More Than Chocolate – Visual Content & Engagement
The Legend of Lady Godiva’s famous ride in protest of her husband’s taxation of Coventry was written up in no less than four major literary and historical works from when the ride took place (probably in the late 11th century) through the late 1600’s. What we know of her, however, we know from several painting and four sculptures – the most famous perhaps being that of John Thomas at the Maidstone Museum in Kent. It is that image that the chocolatier – Godiva – took its moniker and imagery of a Rubenesque woman seated upon a dominant horse. Millions have seen the various statutes, but I suspect you hadn’t even a clue that the story (the legend) had been written up – not once, but four times?
And you probably didn’t know that the phrase “peeping Tom,” to mean someone who surreptitiously looks at naked women, is also from this story. No sculptures of him (the alleged peeper – who might actually have been one of Godiva’s lovers), and precious few drawings, he was the man who looked upon Lady Godiva as she strode through Coventry. Depending on what legendary account you read – either his eyes were plucked out by divine providence, went blind, or had the tar beaten out of him by the locals. In the end – the peeping Tom always winds up punished – and the moniker sticks to this day. Not because of who he was, but because of the images of who she was.
We remember Lady Godiva – who probably actually didn’t actually ride through Coventry naked – but we had no idea who “Peeping Tom” was – or even the origins of that idea. That’s a simple demonstration of visual content and how it increases “engagement”; to say the least – the “peeping Tom” found it so engaging he was prepared to pay with his life. Good visual content is pretty attractive – although generally not so good to die for.
So how do you turn heads short of an equestrian ride in flagrante delicto?
Visual content that leads to engagement and recognition can be accomplished through one or more key strategies:
Strategy #1 – Novel Visual Content Works Best
I’m sure you’re like me – if you see one more stock photo you’re going to lose it. Even people who aren’t in marketing know stock photography when they see it. Stock photography sends a couple of really engagement killing signals that you might not even pick up on. The first is that it says is “yes, we’re so lame we don’t have time to shoot our own content – ergo – this won’t be worth your time either.” The second it says is, “hello, I’m content – I’m unoriginal and probably not very valuable… here’s the picture of a woman shaking hands because that’s what a business post should be about.”
The list goes on.
Slightly more than half of web visitors make their decision to stay or go within 15 seconds. Many web visitors will have scanned your content in even less time. If you have staid boring stock photography (and it’s all staid boring stock photography) – then you subconsciously tell the reader’s brain – go away.
Consider this fact – when the leak of famous celebrities of Apple occurred – people flocked to look at the images. Now consider the fact that 4% of the entire internet is pornography – the vast majority of that is heterosexual pornography – with the vast majority of that being naked women. There’s no shortage of naked women on the internet. In the case of some of the celebrities, in particular Kate Upton, there were already nude photographs, taken by professionals, of those celebrities. Yet, the fact that it was novel spurred a massive invasion of privacy and millions of downloads of the pirated materials.
We’re not saying you can’t find good stock art – some of it is quite good (mostly illustrations like this one). In Shutterstock and Getty there are artists who have great images for sale – most of them custom done. Obviously there is Behance as well – a place to find really good artistic talent and you can perhaps find some content to license (or even just use with credit). The challenge is, however, that relying on stock imagery and staid photography is likely a recipe for failure. For a few thousand dollars a month, most brands could secure an artist or two to create custom illustrations or ideas for them, on the fly, which they would own forever – identifying their brand and their ideas with a unique look and feel.
[Tweet “Novelty goes a long way towards building engagement with your content.”]
Strategy #2 – Visceral Emotive Content Works Best
So you decide you’re going to take your own photos, or do illustrations, or make an infographic. Fabulous. Now, the next strategy is – make it emotive. The more “raw” the emotion – the greater the engagement.
Beyond powerful right? An entire series of emotions, thoughts, questions, all swirl around at once looking at this photo. In a feed, on a blog post, it’s more powerful than the headline.
This photograph by Taslima Akhter is considered one of the most powerful photographs of all time. The photograph is of a couple in a “final embrace” before being killed in the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building in Savar Upazila, Bangladesh. Hard to look at – isn’t it. Time Magazine has it as one of the 30 most important photos it has ever published – and given the repository of Time Magazine – that’s not a small statement. This photograph became the image that defined the 2013 Savar building collapse, which killed over 1100 people.
The vast majority of us won’t deal in images that are life and death. That’s a good thing (thankfully). But the visceral impact of your brand (or your organization) should be the focus of your original photography or illustration. Here’s a great example:
This ad for Ecovia by Terremoto Propaganda, Curitiba, Brazil says it all. You can feel that punch.
Cops want you to slow down? Perhaps this gets the message across (Concept by Cramer-Krasselt for the Elm Grove Police Department):
Show me the result, benefit, challenge, action, idea. Make it visual… make it visceral.
Realizing that most of the images we’ve shown are photographic, here are two works from top illustrators to show you that you can also do it in illustrations you create.
