You want to create content that gets shared and builds an audience, right?

Of course you do. But (if you’re like us) – you don’t have a lot of time, so you need to make sure your content has impact. At BuzzSumo we’re obsessed with data and finding content marketing sweet spots. The latest data tells us that picture list posts are right in the middle of the sweet spot and a content marketer’s secret weapon.

If you’ve already thinking about booking this post (and you should!) I’m sure you’d also like to know that Buzzsumo and Canva will be holding a joint webinar discussing the power of images. We’ll also be catering to a number of time zones, so make sure you register now so you don’t miss out!

Now, where were we. You wanted to know about picture list posts, why are they so effective, and how to create a great one.

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What Analyzing 100 Million Facebook Posts Told Us About the Power of Images

Do images help create impact and result in more social sharing? Well, you’ve been hearing that a picture is worth a thousand words since you were in school. But school’s out, and as grown ups we like a little proof before we pour our budgets into something.

So we looked at 100 million Facebook posts over the last three months.  We found those without an image had 164 interactions on average (shares, likes, comments) whilst those with an image had an average of 372 interactions.Your teacher was right. Images work.

We’re wired to respond to visual cues. What had the most the impact, the numbers you read above or the image?

Picture List Posts – What Are They?

So we like images. But what is a picture list post? In simple terms a picture list post is a series of curated images that delivers value through the combination of images. We like images but we equally like narrative and context. Picture list posts have a clear purpose for example:

Telling a story. We are hardwired to tell and remember stories. Picture List posts combine those two natural impulses into one format. A picture list post can create a narrative through a series of images. I can tell a story about fashion simply by posting pictures of my clothes and my hair over the last 30 years!

Making comparisons. Picture list posts make it easy to draw comparisons through a series of related images. These might be ‘before and after’ or a series of pictures over time.

Demonstrating how to do a task. Picture list posts can make it easy to follow a process or complete a task. These range from how to bake a cake through to using the new features in Google analytics.

Curating ideas. One of my favorite forms of picture list posts are those that help me brainstorm ideas quickly and provide me with inspiration. These might be 10 great landing page designs or 10 garden design ideas.

Do Picture List Posts Have Measurable Impact?

Do they work? Right now, the top ‘picture list posts’ on BuzzFeed and Playbuzz get over 1 million shares. Picture list posts consistently perform well relative to other content and publishers are well aware of this. Two of the Guardian’s top 6 most shared articles last year were picture list posts.

The most shared picture list post last year was one by BuzzFeed which received over 2.5m shares. This post revealed the huge size of the universe through a series of images, working away from the earth. The image showing the size of a large comet on the top of L.A. was also quite striking.

26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence

Photos: Matt Wang / Via mentalfloss.com and @lucybrockle

Photos: Matt Wang / Via mentalfloss.com and @lucybrockle

BuzzFeed is well known for its list posts but there is a growing trend for other publishers to also tap into the power of ‘picture list posts’. The Guardian is producing picture list posts more frequently such as this one Overpopulation, overconsumption – in pictures (which had over 300,000 shares).

Photos by Zak Noyle and Daniel Dancer

Photos by Zak Noyle and Daniel Dancer

The New York Times has run similar picture posts including its very popular the Year in Pictures.

Below is a selection of picture list posts that got over 250,000 social shares.

You may not achieve a quarter of a million shares but the evidence shows that a well designed picture list post will outperform other content formats.

The Perfect Content Formula: A combination of images, lists and curated content

One of the reasons picture list posts work so well is that they combine the power of images, lists and curation into a single post. It is like rolling three of your favorite superheros into one.

Let’s look briefly at the these three content formats.

The power of images

There is a mass of research and data about the power of images to back up our 100 million Facebook article analysis.  Research by Socialbakers found that images on Facebook constituted 93% of the most engaging posts on the network, compared with status updates, links and even video. On Instagram pictures can accumulate over 500,000 likes in a single week. People love to share images. So if you want your content to be shared, you simply have to include images.

The power of curation

Curated content works really well as there is simply too much content to consume. How many of the 250m images posted yesterday on the internet did you view? (Probably more than you should have). Good curators help us by selecting relevant content and add value through commentary and context.

Curation is generally undertaken by experts or those with a passion for the subject. They find, curate and contextualize content. This saves the user time significant time in undertaking their own research and content discovery. Good curators can also provide context to a story and add their own viewpoints to provide a more comprehensive overview of a subject. Curated content is increasingly popular in a busy world, where we are overloaded with content.

Pinterest boards can work really well as collections of curated images. You can also search for a collection of tagged images. For example, when I was after inspiration for my very small London walled garden I pulled up these images below of French Courtyard Gardens.

The power of list posts

Good list posts are not lazy writing. Whilst there has been much criticism of listicles, a good list post, if done well, takes a lot of research and time. In many ways a list post is similar to a curated post but one which is instantly scannable as a list. In creating a list post such as 7 steps to design a landing page the author adds value by breaking down a task into a series of clear steps.

List posts also tell the reader what to expect. I might be interested in 5 ways to improve my email headlines rather than 28 reasons to invest in email marketing or to read a long form 5,000 word article on the subject. There is a promise in list posts that the author has done the research and broken down the research or task into a series of clear points. There is an expectation that you will gain some valuable nuggets of information rather than a long form essay. This makes them a very attractive form of content for the time pressed consumer.

