Principles to Improve Your Social Media Images to Capture a Greater Audienceby: Dustin Hawley | Thursday March 7, 2019
It's no longer the mid-2000's, where updating your MySpace Top 8 and sharing your thoughts on Twitter in 160 characters or less was the primary vessel of communication on relevant social platforms. The times and technology have changed and nowadays, social media is all about pictures and videos. Sharing engaging social media images is an effective way to build an audience and the primary vehicle for effective influencer marketing. But there’s a huge difference between the images most people share on social media and the type of images that gain the attention many people covet.
However, this isn't bad news for the 'common man' by any means. Images that do well on social media tend to follow a somewhat re-occurring theme and have certain things in common. And you can use these elements to improve your own. The best part is that it actually doesn’t take too much effort to quickly improve the quality of your social media images. A few simple steps and changes in your approach can make a big difference in the quality of your social media images.
Whether you're a brand manager looking to sell to consumers on social, or a savvy teenager taking the perfect selfie, we all want our social content to look amazing. If you guide your content by the principles outlined in this article, you’ll immediately begin to not only improve your pictures, but also the response they receive, right away. So what are you waiting for?
Start With Using Better Images
The simplest and most obvious solutions can sometimes be the deciding factors in determining what separates "good" from "great" when it comes to social media content. If you’re not using attractive images to start with, it may be difficult to ever achieve the level of quality you wish to attain.
In many cases, this means investing in a better camera. And the beauty is that even for the budget-conscious individual, you can purchase a high-quality camera with more than enough capabilities to produce high-definition images for relatively cheap. It doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, in many cases, the best start is to simply learn to use your smartphone more effectively and improve your shooting techniques.
- Framing and Composition: Though it's a somewhat natural tendency, you don’t want to always center everything in the middle of the frame. This may seem uncomfortable for those who are driven by habit and instinct but trust us. Off-center framing is often a much better approach (we will talk about this later in the article).
- Lighting: Ok, so nobody carries around a whole external light box kit with them. Well, probably no one at least. But proper lighting is essential for capturing high-quality shots. With that said, there may be times when your ambient lighting isn’t that great, or is just plain non-existent. You can still be creative in capturing a shot that suits the nature of your environment.
- Background: You should be thinking about the background behind the subject of your photo everytime you shoot an image. If you’re shooting scenery, food, or wild animals, it’s even more critical. The background is just as essential as the foreground in the big picture (no pun intended). The two need to compliment eachother to achieve the type of synergy seen in the breathtaking photographs we all love and admire. For those of you shooting all close-cropped selfies for the 'Gram, you may be the one exception to this rule.
- Camera Angles: Undeniably the most overlooked element of capturing a stunning image, this is the one that rarely gets talked about. Let's be clear on this: How you hold the camera or phone (and in relation to your subject) is a major driver of visual impact. This can not be stressed enough. Many of the interesting photos you see in social media are achieved because of an unusual or artistic angle. This doesn't mean you need to have the skill and experience of a professional photographer to achieve results. It simply means that taking the time to find the angle that compliments the desired look and intent of your image is crucial if you want to create awe-inspiring pieces of visual content.
But what if you’re not looking to share personal images? There's no need to worry. You can always use free stock images to create your content. However, these images are available to everyone, so best practice is to create your own unique piece of content out of the stock image, or simply incorporate it into your image in a creative fashion.
Maintain Consistency & Style By Branding Your Content
Finishing where we left off in the last section, it’s good to be creative with your social media images. It may even make sense to experiment a bit at first, especially when you’re just starting out. But as time progresses and you grow more experienced, your goal should be to develop consistency with your branding. It doesn't matter if it's a personal account or one for your business. If building an audience and producing engagement is the goal of your content, consistency is important for increasing the connection you have with your audience. This is especially true on Instagram, where it's not just suggested; it's essential.
Think of it as having a tone of voice with your social media images, similar to that you would use for the text of your posts. It can be confusing if your tone varies too much from post to post. If one day you're humorous with a candid, low-quality image, and the next day being serious, it likely an won’t attract people to connect with your brand.
As a niche liquor brand without a media budget, Chambord relies on organic tactics and fresh creative to break through the noise and garner attention to their brand. Their Instagram feed is a great visual example of establishing both a tone and aesthetic for your brand.
When you brand your images in a consistent fashion, your audience will recognize your content as yours, making it much more likely that people stop scrolling and consume your content. Once you have found and established your “tone” in terms of style, stick with it. Social media rewards consistency, so trust that forming a genuine connection with your audience will pay off.
Increase Engagement By Adding Text To Your Images
You’ve probably heard that a picture is worth 1,000 words. That may be true, but it turns out that most social media users would still like a few more.
