7 great online content formats you might be overlooking

If you are representing your brand on social media, you might be missing out on some terrific options. Sample this smorgasbord of ideas and examples to rev up your digital presence.

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Have you ever wondered why people love eating at buffets?

It’s not because all-you-can-eat options are better for your wallet; in fact, economists have proved ordering traditional dishes is actually cheaper.

People crave variety. With a buffet ticket, you can try the dumplings, the salad, the spare ribs, Brussels sprouts and the pasta—and that variety makes you feel good.

This principle of variety definitely applies to social media content: It’s easier to surprise and delight your followers when you’re not always serving up the same things. By continually introducing new content types into your social media lineup, you’ll keep your audience members on their toes and engaged.

If you’re eager to explore, but not sure where to start, check out this list of seven awesome types of social media content you can be creating right now.

1. Custom GIFs

A great GIF is worth a thousand words. Along with driving massive engagement, GIFs help you explain difficult ideas, add some visual variety to your feed, and have some fun with your audience.

There are tons of awesome GIFs already floating around (in fact, we’ve got a stocked mood board you’re welcome to pull from). However, creating your own guarantees you’ll have unique, eye-catching content. Also; you can whip up a GIF in mere minutes.
A few of our favorite GIF-making tools include:

If you need inspiration, check out NASA’s Twitter. NASA’s content is already visually compelling; after all, it doesn’t get more beautiful than the solar system. However, the agency also animates things such as shuttle takeoffs, planets in rotation and shots from space.

NASA also makes GIFs for its recurring social media features. Its monthly “What’s Up” post, which showcases the coolest things happening in the night sky, gets a custom GIF for Twitter promotion. You can check out the June version below.

InVision, a wireframing and prototyping tool, has an admirable GIF strategy as well. For every 10 blog posts the company shares on social media, one or two will have accompanying GIFs that illustrate a concept from the post. Not only are the snippets semi-mesmerizing, but they enable InVision’s followers to get value without having to click on the link.

(Here’s a complete tutorial of exactly how Invision makes its GIFs, using a combination of ScreenFlow and Photoshop.)

Finally, GIFs are a handy way to quickly educate your followers. Take a look at Trello‘s tweet (explaining its email-to-board option) to see this idea in action.

To go one step further: Make cinemagraphs.

A cinemagraph has the same file format as a GIF; however, rather than a series of images playing in a loop, it’s a static image with movement in one part of the frame. Cinemagraphs are, as designer Jason Winter puts it, “scroll-stoppers.”

This one from Coke got 80,000 notes on Tumblr in 14 days.

These types of GIFs require a bit more Photoshop skill to create; here’s a good guide on getting started.

2. Snapchat Stories

Use captions, filters, stickers to build stories that stand out.

Snapchat’s stratospheric engagement stats (to the tune of 100 million users spending half an hour on the platform per day) make it compelling for any brand.

Nonetheless, many companies still aren’t biting—err, snapping. According to research firm L2, only 40 percent of B2C businesses have accounts, compared with 93 percent for Instagram. Even fewer B2B companies are on Snapchat.

It’s normal to feel a little intimidated by the app’s unfiltered format, yet that authenticity and spontaneity actually make Snapchat a prime marketing opportunity. You can invite your audience into your world and even get a peek into theirs.

To see how an organization (a B2B brand, no less) can fully optimize this platform, follow DocuSign (@docusigninc). Every week, the company posts a literal story, usually riffing on a well-known children’s book or movie. A short time ago, for example, Mary Poppins discovered the magic of electronic signatures. The week after that, the Lorax learned how DocuSign can save trees.

The stories are a blend of drawings, emojis and captions. Not only are they creative, but they feel totally unlike any other promotional materials out there.

Shopify (@shopify) uses all sorts of creative Snapchat features to make their stories stand out. The snap below uses captions, filters and stickers in a unique and eye-catching way.