Why You Should Add Picture List Posts To Your Content Strategy

The combination of curation, lists and images into a picture list post works because the human brain processes images much faster than text. Readers can absorb your content through multiple images far easier than by reading paragraphs of text. The picture list post contains the promise of a list post but rather than scanning headings and text you can scan images quickly and efficiently. You can also grasp points very quickly through well curated images, and much faster than you can watch video or listen to a podcast. They’re the ultimate in efficient, emotionally engaging content.

So what can you do with a series of curated pictures in a list post? Lots of things:

  • help tell a story
  • show the passing of time
  • show comparisons
  • explain a concept
  • demonstrate a process

Let’s look at some examples of picture list posts in action.

01. Telling a Story with Pictures

Picture list posts can use the power of images to create and tell a story. How would you react if your fiance called off your wedding a few days before the event? Maybe like Shelby Swink. She trashed her dress, regained her dignity, and the picture list post got over 230,000 shares.

Photos from Elizabeth Hoard Photography

Photos from Elizabeth Hoard Photography

02. Making A Cumulative Emotional Impact with Pictures

This is a variation on the story list post. A series of images can have a cumulative emotional impact on the reader as the story unfolds. This “Last Words” post is a particularly good example which makes no apology for delivering an emotional stomach punch:

Curator: Andrea Garcia-Vargas

Curator: Andrea Garcia-Vargas

This post had over 260,000 shares.

03. Show The Passing Of Time: Then and Now

Maybe it’s the shortest form of picture story: That was then, this is now. Pictures allow readers to instantly make visual comparisons. These most often are side by side image comparisons.

This example post uses a series of image comparisons to demonstrate the impact of climate change.

Photos NPR

Photos NPR

Picture list comparisons can take many different and creative forms. For example, the Huffington post and the Guardian ran two different formats when looking at the past and present of D-Day landing sites.

The Huffington Post article used merged images, effectively overlaying two images into a single emotive image. This post has had over 600,000 shares.

Photos Reuters

Photos Reuters

The Guardian in its D-day landings scenes in 1944 and now, created an interactive overlay so the viewer can move between the images. This post has had over 330,000 shares

Photos by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty and Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

Photos by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty and Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

Comparison posts do not have to be comparisons over time.  This ‘from around the world’ post made comparisons of school meals across different countries. The use of pictures is far more immediately powerful than describing the school lunches in different countries.

Photos Sweetgreen

Photos Sweetgreen

04. How To Picture List Posts

A series of pictures can be a really practical way to deliver value in a ‘how to’ post (think IKEA flatpack assembly instructions — only stuff you actually want to do). People love life hacks that help them do tasks quicker and better. This post How to dry Nail Polish Quickly is not really one for me but has had over 670,000 shares.  Video is an alternative, but takes longer to make, scan, and consume.

Photos WikiHow

Photos WikiHow

05. Curation of Ideas

These posts are great for showing you possibilities and options. They act as a form of virtual brainstorming board. The images on the French Courtyard Gardens above immediately opens up a wide range of ideas and possibilities. They can be inspirational.

Many Pinterest boards work in this way. If I am after ideas for say a small kitchen then Pinterest will deliver a curated set of ideas visually for me to scroll through. I can very quickly dismiss the ones I don’t like and focus in the ideas that might work in my small London kitchen.

This is an example picture list post on 7 cool kitchen organisers.

Photos glideware.com and media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com

Photos glideware.com and media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com

These picture list posts almost act as a quick form of brainstorming, such as give me 7 ways to organize my desk. They allow the user to browse ideas very quickly.

06. An Awe Inspiring Curation

People appreciate good curation. I Photographs can literally get the heart beating faster as this series of pictures demonstrates.

Photos Kirill Oreshkin, Richard0428, and Desre Tate

Photos Kirill Oreshkin, Richard0428, and Desre Tate

So How Can You Get in the Picture?

Sold on the benefits of picture list posts? Great. So how can you make them work for your industry or topic? Ask yourself some questions to get started:

  • What types of images work best in your industry or topic? Have a look at examples on Pinterest or Google images.
  • What images can you use to tell a story? For example, the growth of a company can be told very effectively through pictures of offices and staff over time.
  • What type of stories work in your area? How does one of your successful projects or case studies look as a series of images?
  • What comparisons can you make with images? For example, how have products in your area changed over time, a simply series of phone images can demonstrate what has happened to phones over the last 20 years. What ‘before and after’ images might also work for you.
  • What concepts can you explain through a series of images? Processes and tips can often work well as a series of screenshots.
  • What ‘how to’ picture post might work in your area? Ask your support teams about the questions and issues facing your customers. Can you make a ‘how to’ picture post the best answer.
  • Could you show a different angle or viewpoint through a series of pictures?
  • How could you surprise people with a series of images?
  • What’s awe-inspiring in what you do? What does that look like?
  • What series of images might amuse or thrill people?

And the tools for the trade? If you’re worried you don’t have the resources or the skills, check out Canva’s library of templates which can help you create multiple design quickly and easily.

Or better yet, if you want to learn more about how you can use the power of images to boost your blog traffic, tune into one of our live webinars with the team at Canva for an exclusive look at the latest visual marketing data. Catch us at the times below:

Wed, Jun 3, 2015 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM EST
Fri, Jun 5, 2015 12:00 AM – 1:00 AM EST

In the meantime, happy designing!

Steve is an owner and director at BuzzSumo, a tool that helps people improve their content marketing through data-driven insights. He’s also a serial entrepreneur and has founded and sold a number of companies including Kineo, an e-learning company where he was MD for 7 years. Follow him on Twitter @steverayson.