7 ways images can drive social media engagement

Visuals stimulate the viewer’s eye, mind, and emotions more quickly and deeply than simple text does. Here’s guidance for knowing how best to engage your audience with images.

Do you want to know how to get more social media followers, shares, “likes,” and media exposure, and even improve your search engine rankings?

The answer is images.

Not just any image or visual, but something attractive, relevant, compelling, and, of course, properly optimized.

I became a visual evangelist after experiencing the power of images on my PR in Your Pajamas Facebook page. We usually get a handful of “likes” and shares on our updates, but guess what happened when I posted an image with a quote. It got 121 “likes,” three comments, and 63 shares.

This wasn’t a fluke, either. According to Hubspot, Facebook photos get 53 percent more “likes” than regular, text-based posts.

It makes sense. Pictures are more eye-grabbing and interesting than words on a screen. We can grasp an image’s meaning faster than we can read sentences, so visuals can be a shortcut to communication. Perhaps most important, images stimulate emotions much more effectively and quickly than words. This probably explains why pictures compel us to take action more readily than text does.

Consider these other statistics that show the increasing importance of images in social media:

  • Pinterest is now the fourth-biggest referrer of website traffic. (Are you using it yet? Read this to get started.)
  • According to eye-tracking research of Google news, people see items with images before plain-text articles.
  • In a research by PwR New Media, 79 percent of journalists who responded say news releases accompanied by a good image are more likely to be picked up than those without photos.

If that’s not enough, images can help with search engine optimization (SEO), too. Search engines can’t “read” images yet, but they do crawl metadata that accompany images.

Pinterest pins now also appear in search engine results, which means these shared images can drive traffic to your website. According to a blogger I know, Pinterest has become one of the top 10 sources of traffic to her site, though she uses it only to keep track of posts she “likes.”

Before you start adding images to all your posts and updates, here are seven ways to optimize images for search engines and engagement:

1. Use your target keywords.

I mentioned earlier that images can contribute to SEO. Most entrepreneurs and marketers don’t know you can optimize your photos for search engines. Before you publish a post, remember to use your target keywords in the image’s file name, title, alt text, and description.

These items won’t be displayed on your website or social media account, but search engines will read and factor them in when calculating search rankings.

2. Use only high-quality, relevant images.

Your visuals don’t have to be taken by professional photographers, although it helps. You can take many photos yourself, as long as they’re clear and well lighted. Bright colors, high contrast, and unusual images will help your visuals stand out of someone’s timeline or Pinterest board.

Don’t use an image just because it’s attractive and interesting. The visuals you choose should be relevant to the rest of your content. What’s the use of a pretty picture if it has nothing to do with what’s on the page?

Avoid ambiguous images, and use only those images that align with your brand or personality.

3. Add text.

Text helps ensure your audience will understand the image in its proper context. Don’t overwhelm the image with words, however. Strive for a balance between words and image. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a graphic designer or hire one to achieve this.

4. Watermark your visuals.

Speaking of text, brand your image with your website URL and/or logo. That way, when your image goes viral and gets shared in various social networks, everyone will know who owns the image. It’s not foolproof, but a watermark will also discourage others from stealing your image.

5. Get permission.

Before using any image, make sure you have permission to do so. A consultant I know was fined $950 for using a copyrighted image without permission. Ouch! And it was a picture of a cow.

The safest route is to take your own visuals, or you could commission a professional to do so. (Even then, read the contract to make sure you have sole ownership of the resulting images.)

It isn’t always possible to only use images you own. You can use sites like Flickr to find free photos with Creative Commons licenses—but there are different types of Creative Commons licenses. Some require you to give proper attribution to the photographer, others allow you to modify the image, while others don’t. Read the fine print to make sure you know what you’re allowed to do with the picture.

Another option is to buy a license to use other people’s images through services like Fotolia and iStockPhoto. For a small fee, you can have access to high-quality images to use on your website, marketing collateral, and social networks. Again, read the license agreement.

6. Give permission.

Allow your audience to share your image freely. Say so on your website’s terms of use, or on your page footer. Make it easy for readers to make your visual go viral.

For example, make your images pinnable. This means when a reader clicks on the image, it gets “pinned” on their Pinterest board. In PR in Your Pajamas, we use a plug-in: Pinterest Pin This Button for WordPresss. Try it: Hover over an image, and see that the “Pin It” button appears. When you click on the button, a Pinterest interface pops up.

Remember, Pinterest can be integrated with other social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. So, when one of your readers pins an image, it might get posted on their other social networks as well, which means more exposure for you.

7. Use the correct size.

On your blog, you don’t want to use very large images, because that will make your page load slowly. So, resize images before uploading them.

On Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and other social networks, different images must be specific sizes. For example, your Facebook cover image should be 851 x 314 pixels, while your Google Plus cover should be 2,120 x 1,192 pixels. Follow these requirements so your images will display properly. Don’t worry about remembering it all. Use this guide as reference.

I hope this post has inspired you to use more visuals in your social media marketing, and to use them more effectively. Remember, don’t just tell; show.

Elena Verlee works with technology companies at her agency Cross Border Communications and publishes the PR In Your Pajamas blog. A version of this article originally appeared on the Meltwater Public Relations Blog.

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