How to fire up your social visual communication

An annual report in Instagram images? Crowdsourced casting for commercials? Store signs pointing out your top pinned products? How communicators are harnessing the power of visuals.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses.

Many communicators—among them consultant Shel Holtz—were educated as journalists and writers. Tell a story with text? Sure, they’re great at that.

Hire a photog to add some splash to an annual report? Why not? That’s in the budget.

But ask many of these wordsmiths to tell a story in one image—no text—and it’s beyond their experience. “Yet increasingly, that’s the kind of thing that works in the digital and social space,” Holtz says in a Ragan Training video, “Social visual communication.”

For those who love storytelling but can’t imagine doing it in a single frame or a six-second Vine video, Holtz offers ideas on how organizations are using images to boost their message.

The landscape is changing, Holtz says. Not so long ago, we would have sneaked out of a dinner party if the host had set up a slide projector and started showing vacation photos. Now we’re eagerly viewing those same photos on Pinterest and Instagram.

Photography has become an essential communication medium. Forty thousand photos are shared every minute on Instagram, drawing millions and millions of “likes” and comments. The consumer engagement level is 10 times that of sharing on Twitter, Holtz says.

Communicators must master the visual possibilities of Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, and other platforms, he insists.

Photo consumption fills in ‘previously unusable moments’

Why are images so popular? Think of shoppers standing in line at the supermarket. Where once they would have reached for a National Enquirer to read up on the royal baby, they are now hunched over their smartphones.

“You can consume 20, 30, 40 images in the time it takes you to read one article,” Holtz says.

Smart communicators are finding ways to get their images in front of consumers-and enlist them in sharing.

Hashtags drive crowdsourcing

“The hashtag is driving engagement by inviting people to share their own images and use the hashtag,” Holtz says.

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session Social visual communication.

When Levis wanted to cast TV commercials for a new campaign, they got members of the public to share images of proposed citizen actors on Instagram with the hashtag #IamLevis. This not only drew major engagement, but it also won mentions in mainstream media such as Esquire magazine.

Nike invited engagement with its #MakeItCount hashtag, leading fans to post all kinds of sports-related photos, such as two women jogging in Jerusalem, or a map showing the route of a 4.2-kilometer run.

Image sites can engage on serious topics

Are you one of those people who think all those image-based sites are frivolous repositories of recipes, cute kittens, bridal gowns, and floral arrangements? Not so, Holtz says. A guy at a conference once told Holtz there is nothing for men on Pinterest. Upon learning that the man was a fan of early American history, Holtz told him, “Search for ‘Boston Massacre.'”

The guy pulled up a pdf of John Adams’ handwritten notes from the trial in which the future president defended the British soldiers accused of shooting five civilians to death. The guy’s jaw dropped.

Images drive engagement

Posts that have images in them inspire more engagement on average, Holtz says. “Pinit buttons you see on posts and articles and the like outperform tweet buttons by a factor of 10 to one,” he says.

Many communicators know that posts with photos are favored on Facebook, but few are as conscientious in their strategy as the company that makes sure they have two or more images in every post. This provides them with a 20 percent reach, Holtz says.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts created a campaign invites fans to create a pin.pac.go Pinterest board. Their destination hotels would then collaborate and pin images, helping the vacationers plan.

“It’s kind of labor-intensive, but it got a lot of attention,” Holtz says.

Pictures influence in-store purchases

Pinterest has become a significant influencer of in-store purchases, Holtz says. Nordstrom posts a printed sign on goods in the store (say, a snazzy pair of high-heel shoes) that notes, “This is a top pinned item.”

You think humans are not herd animals? These signs drive sales, and they have the added advantage of helping people find the necklace or plaid boxer shorts they saw on Pinterest.

Behind the scenes

What interests your fans and customers that they don’t get to see daily? Image-sharing platforms are a great way to engage them.

The Missouri History Museum pinned an image of a worker donning a gas mask and gloves before opening a canister suspected of containing nitrate film. Calgary Zoo even published its annual report as an Instagram account: CalgaryZoo2012AR. There was no other version, Holtz says.

“The text is supplemental to the image,” he says, “and not the other way around.”

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