Images have always played a large part in attracting readers to content, in both the online and offline worlds.
In the print particularly, magazines and tabloid newspapers have always used hard-hitting or inspirational photography to sell copies and guide readers through their content. This is similarly true in the online world. Fashion and celebrity news sites in particular often do a great job of using images to draw readers more deeply into their content, so that they remain on site for longer.
But readership is becoming more dispersed online, and marketers and publishers are needing to think more creatively about how to gain distribution of their content beyond their owned web properties. Readers are giving less thought to the titles of the sites they are reading or to the publisher, and are increasingly going from one site to another in their journey of content discovery. In this age of the visual social web (which some are even calling the imagesphere), the power of an image in this path of content discovery is not to be underestimated.
Helping your target audience to discover and engage with your content can be challenging, and requires a clear understanding of what types of content drive engagement and through which distribution channels. Hoping that your customers will discover your content through SEO is not good enough. Instead, brands need to think creatively about how to ensure their content gets noticed, but without being too pushy about it. The content that succeeds will be that which is optimised for discovery and social sharing. We’re likely to see images becoming a core component of that optimisation process, acting as a signpost, bridging the link between the brand and its content.
For example, social media and new technologies have allowed people to hyper-curate the content that they are interested in consuming, across a variety of connected devices. Reading applications such as Flipboard and Pulse, which take content feeds and display them in a highly visual interface, are encouraging individuals to consume content via the process of image discovery. In many ways, an image is becoming the new headline. A new study conducted by ROI Research found that users are 44% more likely to engage with brands and companies if an image is involved. Furthermore, we remember pictures about 1.5 times more often than printed words. More than one third of all links shared on Twitter are images. According to 3M Corp., our brains process visual content 60,000 times faster than text.
Nothing captures the essence of a story better than an image, and images can really help to sell a story, particularly across social media. In Red Bull’s recent Stratos campaign, which saw one man successfully skydive from the edge of space, the Facebook post-jump photo gained almost 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and over 29,000 shares within 40 minutes.
The quality of a brand’s images is crucially important, and stock photos or images to which brands do not hold the copyright should really be avoided. In this age of mobile photography where even major news outlets are featuring images shot with a mobile phone as their cover (including Ben Lowy’s iPhone image of Hurricane Sandy that made TIME Magazine’s cover), customer’s expectations for original and inspiring photography is higher than ever. Getting the image right, and making sure it accurately represents the content and entices readers in, is paramount.
But the good news is that images don’t always have to be a high cost strategy. They don’t necessarily need to be professionally shot as consumers aren’t always looking for the highest quality image. What matters is its timeliness, authenticity, the story that it tells about the brand, and its ability to engage and entertain. These are the sort of images that are shared, and provoke that all-important call to action.
It’s helpful to consider a couple of brands who are making good use of image content marketing. One is General Electric, whose thriving Tumblr blog consists of photographs and video, with short text captions containing the relevant hashtags. The General Electric images are popular because they tell a story and explore something new or interesting about technology, from parts of prototypes to footage of planes, trains and automobiles.
A number of publishers are also making good use of Tumblr to market their content sites. Current affairs publication The Economist is using Tumblr to promote and tease upcoming editions. All the content it publishes is short-form and shareable, such as charts, videos, cartoons, covers and quotes, which makes for a very entertaining read. Glamour is another publisher using Tumblr to show off some of its best imagery, with the aim of growing its audience and driving traffic back to its main website. It has different sections for 'Fashion Week', 'Street Style', 'Inspiration' and 'In The Magazine', with a vast majority of the posts linking back to articles on Glamour.com.
If images are not already a part of your content marketing plan, the first step is to begin thinking more visually. Carry out an audit of the visual assets that you already have, and question whether they are the sorts of images that your customers will like and find useful, entertaining and inspiring. Remember that timely images often do best, so think about how you can be producing images quickly and easily, on a regular basis. Build this requirement into your marketing plan for the year.
Next, make sure you’re creating ways for your target audience to engage with and share your photos, and consider what you want the call to action to be. Is it to drive people to your blog, your Pinterest profile, your website, etc? Don’t feel that you need to utilise all visual social networks, as there may not be a strong business case for doing so, nor do you want to spread yourself too thinly initially. Focus on one or two core platforms initially, and grow from there. Finally, think beyond the image itself, and think about how you can bring your visual content to life, so that it tells a story for your brand. Memejacking, for example, is a great way for a brand to leverage a visual idea that is already successful. Adding captions or content tags to your photos, and utilising relevant hashtags, can also be a nice touch.
Ultimately, while marketers and publishers can do little to stop consumers from reading the content of their competitors (nor should they even try), it’s crucial to remember that images play a large part in the content discovery journey. Let customers do what they want to do, and don’t try to stop the way in which they wish to consume content...but marketers should always be thinking about how they can channel this behaviour via images. First impressions really count, and people will judge content by its cover. So be sure that the cover is an inspiring, enticing image!