[Tweet “When I see something – Make me Feel Something – If you want me to engage.”]
Strategy #3 – Relevant Visual Content Works Best
Why are memes so popular? Why are meme-generators so popular? The answer is simple – relevance. Depicted above, the “yes kid,” is one of the most famous memes on the internet – being used on or about nearly everything. It’s emotive, expressive, and thus, all you have to do is add the hook. It’s one of the few times (as I’ll discuss in a moment) the “headline” is almost as important as the image.
Relevance matters quite a lot in terms of engagement. Take for example the whole “deflate-gate” (from the 2014-2015 NFL season). A simple picture of Richard Sherman:
can become anything you want it to be – because of relevance (timing in particular) – and some of them wind up becoming downright hilariously funny (and viral):
Memes are the extreme example of image relevance. The image is largely generic and the copy carries the hook to relevance. The text relies on the emotion, direction, or juxtaposition of the image to accentuate the core point – which results in something being funny, provocative, and shareable. There are literally billions of meme images created and entire websites dedicated to creating memes.
The key to relevance is relatively simple and straightforward:
1) The Graphic is essentially an “advertisement” for the blog post, tweet, etc. It needs to be highly poised at the audience.
2) The graphic needs to give me the benefit up front. Make me laugh. Make me interested. Whatever, but make me do something in those first 13 milliseconds that gets a a reaction pointed at the “point” of your content.
Here is an example of how relevance impacts engagement and drawing in readers. As I wrote this, last night the Ashley Madison database was “dumped” – allegedly revealing everyone who used the service by name, address, and the last four digits of their credit card. The story was broken first by WIRED. They used this as their image for the post:
Now it’s not a bad image. But tell me – which of these do you find more relevant, more engaging, and more likely to make you read the article? The one that WIRED chose? Or one of these.
Hopefully the point of relevance is obvious now. The real story in the story about Ashley Madison and the data breach is the impact: families at risk, betrayal of trust, and a loss of intimacy. That’s why you’re drawn to the other ideas (visually) than the one WIRED chose. (It’s also yet another reason why Stock Photography for core visuals are impossible to use most of the time).
[Tweet “Image Relevance matters if you’re trying to build Engagement with Content.”]
Strategy #4 – The Top 1% of your Visual Content Works Best
Three years ago, National Geographic started an Instagram feed. Now, it has close to 7,000 images, more than 19 million followers and recently reached its billionth like. But guess who’s running the account? Not a social media manager, not an editor, not someone from marketing. It’s the photojournalists — 110 of them. They collectively work together and vote to bring you the best of the best of what they’re shooting for National Geographic.
National Geographic’s vice president of social media Rajiv Mody stated:
One of the keys to our success on Instagram has been the incredible collaboration between our photo team and some of the best photojournalists in the world. By handing over the keys to photographers who are out in the field, we’ve been able to give our Instagram followers immediate and intimate access to the tremendous work National Geographic is doing every day. Now, we’re excited to expand our efforts on Instagram by launching new accounts to further engage our community and expand our overall presence on the platform.
They chose one photograph an hour to share – which means millions of photographs are never seen. They only bring you the best of the best. A relatively simple model – if you’re going to use visual content – use only the best.
[Tweet “If you’re going to use visual content – use only the best.”]
Strategy #5 – Shareworthy Visual Content Works Best
Let’s remember the whole point of this exercise is ultimately engagement. In a fascinating study conducted by The New York Times Customer Insight Group, it was discovered that there are five key reasons people decide to share something with others. This study on the psychology of sharing and word-of-mouth movements uncovers an important opportunity for how to use your new visual content approaches so that it leads to increased engagement.
The bottom line up front (at least for this strategy) is that the NYT found the following motives for sharing content:
- To bring valuable and entertaining content to others. 49% say sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action
- To define ourselves to others. 68% share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about
- To grow and nourish our relationships. 78% share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with
- Self-fulfillment. 69% share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world
- To get the word out about causes or brands. 84% share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about
So if you look at the content we’ve used as examples – and all of it is well known – you’ll see that it largely falls into reasons 1, 2, and 4. That said, your visuals need to fall into the categories of largely entertaining, exciting, helping people find and define themselves, nourish relationships, or gives them a reason to say “Hey! I think you should look at this!”
Shareworthy content encourages curation by others. The world is awash with stuff – most of it pretty worthless. But if you make the 1% content, and you make it relevant, and it is emotive, visceral, etc., it’s almost impossible for that content not to be shared. As this NYT survey suggests – we’re hard-wired to share under strong psychological motivations. Play into this and create your content with the idea of having it stand out against the sea of boringness and sameness. Be bold. Be Different. Give the audience a reason to like you.
Always remember that the value you provide and the entertainment you offer can instantly make your content (visual or otherwise) more shareable.
[Tweet “Always remember that the value you provide can instantly make your content more shareable.”]