description is visible, it may not be enough (even with a GREAT photo) to get them to view and share it.
  • RELEVANCE: If your image doesn’t have clear relevance, it is a waste of space. You need images with story appeal (they need to communicate your value proposition as good or better than text would…) and which demonstrate something. Some kinds of images that turn people off:
    • Stock photographs that are obviously stock photographs—their generic dullness and lack of imagination rubs off on you. Just because a stock photo is attractive doesn’t mean it will be effective.
    • Poor quality images of any kind—better to not show anything than to show something pixelated, over-compressed, badly resized, of a low resolution, or otherwise shoddy-looking.
    • Crowd shots – Try to use photos that have a single main subject—people find crowd shots boring because there’s no one to focus on.
    • Bigger than life-size images of faces – Readers avoid them because they seem slightly grotesque.
    • Historical subjects—unless you’re catering to an audience of history enthusiasts, it’s a safe bet your readers will find historical shots boring.
  • TOO MANY PHOTOS ON PAGE: Tons of photos equal slower load times for your page. This is an important metric for Google, so be careful about the number of photos on your page and their size. Viewers are notoriously impatient in this regard.
  • MEMORABILITY: One study found that after three days, a user retained only 10-20 percent of written or spoken information but almost 65 percent of visual information. Another study showed that an illustrated text was 9 percent more effective than text alone when testing immediate comprehension and 83 percent more effective when the test was delayed. Want your story to be remembered and shared? Make it memorable! If you’re trying to educate your audience (and who isn’t?), visuals are found to improve comprehension by up to 400%! Wow…..
  • MESSAGE SPEED: Human beings process visual information more efficiently than text. Here are some of the statistics on this:
    • The brain can see images that last for just 13 milliseconds.
    • Our eyes can register 36,000 visual messages per hour.
    • We can get the sense of a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second.
    • 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual.
    • Visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.
    • 40 percent of nerve fibers are linked to the retina
This tells me that photos that are relevant and support my story will draw viewers in more quickly, perhaps offsetting the fleeting nature of the Facebook news feed or Twitter stream.

What does this mean for your digital strategy and content plan?

Well, photos are no longer a “nice to have.” Even with the growing power of video (and many of these factors apply to video too), many businesses find it more within their existing strategy to focus on moving to better visuals that qualitatively support their story. Video is still part of what they want to do (or are also executing as part of their plan), but photos and graphics are more frequent content choices for them.

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Here are some of the resources for this post:

One thought on “GO DEEP: Can You See Your Genuine Story?

  1. Pingback: The 5 Superior Social Media Posts in April! | Authentic Voice

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