We are visual creatures. Our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text. And while we retain only 10% of what we hear and 20% of what we read, we remember 80% of what we see.
For social media marketers, this means one thing: If you want more engagement, use more images.
We tested this assertion earlier this year. And found it to be true:
That’s just one of dozens of studies showing how visual content beats out text, especially on social media. Want more proof? Check out our post How to Make Content Easy to Share. It outlines four studies on different platforms. Each time, posts with images get the most shares.
Marketers and CMOs (and you, too) understand images are important. The next question is how important they are, and which types of images to use. Here’s what marketers surveyed by the CMO Council think:
As you can see, photographs are still bringing home the bacon. Infographics and illustrations also do well. Unfortunately, the CMO Council didn’t include animated gifs. But a study by Social Fresh did. Here’s which types of images they say do best for blog posts:
While animated gifs are great for blog posts, they’ve had limited use on social media because Facebook wouldn’t play them. Until now. Facebook recently announced that animated gifs will work in the NewsFeed.
Of course, Twitter already allowed animated gifs. And Instagram lets you use them with tools like Hyperlapse and GifShare.Tumblr is awash in animated gifs, and Pinterest does support them, though they don’t play automatically.
Animated gifs, one of the most shareable social media images
Or just cheat. See if there isn’t an animated gif already made that could work for you. The website Giphy.com lets you search and use thousands of animated gifs for free.
If there’s nothing on Giphy that works, you can create your own animated gif in Photoshop or with the free online tool Gifmaker.me. It does not leave a watermark and gives you good controls over how your animated gif plays.
It’s also possible to make an animated gif out of any YouTube video. Pam Dyer has an awesome post about how to do this.
How to make illustrations
If you think you couldn’t possibly do an illustration, think again. I’m a big fan of James Clear’s simple but elegant illustrations. They add the perfect “feel” to his content – an Excel-created graph wouldn’t have as much charm as his own drawings.
The only artistic skill James Clear needed to make that illustration was readable handwriting. (No offense, James. You’re awesome). Don’t have readable handwriting? Then try making 3-5 versions of the graph or element you need for the illustration. One out of the three is bound to look good enough.
Helene Scott is a marketer who has made some terrific but simple social media images over the years. She’s worth following if you want to see some creative and marketing-savvy examples of visual content.
There’s also an inspirational article on using sketches for business communications from the Berkeley Communications Conference:
All of those are basically simple doodles. But they’re enough to attract and hold our attention. And having them created by hand, rather than being a computer-generated image, adds a cool “on the napkin” edgy startup feel. They’re like watching an inventor at work.
Illustrations also afford an opportunity for humor. Humor is one of the best ways to stand out and get people to like you – if you’re willing to risk offending a sliver of your audience. I love this graph about deadlines. I suppose it’s possible someone could get offended by it, but it’s worth the risk:
This would not be as funny if it was done as a slick Excel graph.
How to make infographics
Infographics are well known for their sharing superpowers. While they’re not quite as crazy-effective as they used to be, they still stomp the competition. Prezi has an elegant little presentation into why:
Infographics are difficult to make “fast”, unless you consider half an hour fast. It definitely is possible to make them faster than an ad agency could, and for about $2,000 less. You and I may not win any design awards for our infographics, but we can still get our message across.
There are over a dozen different infographic creation tools. But if I could point you to only three free infographic creation tools, they would be:
Canva – How could I not mention Canva? This is the go-to image editor and image creator for the web. Even if you think you have no design skills you’ll still be able to create attractive graphics fast. If you’re still terrified (or even color blind) their Design School will get you up to speed.
Infogr.am – This infographic generator has more free options than most of it’s competitors. It’s also super easy to use and has built-in sharing functionality.
Google Charts – What’s an infographic without one of two charts? Google’s free chart tool can create almost anything you’ll need. You will still need to save the charts to use them as pieces in your infographic. But I still think this is one of the best free infographic tools available.
You can certainly use stock photos in your social media work, but you’re better off taking your own photographs. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Depending on your quality standards for visual content, you might want to hire a professional photographer. A good one will cost roughly $500 per day, but you’ll have a vault of terrific, custom photographs for hundreds of social media posts.
Or you can just dive in with a smartphone and do the best you can. Amateur photographs often do better because they have a more authentic feel. That depends on the photo of course, but images of real people definitely do better than stock photo people. By a lot. Here are the results of a test from Marketing Sherpa that compared stock photos against photos of a real person:
Still want to use stock photos because they’re so darn easy? Read ConversionXL’s fun post about the hazards of stock photos and how to avoid most of those hazards.
Adding text to images for even more shares
Images with text are essential elements for your social media posts. My favorite app for adding text to images is WordSwag. It’s available for iPhone. Sadly, there is no version for Android. But WordSwag is just one of dozens of apps that let you add text to images from your phone. After Photos, Font Candy, Pic Lab, Quick and Phonto are all good alternatives, too.
I timed how long it took me to make a social media-friendly photo with WordSwag. It was just under 8 minutes, including the time it took me to take a custom photo and to share it to my Twitter account. There’s a nice tutorial on exactly how to use WordSwag here. But WordSwag is very intuitive – you may not even need the tutorial.
Let’s get you started
Need inspiration for your first image? How about something that speaks directly to how essential images are, but with a philosophical spin?
“What I hear, I forget;
What I see, I remember;
What I do, I understand.”
– Old Chinese proverb, sometimes attributed to Confucius
Whether you use a ballpoint pen or an online tool like Canva, making images doesn’t have to be hard, expensive, or take a lot of time. And it gets easier the more often you do it.
It also gets easier when you’ve got ample inspiration.
So follow a few companies or publications that put out unusually cool social media images. Just seeing their updates will save you some time – you’ll suddenly have plenty of material that makes you say “Cool! We should do that.”
So once again, curate (http://www.scoop.it/). Curate image creation ideas and spin them into your own.
What do you use to make your social media images? Photoshop? Canva? Crayons? Tell us about it in the comments.
And if you’d like to see how content curation can help you improve SEO, you should read this eBook!