Let’s face it: trying to get clicks and conversions through social media without having a core strategy in place is like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks.

But with so many platforms all vying for your attention, how do you concentrate your efforts on the ones that bring you the most engagement and customers?

Follow these ten simple steps to ignite discussion, improve conversion rates and build a following of engaged, loyal fans.

01. Why Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy?

Creating a social media strategy is a vital part of your overall customer acquisition process, but too many people skip this step thinking that:

a. They can always go back and do it later.

(Bad idea – nothing says “I have no idea what I’m doing” than a bunch of blanket posts of the same material to every social network)

b. They don’t need it to begin with, since the social landscape is always changing.

(While the “always changing” part is true, having a plan will allow you to laser focus your efforts and create a clear, predictive track that you can always tweak and refine).

A solid social media marketing strategy will not only put you and your team on the same page with regard to what kind of content is getting shared and when, but it will also allow you to track your results and make adjustments as you learn what posts your customer base responds best to.

And based on the momentous growth that social networks have achieved so far — the posts that get the biggest responses are visual.

Let’s look at some numbers:

  • Tweets with images receive 18% more clicks, 89% more favorites and 150% more retweets than those without. Source

1

  • An analysis of the top 10% of posts on Facebook, made by more than 300,000 brands and brand pages showed that those with photos got the most engagement, accounting for 87% of the total number of interactions. Source

2

  • Adding a photo URL to your Tweet can boost Retweets by 35%

3

  • 50% of marketers believe using images or photos is one of the most important tactics in optimizing content for social media.  Source

4

With so many numbers solidifying the importance of using visuals as part of your social media strategy, the next step should be narrowing down your focus.  This inevitably begs the question:

02. Which Social Networks Should I Target: Why & How

Let’s take a closer look at the six major traffic-driving networks and their audiences, as well as ways that you can take advantage of visual momentum to increase likes, shares, retweets and other actions from your audience base.

Facebook

As of 2014, 71% of all adult internet users use Facebook. 66% are men and 71% are women. Data from the Pew Research Center shows Facebook’s audience demographics as:

5

An overall good mix of gender, location, income, race and education. So what kinds of visuals attract the most Facebook likes, shares and comments?  First, it’s important to lay the groundwork so that the exposure your images get will draw more people in, and make it immediately clear what you offer and its benefit to them. You can do this through:

Facebook Covers

You’ve got a lot of room to make a great first impression. Specifically, 851 by 315 pixels. Your cover photo is a great way to introduce yourself.  Share your passion for business by incorporating unique photos, a collage, directional cues like arrows pointing to the most important areas of focus on your Facebook page (like your store or offer) and more.

Update your cover photo for seasonal promotions, special events, contests or other ideas to help maintain freshness and encourage activity on the site. Check out this cover photo for Deus Ex Machina Motorcycles that advertised their upcoming event.

6

For more inspiration on how to make the most out of your cover photo, check out these 50 creative examples and tips.

Timeline Photos

Considering that photos get 7 times more likes and 10 times more shares than plain text, brands on Facebook are reaping all the benefits. Even big brands like Coca-Cola understand the power that an image can evoke in its followers.

Case in point – their support of Love Has No Labels, a diversity campaign meant to raise awareness against cultural and racial biases. By using their timeline photos to tell a story, Coke reaches out to its audience by taking a stand on an issue that’s important to many people.

7

Photo Contests

Why not hand the reins over to your followers and let them produce some content? Crowdsourcing is an increasingly popular technique for producing content and engaging with followers and fans.

One of the best ways to crowdsource content and encourage user participation is through the use of photo contests – and few things are more popular than a contest on Facebook. Nestle Kitchens, the blogging/social side of the famous confectionery company, once held a contest on Facebook encouraging users to share their favorite chocolate recipes:

8

The winner was to receive $1,000, plus a place on the Nestle Kitchens’ Facebook page as well as Meals.com. The trick? The finished product had to be made with one of 18 brands of Nestle products ranging from chocolate chips to candy bars and ice cream.

Not only was this a great strategy that resulted in thousands of drool-worthy, shareable photos, but it also planted Nestle’s products firmly in the spotlight of audiences that they might ordinarily not reach (because seriously, who doesn’t like chocolate?)

The best part is, it’s easy to create these types of graphics with the right tools. So whether you’re rallying for a cause you believe in, or highlighting a customer’s birthday, the possibilities of photos on Facebook are nearly endless!

