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How to use social media visuals more effectively

Social media requires proper and effective visuals for your posts to be more impactful. Any first-grade student knows that. Seasoned marketers do too. That said, a recent study by Vistacreate and the Content Marketing Institute showed that there is room for improvement in that area. In this report, CMI’s Robert Rose, founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, the education and consulting group for Content Marketing, urged marketers to better test their assumptions. The report also provides in-depth insights regarding social media visuals and how to use them effectively.

How to Use Social Media Visuals More Effectively

Social Media Visuals
Social Media Visuals are important CMI and Vista create conclude in a 2023 study. Nonetheless, marketers should be spending a little more time testing rather than creating visuals for themselves  –  This is a Midjourney-generated image of a painter crafting a social media visual for Twitter.

The Current State of Social Media Visuals

We all know, at least intuitively that social media visuals are important. A recent survey by CMI and Vista Create is bringing evidence that our gut feeling is true. It also points out that marketers should test their visuals more carefully.

Social Media Visuals
A 2023 Social Media Visuals study by CMI and Vistacreate.

The survey results in a nutshell

CMI selected a sample of marketers for this survey. 167 respondents were qualified for analysis and they answered the institute’s questions in June 2022. Here is a visual representation of the sample with a slide taken from the report.

Worthy of note is the fact that B2B and B2B+B2C add up to 69% of the total sample. The survey is mostly geared towards business-to-business. B2C, other and not-for-profit make up the remaining 31% of the survey respondents. The survey was essentially carried out in the US (68% of respondents).

The survey results in a nutshell

CMI have derived five major insights from their survey

Insight number one: test your assumptions

The authors of the report insist that too many marketers are behaving according to their own tastes rather than testing how effective their visuals are. This is the main finding of the report. Whereas marketing is about measuring customer response and the effectiveness of one’s messages and campaigns, it seems that most marketers are instead relying on their own tastes.

Visuels médias sociaux
Social media visuals designed by Leonardo da Vinci? Anything is possible with Midjourney, but not sure it’s a good thing, though.

It might be a good idea if your brand is a trendsetter like Apple or Gucci. When Android released its new flat design look and feel with its 4.0 Icecream sandwich version, it set a new trend for all to follow. Apple followed in their footsteps in 2013. At the time, most of us found flat design awful and too minimalistic. After a little while our tastes changed and we became used to it.

Social media visuals
Marketers have this tendency to craft beautiful images that they like rather than pictures that are either effective or appeal to their audiences. Whereas this might be a good idea if you are Apple or Gucci, it may not if your brand is not a luxury or a beloved brand. The above picture is a Midjourney-generated image. A painter is creating a huge social media visual for Twitter with a paintbrush.

This happened because every one of us had an Android or Apple iPhone in our pockets. In fact, we didn’t have a choice. For visual social ads, audiences do have a choice to click or not to click.

The perspective is very different. Hence the testing.

Insight number 2: look at visual social media as a platform

The authors are claiming that visual content creation for social media is moving in-house.

Nearly 50% of brands don’t have a separate budget for social media visual content. Yet, creating social media-friendly visuals is a job in its own right and a budget should be allocated to this.

60% of marketers said they create visual content themselves, 56% have in-house professional designers, and only 28% use freelance designers (the overlap is because some respondents indicated all three options)

What is strange though is that the authors of the report found out that ‘counter-intuitively, small businesses are more likely to have a separate budget for visual social content, as compared to larger companies (47% vs. 22%)’.

The authors claim that this is a good thing, but that brands need to have a least a small budget for content creation. After all, content creation is a job, not a hobby.

Insight number 3: build repeatable processes

When looking at what kinds of visuals are more successful than others, CMI’s survey consistently highlighted 3 main content types:

  1. Video content
  2. Custom photos (as opposed to stock images)
  3. Infographics

Instagram’s top three are a bit different with ‘stories’ coming third. Reels on Facebook didn’t seem to catch up, though.

Videos are often quoted as being the top performers. That said, very few marketers manage to make their videos viral without paid social media ads. We definitely recommend brands to work on their word-of-mouth strategies before moving to ad-driven social activation.

Insight number 4: match those processes with a documented and formal budget

As to effectiveness, LinkedIn is definitely most brands’ pet social platform.

LinkedIn scored the highest at 56% (rating it as extremely or very effective), followed by Facebook (38%), and Instagram (31%)

These results are most probably due to the strong B2B bias in the survey sample.

Insight number 5: empower visual content creators to tell stories

The fifth insight is probably the most interesting one. CMI tested 5 different social media visuals with marketers and non-marketers. The results were completely different according to the audience.

Social media visuals should be tested with your audiences. CMI showed that the green visual was ranked highest by marketers and one of the least effective by non-marketers. QED.

Content creators know that by heart. As the name goes, they bet on creativity and inventiveness and come up with great concepts. But here comes the Corporate Marketing Officer who starts shouting at you by stating you’re ‘not on brand’.

Next thing you know, the content creator in question is so crestfallen that she or he – reluctantly – opens the boring brand guidelines once more and produces a clone of all other social media visuals. So much so that all the brand’s social media posts and ads look the same.

Marketers are too self-obsessed and they value their brand guidelines too much. Whereas brand guidelines are, in general, a good thing, they also tend to make all your content uniform and bland.

Try and work with third-party content creators and external media partners to generate more diverse and more social media-friendly visuals that appeal to your audiences. This is a trick we have often implemented while working as a social media director as well as with our customers.

About the authors of the report

Social Media Visuals
The authors of the social media visuals study report

Social Media Visuals

Important notice: our most observant readers will have noticed that we like to produce our own creative visuals without testing them. This is because we have been trendsetters for nearly thirty years 😉

Yann Gourvennec
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Yann Gourvennec

Yann Gourvennec created visionarymarketing.com in 1996. He is a speaker and author of 6 books. In 2014 he went from intrapreneur to entrepreneur, when he created his digital marketing agency. ———————————————————— Yann Gourvennec a créé visionarymarketing.com en 1996. Il est conférencier et auteur de 6 livres. En 2014, il est passé d'intrapreneur à entrepreneur en créant son agence de marketing numérique. More »
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