The Shopify team was generous to write about some of their best Snapchat tips. Their list includes:

  • Creating title cards for longer Snapchat stories
  • Doing Snapchat takeovers with celebrities or partners
  • Using shortened URLs for links
  • Adding music over your snaps

Anthropologie (@anthropologie) is a strong example of a company doing Snapchat well in the B2C sphere. It mostly uses Snapchat to provide behind-the-scenes access to its photo shoots, future products and employee life. Plus, Snapchat just launched shoppable snaps—now it’s even easier for consumers to buy the products they see featured.

To go one step further: Create on-demand geo-filters.

Whenever I’m in a new place, I love taking Snapchat photos and adding a custom geo-filter so people can see where I am.

I’m definitely not the only user who loves using these location-based overlays. As Brian shares in his handy guide to on-demand geo-filters, you can generate tens of thousands of impressions for under $50.

Here’s an example of some that Gary Vaynerchuck has created:

This feature is still only a couple of months old—so if you get in on the action now, you’ll have a major competitive advantage.

3. User-Generated Content (UGC)

Drive engagement with outstanding content from others. (This works great on Instagram.)

OK, so technically your users are the ones creating the content, but you still have to collect, curate, optimize and publish what they’ve produced.

Even though it might be easier to, say, upload your own photo to Instagram rather than finding one from a customer, UGC has some incredible and unique benefits.

Starbucks definitely uses UGC to rack up loyalty points with its followers. Roughly one-third of itsInstagram photos are regrams from other accounts, which lets Starbucks show how different people are enjoying its drinks around the world.

Some of the corporation’s most-favorited posts come from users. Even better, people are motivated to upload shots of their orders to Instagram, in the hopes they’ll be shared.

Using the same strategy, the Buffer Instagram account shares user-generated content once or twice every week, averaging nearly 200 likes and comments on each photo (at the upper-end of the benchmark for Buffer Instagram engagement).

Getting started was quite smooth: Reach out to community members one on one whenever you spot a great image, mention the users when you share the post, repeat. You may even get users sending content your way all on their own.

Some weeks, the UGC content can be 50 percent of what’s posted to Buffer Instagram:

To go one step further: Run social media contests.

Waiting for your users to spontaneously upload photos is fine—but with a contest, you can capture a ton of content in a short timeframe. Even better, contests are fun for everyone involved: the participants, your audience and, of course, the winner.
National Geographic and MySwitzerland.com, for example, partnered on a fantastic UGC contest to promote travel to Switzerland.

To enter, people posted their favorite shots of the country to Instagram with the hashtag #LoveSwitzerlandContest. The winner received a 10-day National Geographic Expedition to Switzerland.

The contest was a big success, generating almost 9,400 posts. Plus, 70 percent of the visitors to the contest hub page clicked the call to action for more trips.

4. Infographics

Pictures + text = 25 percent better comprehension.

If you count early cave paintings as infographics, then humans have been making and consuming this type of content for the past 32,000 years—and for good reason: Adding pictures to text makes your message 25 percent more comprehensible, not to mention far more engaging and persuasive.

There’s an infographic—or five—for every topic you can think of, but the ones that get the most mileage tie back to their brand’s product or space. Real estate app Movoto, for example, created this infographic pairing famous cities with their font personalities. It’s humorous and unexpected, which shows you Movoto isn’t your typical real estate company.

If the thought of building your own infographic seems like a bit much, there are some neat tools that can help make the process easier, particularly for non-designers.

To go one step further:

Make your infographics come to life.

Animated infographics (a.k.a. gifographics) have been around for a couple of years, but they’re still relatively rare—which means they’re a fantastic option if you want your content to stand out.

Neil Patel was an early adopter of gifographics. His primer on Google proves the attention-grabbing power of animation.

5. Concept visualizations

Infographics are one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s kit. But designing a great one is hard work; plus, you need enough data to tell a story.

Here’s where concept visualizations come in. Because visualizations typically illustrate a single idea—rather than multiple stats and facts—they’re much smaller and more digestible than infographics. And they’re also quicker to create, meaning you could potentially pump one or two out for every blog post.

