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If you need proof that visual content is the future of marketing, look no further than Instagram. The social media site has become a destination for retailers, influencers, information-seekers, entrepreneurs and artists, and every form of exchange revolves around one thing: visual content. To date, there are over 800 million active users on Instagram and these users share over 95 million photos daily. Now, let that number sink in – that’s over double America’s entire population. With so many people sharing and interacting with visual content every day, photography has become an incredibly valuable tool for response marketers, driving engagement and revenue. In fact, Sprout Social notes that photos on Instagram generate 36 percent more likes than video posts and Instagram ad revenue is expected to reach nearly $7 billion in 2018, which is a $2 billion jump from 2016’s statistics. Incredible photography also boosts follower count – known for its stunning photography, National Geographic currently tops the list of brands with the most followers, with a whopping 85.9 million followers to date. So, how do you transform your social media photos into a highly profitable asset? Check out our tips below.

1. It’s all in the details.

Saturation. Brightness. Texture. Color and composition. Are you considering all of these factors before you post a photo? If not, then you should be! The social media researchers over at Curalate compared a wide range of photos to uncover why certain photos perform better than others, and they found that the smallest details made all the difference. First, if you love capturing dark and moody photos, you’re going to want to rethink that strategy. According to Curalate’s Pixel Perfect infographic, lighter images receive 24 percent more likes than images with low lighting, which makes sense, since the average attention span amounts to about 8 seconds. People value clarity and the ability to quickly absorb content without having to think too hard about it. This rule is also why images with more background space “generate 29 percent more likes” than those with busier backgrounds. Now, when it comes to texture, the more the better – images that feature fabrics, for example, get 79 percent more likes than “smoother” photos.

2. Practice your selfies.

The key to highly engaging photography? Your face! No, really – Social Media Today notes that photos with faces in them generate 38 percent more likes than the average post and are 32 percent more likely to get commented on. This data comes from a study performed by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Yahoo Labs that analyzed 1.1 million photos on Instagram to determine which ones got the most engagement. The study also found that the number of faces, age and gender didn’t make a difference – just one face is as powerful as five or six. So, what is it about faces that brings in the likes? Well, researchers aren’t quite sure, but they do have a guess: “Even as babies, people love to look at faces,” said lead researcher Saeideh Bakhshi, “Faces are powerful channels of non-verbal communication. We constantly monitor them for a variety of contexts, including attractiveness, emotions and identity.” Looking at the research, it’s clear that people respond to and may even keep an eye out for faces, so next time you’re planning your social media calendar, consider adding a few people-driven photos for good measure (and engagement)!

3. Feature products.

Great news, marketers! It turns out that people want to engage with sponsored, product-focused posts on social media! Many consumers look to Instagram for inspiration in a variety of industries – fashion, fitness, and health and wellness to name a few – and this makes it the ideal platform for showcasing and interacting with sponsored products. Research compiled by L2 indicates that “65 percent of the best-performing posts on Instagram feature products, while 29% feature a brand ambassador or influencer.” If you haven’t heard of influencer marketing, we highly recommend checking out our blog Is Your Selling Under the Influence? and listen to our accompanying podcast, but here’s the short version: Influencers – or social media users with wide followings – are the future of digital marketing. Seventy percent of millennials prefer to see influencer endorsements and 67 percent of marketers are already promoting products using influencer marketing, so if you have yet to incorporate influencers into your marketing strategy, now is the time.

When developing your social media strategy, high quality photography is essential for driving engagement (and revenue) for your brand. Done powerfully, it can expand viewership and heighten brand recognition all while establishing industry leadership. Keeping social research in mind while developing this content will ensure that your social content elicits the response you desire from your target audience.

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