Including text with your images can help add context to your photo. The old saying is that 'a picture can say a thousand words'. But that doesn't mean that people on social media still don't want more. So adding text to your images is an easy way to start creating increased engagement with your social media images. They can also further the point you might be trying to make with the image, adding context and perspective to your intent.
Keep in mind, however, this is not a license to simply slap some text onto your social posts in hopes it garners some additional likes and comments. Quality control should still be in full effect during this process. The difference between an image that catches someone's attention and one that doesn’t could come down to the choice of fonts. Best practice is to place just as much emphasis on how the quote looks as you do on the image you’re sharing.
Also, choose something that is easy to read. Remember, your intent is to get people to stop scrolling!
Speaking of Text, Use the Power Of Captions
Captions are your “back-up” team. They allow you to add extra content (and context). If you are trying to cram too much content into the image, remember that you can use the captions too. On platforms like Instagram, you can use captions as a mode of storytelling for your content. Don't necessarily rush to send viewers to another site or webpage. Instead, tell a story with your caption that keeps the viewer engaged with your post, and hopefully motivated to browse and consume your other images and content. Here's a great video from HubSpot on how to write powerful captions on Instagram that both stimulate and maintain the interest of users:
Don't Always Center The Focus Of Your Images
In the world of art, this tactic is actually widely known and employed. Shooting subjects that are off center tend to be more pleasing to the eye. While that may sound somewhat counterintuitive, it's effectiveness shouldn't be overlooked. Consider the 'Rule of Thirds' when shooting off center. It’s an almost failsafe tactic for making sure every image looks great. Most cell phone cameras have a grid to help you line up your image so that your point of focus meets one of the intersection lines on the grid. Focusing the subject on one of these intersection points often creates a cool perspective for your shot.
And yes, there will be times when it makes sense to center the subject of your photo, perhaps if you are showcasing a product or are shooting an image that is best suited to display symmetry. But off-center shots typically leave more room for creative context. However, don’t push an image too far to one side of the photo. You want to make sure it's clearly visible in the shot.
Optimize For Mobile
Mobile devices usage is seemingly growing by the day. In fact, when you compare mobile devices to traditional computers, the former is currently used 51% of the time to go online. Traditional computers have fallen to 42% with other connected devices making up the remainder of the percentage.
This means it's essential to think of mobile users when you post images, ensuring that the image is optimized for ideal viewing through a mobile device. Including too much detail or incorporating text that is too small for mobile viewing, it might not have the desired effect on a mobile-based audience.
People are scrolling through their feed on mobile, and you want them to stop. Use bright colors that pop and draw attention to your image, but keep it simple. Beautiful, simple images work very well on, especially on platforms like Instagram.
Minimizing your text allows you to enlarge your font, making it more readable to viewers who come across your content while browsing their feeds on mobile. And check your images after uploading them to ensure that they are easy to see, and are coming across in the way you intended.
Use Contrasting Colors
As mentioned above in #6, contrasting colors help make your image jump off the screen. Simply put, Contrast refers to the ease or with which two colors can be distinguished from one another. When it comes to social media images, in most cases you want to go for high contrast. Colors like purple and blue are often too similar to one another in their traditional shade.
But yellow and blue, on the other hand, contrast each other very nicely.
One way to check if your image has strong contrast is to switch the image to grayscale in an image editing software. This will make it abundantly clear if your color combination offers high contrast or not. If the grayscaled image appears to be washed out or lacking in detail, you likely need to add more color contrast to the original image. On that note, using black and white images on your feed or Instagram grid can provide immediate contrast to your other images, and it's a proven winner in breaking up the feed and catching the eye.
Keep Up With Trends
We’ve covered the importance of social media trends on this site before because it’s so important that you keep up with them.
You don’t want your brand to be seen as out-of-touch on social media. Trends of social media images change often, so you need to change with them (which falls in line with our earlier tips about consistency). The saying goes 'if you don't adapt, you die'.
We all want to achieve our own unique aesthetic, and no one likes a copycat. But trends speak directly to what people want, particularly the masses. Adapting your approach to these trends ensures that the images you share are far better received. For example, customizing your grid layout is extremely popular at the moment on Instagram. Incorporate a focus on optimizing your grid layout, and the results should slowly reveal and reflect the popularity behind the trend.
Quotes, GIFs, and memes also work extremely well at the moment for producing engagement. But who knows, this may change in a few years. It may not be a question of 'if' as much as it is a question of 'when'.
Also, keep in mind that different platforms often experience different trends. For example, what works for social media images on Twitter probably won’t work as well on LinkedIn. And grid formatting clearly doesn't apply to your Facebook feed. Learn the trends of the platforms you wish to utilize, and focus your efforts on optimizing your content to be most effective for its particular platform.
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