Francis Bea

The elephant in the room for marketers crafting a social media strategies are photo-sharing social networks. The major social networks have invested in photo-sharing, with Google acquiring Nik Software and its photo app, Snapseed, Facebook scooping up Instagram and Twitter developing filters for its native photo feature to keep up with the competition. So we know that photo-sharing apps are important, but what does that mean for advertisers and brands?

Brands must realize that now more than ever photography goes hand-in-hand with social media. We owe that to our smartphones. Hurricane Sandy, despite the circumstances, is a good example of the role that photography plays today among the users of social networks. Instagram disclosed the numbers that shot the social photo-sharing app to the spotlight alongside Twitter. In fact, more than 801,000 photos were shared with the hashtag #Sandy on Instagram as of Nov. 6. 485,000 photos tagged with #hurricanesandy were shared during the event.

Images that accompany an advertiser’s Open Graph story on Facebook have been given more real estate. Facebook found that larger images have 70 percent more clicks and 50 times more “Like” feedback.

When it comes to commerce or return on investments, smartphone owners these days are accustomed to sharing images with followers, friends and family – and are encouraged to do so. They’re also spending more with this activity.

To give you a look at how effective a photo-sharing social network is for commerce compared to a traditional social network, a Bizrate Insights study found that 69 percent of Pinterest users were inclined to make a purchase, while only 40 percent of consumers visiting Facebook would want to make a purchase. The study adds that “more online consumers agree that Pinterest is a place to ‘get inspiration on what to buy,’ ‘help keep track of or collect things I like,’ and ‘to keep up with the latest trends on things that I like.’”

So it’s not hard to see that there’s an opportunity for brands to tap into the photo-sharing culture, especially when social networks revolving around images tend to fare better commerce-wise. But photo-sharing social networks are a new and mysterious beast and marketers are scrambling to figure out how to best utilize these platforms.

There are numerous strategies out there that marketers have been experimenting with, from contests to simply engaging with followers. With that in mind I’ve compiled a couple of pointers and case studies to keep in mind.

First, marketers will have to supplement their marketing strategies with a robust analytics platform. Because the industry is new, there aren’t many standout competitors in the market like the Buddy Medias or SocialBakers of the world. However there are a couple of analytics platforms for Pinterest that I could recommend.

Reachli, formerly known as Pinerly, offers in-image advertising for brands looking to promote their products on visual social networks like Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest and others. The suite of services includes an analytics platform, campaign editor and campaign reports.

Curalate provides analytics in a similar manner and contest-oriented promotional tools. While for now the service only works for Pinterest, the company is working to support other platforms such as Instagram and Tumblr in the near future. But what makes Curalate unique is the proprietary image recognition algorithm that can track pixel-by-pixel the product in the image and where it’s being shared.

To give you an idea of how companies are cleverly engaging with their fans through visual, you should take a look at Warby Parker’s Instagram strategy, Burberry’s Tumblr page and Carnival’s Pinterest contest.

One advantage that a visual social network has for its users is that you can have social media spill over in the real world. For example, Warby Parker invited Instagram users to a sojourn in New York City with the Warby Parker crew to photograph the city that many residents take for granted. At the end of the walk, participants would be invited to drinks in its offices. While the strategy isn’t groundbreaking, Instagram, as Warby Parker’s Tim Riley told me in an interview earlier, was the company’s second fastest growing social network.

If you take a look at Burberry’s Tumblr page, the company has transformed the blog into a user-aggregated pinboard where they can show off their Burberry trench coats to other visitors to the site. It cleverly engages its users, while selling the point that its coats can look good on just about anyone. And if you look at the top right corner of the blog, you’ll see a link titled, “Shop Trench Coats.” Seeing the coat being worn so well by others, it might make you consider investing in a Burberry trenchcoat.

Finally to paint a picture of how Curalate works and how effective Pinterest can be, Carnival Cruise Lines ran a contest using Curalate’s Promote tool for a chance to win a seven-day cruise. Contests created through Curalate can live on a website outside of Pinterest, but contest entrants are required to repin pins from Carnival Cruise Line’s pinboard to be eligible for the prize. In the 11-day entry period, Carnival Cruise Lines’ website traffic blew up by 700 percent and received 18,000 opt-in email addresses.

While I’ve briefly outlined some examples of how brands can effectively embrace the new wave of social media users, it’s a relatively new field and there are experiments to be conducted by marketers before strategies in visual social networks mature.

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