The web is not merely an informational medium – it’s a visual medium, an experience driven as much by pictures as by words. Fortunately for small business, simplified tools are becoming increasingly available to help beef up websites with images, easily and at little expense.
Pinterest, for instance, offers a way for users to connect from an image back to a business’s site. Instagram allows users to snap pics and share them readily with networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Google even gives advice on how to help people find your images faster.
Is it worth the effort to add a visual component to a small business’s social presence on the web? Users and web marketers say there can be a big payoff, if the process is handled correctly.
Put a Face to the Name
Pictures can drive interest, along with a sense of connectedness. "Images shared on Instagram and other social media sites incite curiosity," says Shelley Webb, an expert contributor to online health and wellness platform ShareCare. (The site’s photos provide visual cues, guiding visitors to such topics as flu care, healthy eating, and weight loss.)
People want to do business with other people, not with faceless entities. "The more familiar that person appears to them, the more they feel like they know them and the more they feel they can trust them," Webb says.
Check Out the Landscape
What kinds of images belong on a social site? Most obvious: Images that are not copyrighted. You can take your own photos, or visit free image libraries like openphoto.net, Stockvault.net, or morguefile.com. You can also search for uncopyrighted photos on image search portals such as Flickr’s creative commons, 123RF and WikiCommons
There may be hundreds of free photos out there that apply to your business, not to mention the ones you take yourself. How to narrow the field? One way is to listen in on what’s already being said.
For example, a business owner may check out the images on view in communities related to their industry. "They can also do competitive and branded research on what users already say about their brand, competitors and vertical, in order to determine how best to visualize their product or service," said Dan Wilkerson, a project manager at digital marketing firm LunaMetrics in Pittsburgh.
In other words, find the images that most represent your type of business and look for pictures in that same realm.
Tips and Tricks
What makes for a successful visual effort? Some specifics, from Jonathan Passley, president of web design firm PDR Web Solutions in Timonium, Maryland:
- If you have a business blog, make sure that every post has an appealing "pinnable" image that is relevant to the article.
- Use Pinterest to aggregate images related to your industry, products and services, and don't forget to include links to your blog in the mix.
- Use Instagram to humanize your brand—Show your audience how you do business and who is behind it.
- Don't forget about humor—Everyone could use a laugh. Create custom memes about your products, services, industry or hot trends.
- Occasionally showcase your work by sharing the images of your products or completed projects, but go light on the self-promotion and be sure you have clients’ permission.
- Keep it exclusive--Don't post the same photos to every social network.
- Harness the power of infographics by using images to illustrate a step-by-step process related to your product or service. Share infographics on Pinterest.
Underlying all these techniques is a basic dictum: Keep it real. Photos need to feel authentic; they need to drive an emotional connection in order to be effective.
"Posting photos for the sake of posting photos, which everyone winds up doing, is dumb," says social media critic B.J. Mendelson. "You want to post photos that people will remember or that will elicit a response.
"Pictures should invite visitors to 'emotionally invest' in you. If you can get them to do that, they are more likely to purchase what you want them to," Mendelson says.