A striking graphic with seven blocks of paint, one for each colour of the rainbow, against a dark background with the logos of online platforms on the front face of each. Red is Pinterest, orange is Blogger, yellow is an RSS feed icon, green is a speech bubble - possibly iMessage - light blue is Twitter, dark blue is Facebook, and purple is Yahoo.

Photo by mkhmarketing on Flickr, licensed under CC by 2.0

The web is becoming more and more visual, and nowhere more so than on social media, where some of the most influential platforms revolve around pictures and video.

Social networks which were previously text-centric have made a point of integrating more flexible and better-quality options for embedding media, and the last few years have seen the astronomic rise of several key platforms which revolve entirely around visual media.

New entrants to the social media scene also reflect this trend, finding new and adventurous things to do with visuals – take Peach, whose users communicate with GIFs, drawings and artful combinations of text and images. Or the newly-minted Yubl, which is driven by eye-catching graphics that users can tap to react to.

A screenshot from the social app Yubl, showing a pair of trainers in the foreground and a skyline at sunset in the background. The caption reads "Yubl loves @timwillhyde". Text down the left side reads "Seriously addicted to awesome footwear". Two round bubbles on the right read "That skyline", which 68 users have tapped on, and "Those trainers", which 52 users have tapped on.

Knowing how to tailor your approach to visual social media platforms will be vital for effective promotion across all social networks going forward.

In this article and its follow-up, I’ll be looking at four major players in visual social media – Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapchat – and how you can make the most of their unique features in a marketing context, as well as some useful tips for approaching visual media on any social network.


With more than 400 million monthly active users, and 40 billion photographs uploaded since its launch in 2010, Instagram is an undeniable The logo for the website Instagram, featuring an old-fashioned camera in the shape of a square with rounded corners, with a viewfinder in the right-hand corner and in the left, a striped ribbon with red, yellow, green and blue stripes leading down to the word 'Insta'.titan of visual social media.

Its approach to sharing beautiful images with professional-style filters has had a lasting influence on the way that social networks approach visual media.

With support for short videos as well as photos, Instagram has defined itself as a visually rich and creative platform.

It was the hip new photo-sharing app when Facebook snapped it up in 2012, and its rise hasn’t slowed since then.

Instagram (Read more...) been keen to capitalise on its popularity with opportunities for advertisers, such as its carousel ads which give brands more storytelling flexibility, and a recent move to up the length of video ads to 60 seconds.

But in such a crowded environment, how can you find the best way to stand out?

Focus on visuals

More than any of the other platforms listed here, visuals on Instagram need to look good. Take high-quality photos and videos, and bear Instagram’s square framing in mind.

If you shoot square from the start, you can make use of every part of the image and don’t have to worry about important details being cropped out.

Many digital cameras and smartphones have a ‘square’ setting you can shoot with, while apps like Camera51 can help with getting the right composition.

Create a style that fits your brand

Use Instagram’s visual effects to create a style that fits your brand.

Instagram’s creative lead Eric Oldrin encourages brands to “look to their followers and target audiences when determining their own visual identity.”

He cites the example of Taco Bell, which used Instagram to launch its new breakfast line with a “retro, sun-bleached colour palette” to complement the brand’s youthful ethos.

A screenshot of a Taco Bell Instagram post, showing a photograph of two girls enjoying a Taco Bell breakfast in the sunshine. The photograph looks sun-bleached and warm, with a sunburst lens flare in between the two girls' heads. To the right, the photograph description reads "Breakfast has arrived. #WakeUpLiveMas" followed by a scrolling feed of comments.

Storytelling ftw

Take advantage of the opportunities for storytelling. As I mentioned above, Instagram has introduced carousel ads to provide advertisers with more range and flexibility.

Users swipe left to view a series of images, which could be different items from a range, or a sequence of images that tell a short story.

The increase to 60-second ads also gives opportunities for a longer story to be told with video, such as T-mobile’s extended version of its Super Bowl ad featuring the rapper Drake, which was published to Instagram.

Tell a story with content

Storytelling opportunities aren’t restricted to advertising – with some creativity and planning, you can tell a powerful story just as well with content marketing.

Take Red Bull, a notable Instagram early adopter, which uses Instagram to showcase adrenaline-pumping, daredevil stunts which are often sponsored by the brand itself.

It had an early video hit with a six-second clip of Russian BASE jumper Valery Rozov leaping from Mount Everest. The video is short, simple and impactful, featuring two shots linked by a single cut, more like a Vine than an Instagram video.

Longer videos do give an opportunity for expanded storytelling, but if you can pack a punch with less, by all means do so.

A screenshot from the dedicated Instagram account for Red Bull cliff diving world series, showing a thumbnail grid of different photographs and videos of people cliff diving.A dedicated Instagram page for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series


Pinterest is the dark horse social network that came from nowhere to become phenomenally popular with a very specific demographic: young-to-The logo for the website Pinterest, a red square with rounded corners with a white cursive 'P' in the centre.middle-aged women. (Pinterest’s users are 81% female, with a median age of 40, though most of its active pinners are younger than that).

It has since evolved into the ultimate ecommerce hub, with a community of creative, innovative and ingenious users flocking to Pinterest for DIY tips, hacks, shopping ideas and inspiration.

As Kevin Knight, Head of Creative and Brand Strategy at Pinterest, told ClickZ, Pinterest is a “future-planning tool” and a place that people go specifically to interact with brands.

Pinterest has welcomed this with open arms with the addition of Buyable Pins, which enable users to purchase products directly from their iPhone or iPad using Pinterest. Promoted Pins are also available to businesses based in the U.S., with the option of either boosting Pin engagement or driving more traffic through to your website.

So how can you get the best out of this commerce-friendly platform?

Curation and shareability are key

Pinterest is a curation-heavy platform, with over 80% of Pins being repinned from elsewhere in the site.

In fact, you can divide the four sites I’m analysing here down the middle by distinguishing between platforms that revolve around curation (Pinterest and Tumblr) and platforms which revolve around ‘original’ content (Instagram and Snapchat). Shareability is key.

Learn from analytics

Pinterest Analytics provides detailed information not only about your own account on Pinterest (including impressions, clicks and repins) but also content from your website that people have Pinned elsewhere, allowing you to see exactly what works, who is interacting and what is gaining the most activity.

A screenshot of one of Etsy's Guest Pinner boards on Pinterest, showing various foods, craft products and decorations pinned around a Valentine's Day theme.

Make the most of Pinterest’s interactivity and collaboration

Navneet Kaushal has a great piece on how to use Pinterest’s group boards effectively, with tips on how to engage and be engaging.

Etsy is one brand which makes extremely effective use of this feature on Pinterest, inviting ‘Guest Pinners’ to contribute to a particular board which focuses on an area relevant to Etsy’s brand.

This partnership serves to build a strong relationship between both Etsy and the contributor, as well as benefiting both with increased exposure, more followers and more activity.

Use Pinterest boards on other sites

Take your boards outside of Pinterest to engage people across platforms.

Pinterest boards can be embedded on websites and blogs (including Tumblr!); you can also add a ‘Pin It’ or Follow button to invite users back to Pinterest from your website, either to share your content or to follow you.

In the next half, we’ll be looking at why you shouldn’t overlook Tumblr, why Snapchat’s vanishing media is great for exclusive content, and some useful tips you can apply across the board when planning out any visual social media strategy.

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