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In the early days of social media, I relied heavily on a handful of preferred sites to receive updates and news stories. Most of my bookmarked pages were related to work, productivity, Zen living, latest industry news, places to go, restaurants to try, mommy hacks, child rearing and other interesting tips for working mothers trying to stay on top of both their careers and motherhood.
I would spend two to four hours scrolling through my Facebook feed and reading all the suggested pages on these topics. Some I would skip over, unmoved by uninteresting headlines, and some I would save for later reading.
Then came a shift and Facebook pages started to become marketing pages. Brand marketing campaigns began to flood my news feed. Some were company updates; others were invitations to join contests to win prizes. At every turn, I would find “like and share” requests and “enter to win” campaigns (These were called fan-gating campaigns. They were so successful that Facebook prohibited third-party applications from using these engagement campaigns).
These marketing campaigns were very effective for two reasons:
1. Rewards were offered in exchange for likes and shares.
2. Visual content was used to grab the attention of prospective consumers.
That was two to three years ago. Content marketing began long before that, but the strategies to win the hearts of social media followers were just starting to unfold.
YouTube started it all. Visual content is composed of both video and image graphics. Before Instagram, Pinterest, Vine or Vimeo, there was YouTube--the immensely popular video content host.
YouTube was the very first video-sharing website. It was the brainchild of three former PayPal employees who came up with the idea in 2005. Its success was first noticed by Google; so much so that it bought the website for $1.6 billion in 2006 and today, it operates as one of the search engine's subsidiaries. YouTube allows users to upload, view and share their videos online. Today, with Google’s campaign for original and valuable content, the platform now comes equipped with editing tools and optimization settings to give each user the competitive edge needed to get noticed.
YouTube accounts were created. The original users were mainly strategic marketing firms working for celebrities, as the platform was mainly used to showcase the latest music video from every singer back then. Then it became a platform where anyone could upload their own video and share whatever they liked. Nevertheless, YouTube paved the way for video-sharing and subscription. Later, videos on YouTube became some of the most shared content on social media platforms, particularly Facebook.
As more social media platforms started to appear, video-sharing became a form of visual content distribution. Besides music videos and how-to videos, even news videos started to be shared by media organizations striving to reach audiences without access to TV programs.
Search engine marketers saw the potential of video-sharing sites like YouTube. It became so popular that in a previous content marketing position, one of my tasks was to create written and video content for affiliate products. That’s how I first came to realize just how powerful visual content can be.
Below you'll find the most popular YouTube video in terms of views, likes and shares.
The Korean pop singer Psy's "Gangnam Style" became popular not only because of the song itself, but the way the video was presented. It’s interesting to note that Psy is not your typical heartthrob singer and that the video depicts how men behave around attractive women.
Today, there are other video-sharing platforms that are growing popular by the minute. Last year, Facebook and Twitter added video-sharing capabilities to stay on top of their game and the competition. YouTube is also tied to Google+, so anyone with a profile instantly has access to a YouTube account.
One great example of how videos can generate impressive results on social media platforms are challenge campaigns. Remember last summer's Ice Bucket Challenge? Top celebrities and billion-dollar CEOs were among those who accepted the challenge.
We all heard the message and everybody wanted to take part in the campaign. It was pretty much disseminated throughout the entire world as videos from dozens of countries populated YouTube, Vine, Vimeo, Vevo, among other video-sharing sites.
Image sharing became popular via Instagram and Pinterest. The former is a social media platform that focuses on image and video uploads. It simultaneously provides links to posts on Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler and Foursquare. As Facebook became popular with its link-sharing feature, Instagram amassed followers who love taking pictures of everything they do with their camera and mobile phones. Pinterest entered the scene and offered a Facebook-like platform that hosted images by providing dedicated media pages for all images. In Facebook, it was the photo section; in Pinterest, it was the individual boards.
Facebook and Twitter added this capability to again redirect the traffic to their social media platforms. The competition for the best visual platform is on, but Instagram and Pinterest are still leading in terms of the most effective visual platform. Today, Facebook and Twitter can be linked to your Instagram account so your friends from each platform can still see what you are up to.
Image sharing has become rampant on social media because many people post images that we can relate to. Websites have addressed this by creating custom images that are within the size guidelines of each social media platform so that they can be easily viewed by everyone.
Image content is not limited to plain pictures. There are also visual content forms that every marketer should know about.
Visuals can also include quotes from business CEOs or popular leaders. Anything industry-related, as well as motivational quotes, can be enhanced by creating an image version. Make it interesting by including an image of the person who uttered the words of wisdom.
The above examples show how powerful words and images can be when they are put together in an artistic fashion.
Posts on newsworthy topics, on the other hand, are oftentimes hard to deliver if you fail to engage your audience. Oreo, one of the top brands rocking social media, uses event announcements with images that are aimed at delivering great jolts of excitement and anticipation.
Statistical posts are a great way of sharing industry-related facts and figures. It is widely used to sum up the main points of any given blog post or article. Curate content online and find valuable posts that you can break down into individual units of information and you have a database of visual content.
The hybrid post is another option. This is known in the content marketing world as the use of a highly evocative image with factual text to show or prove a point. UNICEF moves people to a certain action with these tear-inducing photos.
On the other hand, the question post is used to incite interaction and increase engagement by posing an intriguing question your audience can relate to.
You can also resort to celebration posts. This kind of visual post can be used to invite your consumers to take part in any virtual celebration, cause or gathering.
A great example is Blue Compass’ Employee celebration:
Then there's also the promotional plug. This post is oftentimes used in promoting upcoming movies. This visual post usually contains what they can expect or hope to find and how they can join or participate.
Rally posts can be any visual post promoting upcoming events that raise awareness about certain causes and movements.
Social memes have become quite popular in generating awareness and effectively engaging followers. Social memes today are being used to add humor to visual content.
Visual content is so powerful that it has become the top strategy for any content marketer. If you know how to leverage the power of visuals, then you will likely achieve the level of engagement you're looking for.
Visual content influences at a glance. It is capable of delivering information in seconds. It’s capable of summarizing text information in signs and symbols. It can engage twice as fast as the average text post. Visual content is powerful because it attacks the senses. It evokes emotions and arouses empathy.
The power of your visual marketing is dependent on your visual content strategy. Stay tuned for another blog on how to best use visuals in your content marketing strategy.