Each year, social media sites tend to all prioritize one element of technology. In a lot of ways it’s an effort to not be outdone, but often it is a response to the types of things users like to do. For example, Foursquare and Gowalla each came out around the same time, boasting check-in features, and Yelp and Facebook were quick to catch up. Before that, it was the live-newsfeed, started by Twitter and adopted by Facebook. Although I haven’t seen a lot of talk about it, I think that recently the focus has been on the power of the image.
One of the most popular mobile apps, for example, has been Instagram. This app lets you take photos, modify them with filters, and share them across a number of social networks. It has become my go-to app for photo taking, whether for fun or when I’m in the field, and has allowed me to engage a wide-number of people on a number of different networks with great looking photos. Twitter upgraded their web-based client this year to allow people to better see images that are placed in tweets, and put your recently posted images on your profile wall. Flickr is aware of the priority of photos, and is currently restructuring just about everything, including their website, to keep up with the rest of social media sites.
Pinterest, the new social media darling, is really pushing the envelope for images. Billing itself as your pin board for the web, it is an entire social network that feeds built on images. It is the shopping mall of the social world, where visitors essentially window shop the web, looking at pictures that are driven to websites. As a content producer, the only way to drive traffic from Pinterest will be through the quality of your images, not your words.
Lastly, Facebook’s big upgrade to the Timeline, both for personal and business pages, emphasizes the full value of pictures. Profiles boast a large banner image across the width of the screen, and individual photos that are posted to the wall are much larger than they were before. This is in response to Facebook’s data that shows that pictures are the most liked and clicked type of content on the web. While Facebook tends to chase out trendy items, Timeline is not a project like their check-in feature: this is a major restructuring of personal and business profiles, which are important components of their site.
What does this mean for those of us who are producing content and hoping to drive people to our websites? Pictures are critical. If you don’t have a good image that will be featured on the Pinterest wall, or aren’t capitalizing on your Facebook page by uploading photos regularly, then you won’t be able to reach as many people. Recently, I’ve been frustrated with some great blog posts I’ve read because they didn’t have images attached to them, meaning I couldn’t share them on Pinterest, and that when I shared them on Facebook, there wasn’t a visual attached to the link. This means that you may be missing out on a huge demographic of people who may be interested in your content, but won’t ever see it.
And how about those of us in the cultural heritage fields? What does this mean for archaeologists who are using social media? Well, I think it’s good news. Our discipline is extremely visual. There are historical photos, artifact photos, and excavation photos that we can include on all of our posts, upload to Facebook or Flickr, and include captions and have discussions about the content. The basis of my success with Twitter from the get-go was live-tweets from the field, and those almost always included a photo. Now, with tools like Instagram, we can blast those photos to every social media site at once, and they will be more visible because these sites are highlighting them in big ways. In the end, this means more engagement with the public.
So, get yourself a camera, and start thinking about how you can use images to increase your level of engagement with your followers!
[Image Courtesy of Flickr User Shuggy with Creative Commons License]