You Ought to be in Pictures – Why Visual Strategy is Key for Social Commerce

June 12, 2017
 

Social media is image-obsessed — literally. With mobile-first, photo-centric social platforms leading the way, more and more consumers are interacting with products and brands primarily through visuals, which means merchants must adapt their content strategy accordingly.

The popularity of image-based social networks is soaring. After Facebook, photo-centric sites Instagram and Pinterest occupy the #2 and #3 spots on the list of social networks, attracting 33% and 31% of U.S. online adults, respectively.  And unlike Facebook, Instagram is forecast to see double-digit growth this year, with visual blogging platform Tumblr notching second place for growth at 8.6% year-over-year.

Not only are visual social networks popular; they’re effective drivers of eCommerce revenue. While Facebook’s massive audience uses the platform for everything from sharing family vacation photos to following live news events, Instagram and Pinterest are more narrowly focused on aspirational imagery, which is closely linked with the impulse to browse and shop for pictured products.Fully 22% of social traffic coming to retail brand sites is from Pinterest or Instagram; three quarters of Pinterest users say they’ve gone on to buy products they spotted on the platform, whileInstagram leads social networks in terms of brand engagement, notching fully 92% of all social interactions.

To underscore this link, both Instagram and Pinterest have lately launched new shopping-friendly tools.Pinterest has upped the ante on its identity as a visual search engine: browsers can now search for items similar to individual elements in photos (such as the blouse pictured as part of an outfit); they can also use their smartphone camera to snap pictures of items, and then see Pinterest pins featuring similar subjects; and they can even download a browser extension search tool that will return Pinterest results to match any online image.

Meanwhile, Instagram has just expanded availability of an icon that, when tapped, shows viewers product tags for items pictured in an image. Shoppers can tap from the tags directly to the eCommerce site product page, easing the connection to commerce.

Even Facebook has increasingly put the emphasis on visuals, with “carousel”-style image displays for both organic and paid posts, a live video service, and, most recently, a “stories” feed that rivals Snapchat’s popular ephemeral photo-sequencing feature

The big picture is clear: merchants need to invest in visual content creation for social media, or risk being left behind. To make the most of image-centric social media, merchants should:

Make every post a visual post. Merchants should get creative with how they use images in social media to ensure every post achieves its full engagement potential. That means posting photos with recipes, sourcing illustrations for quizzes and polls, and translating text quotes into images that can easily be re-pinned or reposted. Kibo merchant Learning Resources, which sells educational toys and learning materials for classroom and home use, recently featured “around the world” factoids with colorful images, making them as eye-catching as they are timely and shareable.

Integrate the product catalog for easy tagging. To ensure that images can link easily to products, merchants should add social media platforms to their list of product catalog integrations. As the ability to “tag” individual products within images — and even to add “buy” buttons for transacting within the social environment — becomes increasingly available, it’s crucial to be able to link accurately to the correct product detail page and access updated product data.

Develop video content and adapt it for native social formats. Social media video draws heightened engagement and improved visibility — and with 51% of video plays coming from mobile devices, it’s an essential way to connect with brand followers.  Merchants should develop a deep library of video content and adapt it for individual social networks, as well as taking advantage of live video options for such content-building opportunities as coverage of live events, behind-the-scenes peeks, and sneak previews.

Invite and promote visual contributions from shoppers. Merchants should encourage active participation with the brand by building momentum around Instagram hashtags and offering “pin it to win it”-style sweepstakes. Such contributions should be incorporated across social outposts and even on the eCommerce site itself; showcasing how shoppers interpret the brand demonstrates that merchants are authentically interested in what consumers want and are listening for feedback and inspiration.

Kibo merchant Title Nine’s #MyT9 hashtag campaign showcases customers’ outdoor recreation stories, reinforcing the brand’s identity and demonstrating the utility of its products.

Understand the legal issues behind visual content. With increased usage of user-contributed snapshots, candid video and live streaming comes a new raft of privacy and intellectual-property concerns. Merchants should ensure that new initiatives around image content follow best practices that include updates to their privacy policy, explicitly stating how user-submitted content might be reused and prominently featuring contest rules that are concise and easy to read. Third-party user-generated content tools such as TINT and Chute offer automated solutions for locating and seeking permission to reuse content; merchants can also manually request to repost items when in doubt. Merchants should also research and adhere to any existing industry standards, such as the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for online video and the Internet Advertising Bureau’s guidelines for digital video.

How are you maximizing the visual impact of social networks?