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4 Ways to Maximize the Visual Web's Potential

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The visual web may have started off as a social-media phenomenon derived from smartphone cameras and the rise of Pinterest and Instagram, but it’s quickly revealing itself to be a full-fledged evolution of the Internet as an image-first medium, in which text has become a secondary source of information. With more than two billion images posted online every day, it’s clear that consumers love to communicate with pictures.

Reuters | Eric Thayer

If used effectively, the visual web can be of great benefit to companies looking to significantly expand their reach and impact, and plenty of brands are already tapping into it. Even so, overlooked opportunities abound. Here are four ways to make the most of them.

Related: 9 Must-Have Visual-Marketing Tools on the Web

1. Make the most of user-generated content (UGC).

Visually-driven social platforms continue to grow, enabling people to post more of their own images online. Instagram users alone post more than 80 million photos per day. Many of these pictures, inevitably, contain products, logos or other brand-related content. This is good news, because UGC not only provides marketers with more assets for use in their campaigns but has been shown to be 35 percent more memorable and 50 percent more trusted than other forms of media. And finding these brand-related images as they’re shared across the web is getting easier and easier thanks to social media monitoring tools that search for images via text and hashtags as well as the logos and other content in images.

2. Gain customer and product insight from image analysis.

UGC is more than just a potential marketing asset. Thanks to recent advances in image recognition technology, it’s now possible to find pictures across the social media landscape that are relevant to your brand, even those without any accompanying text that mentions your brand, which our own studies revealed to be the case with 80 percent of images. This kind of reach allows you to gather crucial insight that might not be found from traditional market research or social listening.

Say, for example, that you make salad dressing, but when you look at socially-shared images related to that salad dressing, you learn that a majority of those images show people using your salad dressing as a condiment for chicken wings rather than on their mixed greens. Unless everyone using the dressing as a chicken wing condiment is also sharing some words about it, you’ll miss that bit of market intelligence as well as the opportunity to communicate with consumers on a more precise and personal level.

3. Go beyond Pinterest and Instagram.

When asked which social platforms were the most representative of the visual web, marketers in a recent study we did with brand innovators on the visual web overwhelmingly picked Instagram (92%) and Pinterest (82%), which isn’t surprising considering those platforms have always been photo-first. More surprising, though, were the comparatively low percentage of visual web associations accorded to Snapchat (47%) and Tumblr (35%), both of which have always been image-first and boast phenomenal audience (Snapchat has over 100 million monthly users that share 8,796 photos per second) and growth (Tumblr overtook Instagram as the fastest-growing social platform in 2014).  

Related: How to Create a Killer Instagram Ad in Under 10 Minutes

4. Take advantage of the mobile screen.

The mobile advertising market is exploding with mobile programmatic buying in the U.S. expected to make up more than half of the overall programmatic display spend by 2017. One of the biggest challenges with bringing ads to mobile devices, however, is the limited amount of dedicated promotional space the smaller smartphone screen offers. As such, it’s crucial that you make the most of the space that you do have, which is increasingly available via native advertising that’s placed right into the main content stream.

Here’s where brands can make the most of the visual nature of many mobile sites and apps. The sponsored posts on Instagram and Tinder, which contain imagery that fits right in the user-generated pictures and posts, are a good example. By design (according to Instagram’s guidelines), they contain images that fit in with the flow of the user experience and don’t seem out of place, because they look the same as a regular post. And users seem to like it that way, judging by the way Sprint’s Instagram ad that actually looked like an ad was received. This kind of seamless integration enables brands to fit their ad into the context of mobile, making the most of the platform’s inherently limited space.

The explosive growth of visually-driven platforms and sites shows no signs of slowing down.  This year alone saw the launch of a new video sharing app from Instagram and a live videocasting app from Twitter along with countless new advertising opportunities for brands from Snapchat. In the grand scheme of things, it’s still early days for the visual web, meaning it’s not too late for companies to get in on the ground floor of a major shift in terms of how people behave online. Those that do can ride the wave and swell along with it, reaching more customers in ever more engaging ways.

Related: If You Aren't Thinking Mobile First, You're Doing It Wrong

Ophir Tanz

Written By

Ophir Tanz is an entrepreneur, technologist and the CEO and founder of GumGum, a digital-marketing platform for the visual web. Tanz is an active member of the Los Angeles startup and advertising community, serving as a mentor and advisor to other startups around Silicon Beach. He holds a B.S. and a M.S. from Carnegie Mellon University.