Here’s an example from Wistia:

As you can see, the team took an interesting concept from one of their blog posts and turned it into a simple graph. Then, they used it to promote the post.

Having an embedded graphic that’s useful on its own makes Wistia’s tweet highly shareable. In addition, it really drives home why time on site is an important metric.

Along similar lines, data visualization app Visme produced the chart below to go along with a job search article.

This chart is both interesting and easy to read. Note that Visme got the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics—even if your company doesn’t have unique data, you can always visualize information from another source. (Just remember to give credit to the source.)

If you want more inspiration, head on over to Information Is Beautiful or Flowing Data. When it comes to creating these visualizations yourself, one of the fastest ways is with a simple Google Sheets chart. You can enter the data into a spreadsheet, build whatever style chart feels best and take a quick screenshot of the result:

To go one step further:
Use your own data.

Although this option can stretch out the creation process, it gives you the opportunity to position yourself as an authority.

You can visualize data you already have. For instance, Boomerang analyzed more than 40 million emails its users had sent; it determined the optimal message length and then turned the results into a cool graphic:

Alternatively, get data from a survey. SurveyMonkey, Wufoo, or Twitter polls are all solid options for gathering audience insights.

The final option? Conduct your own research. This New York Times visualization is an excellent example: It uses simple photography and copy to show the impact each piece of produce has on California’s drought crisis.

6. Shareable quotes

These are easy to curate and create and provide just as much (or more) engagement.

There’s something about a great quote that sticks in your mind for days, weeks, months or even years. As marketers, we have the opportunity to share the best ones with our audience—and simultaneously inspire them and boost our brand.

Teachable, a platform for creating online courses, has made quotes a cornerstone of its social media strategy.

Of its six most recent Instagram posts, half are quotes. These visuals get just as much (and often more) engagement than the traditional images.

General Assembly has its own quote strategy. Like Teachable, GA uses a specific hashtag for its quote visuals. It also uses a consistent format and style to make sure its followers link the inspiration to the source.

If you don’t want to design your own template, take advantage of Buffer’s Pablo image creator. You can pick out the perfect background photo and add your text in a minute or less; plus, you can download different sizes for the various networks.

To go one step further: Combine concept visualizations and quotes. Once you’ve started making both separately, it’s only a short step to putting them together.

This example from Visual.ly demonstrates how cool the results can be. The quotes and the pie charts play off of each other quite nicely, each providing separate but related information. The juxtaposition of text and charts is also well done.

7. Facebook Live

Live videos are watched three times longer and are shown more in news feeds.
Facebook’s live video streaming service is still in its infancy, but it’s already one of the top ways to form real connections with your audience. Live is informal—and, by definition, unscripted—which means viewers feel they’re getting a more intimate experience. You can see the effect on engagement: According to Facebook, people spend three times longer on real-time video.

Facebook pushes up Live videos in user news feeds, so when you’re broadcasting, you’ll get an organic traffic boost.

Benefit Cosmetics is taking full advantage of this new option. Every Thursday, the brand live-streams an episode of “Tipsy Tricks with Benefit!” The hosts sip wine, exchange playful banter and answer beauty questions from their audience. The last installment received 29,000 views, 655 reactions, and 100-plus comments.

To go one step further: Create multi-channel live campaigns.

Facebook Live is great, but it’s not the only live-streaming platform available. To maximize your live content, distribute it across multiple apps.

For instance, Land Rover and Brooks Brothers have joined forces on #LiveTestDrive, a Periscope and Facebook Live campaign. Every Friday, the team puts the car through its paces in on-road and off-road environments. Viewers get an up-close-and-personal look at how the Land Rover drives; plus, they can participate in live Q&As by using the hashtag #LiveTestDrive.

Because Facebook and Twitter have different demographics, broadcasting on both extends the campaign’s reach.
What do you think of the ideas above? What other content types would you add to the list?

A version of this article first appeared on the Buffer blog.


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