Social media is undergoing a profound, fundamental change. This revolution isn't being televised. But it is being captured, filtered, and shared - six and 15 seconds at a time.
This is the social-visual revolution, where a dramatic increase in visual content shared via social media is massively altering the way we connect and communicate online. In short, in a digital economy, visuals are quickly becoming the preferred currency for engagement.
A quick look at the stats verifies just how big this explosion is:
Granted, visual content is nothing new; photos and videos have dotted the social landscape for years. What is new, though, is how these visuals are being used - and what they're replacing.
A recent article by Nick Bilton of The New York Times included a revealing anecdote about Google co-founder Sergey Brin. While eating lunch, Brin received a text message asking what he was up to. Brin simply responded with an image of his surroundings. As Bilton writes, Brin "didn't need to type or say anything; the image was enough."
In that one action, Brin reflected the way visuals are shifting how we interact digitally. Where we once needed 140 characters, a single image will do. Where we once needed multiple descriptions, a six-second video from our phone works just fine.
In other words, visual content is no longer part of our communication; many times, it is the communication.
B2B brands, this is a huge opportunity. Read on for three tips for thriving in a social-visual world:
Social-visual content is ideal for building this type of brand affinity. Why? Images and short videos cut through the clutter, they carry emotional impact, and they make things easy for your user. So much of social is about passive consumption - how many times a day do you turn to Twitter or Facebook for a distraction? - and colorful photos and engaging clips are much more likely to be noticed than typical corporate-speak.
On a practical level, you can up your social-visual game with two simple steps: 1) look for visual ways to present your traditional content (whitepapers, webinars, etc.) rather than simply typing a call-to-action; and 2) engage your audience with visual campaigns that focus on your brand's personality, not a specific product.
Two great examples from the B2B world are Marketo, a marketing automation software provider, and HubSpot, an inbound marketing software firm. Take a look at their Twitter feeds: Marketo weaves fantastic "#PhotobombFriday" and "#MotivationalMonday" photo posts in with more classic marketing content (also often accompanied by great visuals), while HubSpot mixes in everything from Vine videos of its "Pushup Club" to visual teasers of upcoming content. The end result is multiple brand touches over an extended period of time that generate a greater willingness to pay attention to what the companies have to say.
So, look to the B2C realm - and even celebrities - for inspiration. Yes, we're talking about the world of selfies, food pictures, and memes. But look past what's being shared and focus instead on why so many people are captivated by it. Often, it comes back to emotional and sociological factors we're all familiar with: we want to be entertained (movie characters come to life), we want access (backstage at the Grammys), and we want to dream (Nike encouraging users to be great).
Those are all cues B2B brands can adopt as well. What can you deliver to users that's unexpected, worth a second look, or exclusive to your brand? Think in terms of experiences. Maybe you take them behind the scenes of an upcoming campaign with Instagram and Vine. Maybe you incentivize tweeting from your booth at your next trade show. Maybe you offer a one-of-a-kind VIP experience accessible only through social-visual channels.
Whatever it is, keep in mind that the goal is not immediate conversion; it's about delivering a positive brand experience. And the payoff is enormous. The social-visual movement empowers you to position yourself as a company that's relevant, smart, and that gets it - qualities all B2B brands strive for.
Virgin America, for example, just launched a "Summer of Selfies" contest, rewarding photo-taking fliers with frequent flyer points. The campaign is beautifully simple, tapping into the social-visual sphere that users are already plugged in to while offering a refreshingly cool brand experience. Other examples include brands using stop-motion clips to communicate tips of the day and hashtags to promote on-site experiences.
The common denominator in all these campaigns is that they capitalize on existing user behaviors: selfies have long been ubiquitous; stop-motion is a big reason early adopters flocked to Vine; and hashtags are now nearly second nature.
So keep an eye on emerging trends in the social-visual realm. Look out especially for new visual communication techniques, along with creative hashtags that resonate over time. Most importantly, remain an active social user yourself. At the end of the day, as a B2B marketer, you're often your own target audience, so pay attention and see what stands out to you.
What This Means for Marketers
Adaptivity in social isn't a choice; it's a requisite. The social-visual revolution in particular demands that we rethink how we communicate to reflect the language of our digital users. Agile brands are already starting to embrace this shift, and your time to act is now.
And I know - hearing that social is changing (again) is probably the last thing you want to hear. But here's why you should be excited: social changes so frequently and so rapidly that it levels the playing field. It's a natural reset button. And that gives your brand, whether you're socially savvy or socially awkward, a chance to emerge as a frontrunner while others are still figuring things out.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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John Lee is Manager, Brand and Social Marketing at Webtrends. In 2012, he was recognized by PR Daily for creating both the year's "Best Branding Campaign" and "Event of the Year." Follow him on Twitter @lee_john.
March 19, 2014