With these points in mind, it’s time to start your strategy:

Twitter

23% of adults online have a Twitter account, accounting for 19% of the internet-using population. While this number dwarfs Facebook’s 71%, Twitter is nevertheless a critical part of any serious social strategy. Let’s take a closer look at the demographics:

9

Twitter has experienced significant growth among the college population, as well as urban users making over $50,000/year – particularly white men over 65. Encouraging users to “click on a Tweet” is vital to ingraining your brand and telling your story on this platform. But what exactly does “clicking on a tweet” involve? Twitter measures clicks in a variety of ways, including:

  • Clicking on your hashtags
  • Clicking your link on picture
  • Clicking to expand a tweet
  • Retweeting your post
  • Following you by clicking on your profile
  • Favoriting your tweet
  • Clicking your username to view your profile

Of course, you may think that the more followers you have, the greater your chances of increasing your clicks. Not so fast. According to SignUpTo, people with different levels of followers experienced different click-through rates (CTR) accordingly.

  • Users with 50 – 1,000 followers had a 6.16% CTR.
  • Users with 1,000 – 5,000 followers had a 1.45% CTR.
  • Users with 5,000 – 10,000 followers had a 0.55% CTR.
  • Users with 10,000+ followers had a 0.45% CTR.

But don’t be discouraged. Even if you have a massive number of followers, you can still boost your click through rate on Twitter. Studies have been done on everything from the best time and day of the week to tweet, all the way to where to place your call-to-action link. But one of the very best ways to send your Twitter engagement rate sky high on Twitter?

You guessed it,

images.

In fact, tweets with images are 78% more likely to be shared than those without:

10

And although you wouldn’t think of Twitter as primarily a visual medium, the social platform truly has sprouted its wings and learned to fly in recent years. Twitter now allows up to four images per tweet – and considering that an image is worth a thousand words, suddenly 140 characters doesn’t seem quite so restrictive.

One thing to keep in mind though is image sizing, and more importantly image cropping. Twitter has fairly short and wide images, you your run-of-the-mill Instagram sized image will get cropped awkwardly in the preview box and you definitely don’t want that.

To prevent this, use the correct image dimensions for each social network you are uploading to.

So what kinds of images get the greatest response on Twitter? Leave it to Neil Patel from QuickSprout to enlighten us. He analyzed a variety of tweets to determine what kind of content gets shared the most on Twitter.

In Neil’s analysis of the various tweets, he found that by far, the largest number of images shared (62%) were humorous.

11

Another interesting finding: memes (common pop culture references with custom text) seem to flounder on this social network, resulting in poor conversions and small numbers of retweets. So, companies with social media strategies based around memes might have better luck elsewhere.

Infographics on the other hand, do well on Twitter, likely because they’re part of the same family of snippet-based information that ignited the platform’s growth in the first place. AdWeek did a study that showed that infographics got 832% more retweets and 742% more click throughs than articles.

12

While infographics used to only be accessible to advanced designers, templates make it easy to create them quickly and easily.

13

But don’t create infographics solely for the benefit of Twitter users. There are many other social networks that love these visual factoids too, including the next platforms in our social media strategy spotlight.

Pinterest and Instagram

Pinterest and Instagram may target two decidedly different audiences, but their respective user bases both thrive on the same underlying current: visual posts.

With 28% of adult users having Pinterest accounts, and 21% having an Instagram account, these two networks have more in common than you might think. Let’s look at Pinterest first:

At its core, Pinterest enables users to create Pinboards, which are a collection of images under one unifying theme. Pinterest followers can comment on your boards and the individual images within them, as well as share them (known as repinning). And although Pinterest’s audience is primarily women, even traditionally-male dominated niches like home improvement and grilling can find a home on Pinterest, as these pinboards from Lowes can attest to:

14

If you already have a personal Pinterest account, you can turn it into a Business Pinterest account for free, which opens up even more marketing features including analytics that can show you who’s interacting with your pins and how.

Getting traction on Pinterest doesn’t require any “secret sauce” or deep knowledge of algorithms and other tactics. Pinterest’s Guided Search is as easy as it gets. Be clear about the theme(s) of your pinboard(s) and stick closely to them. You can create as many pinboards as you want.  Then, simply optimize your image file names and descriptions, as well as their titles and you’ll be ready to enjoy a pinstravaganza.

Of course, like with Twitter, the question becomes: what kind of images do well on Pinterest?

To better understand the trends, the experts at Curalate examined over 500,000 images to determine which ones have the biggest impact, number of repins, comments and engagement among Pinterest users.

Some of their findings include:

  • Reddish-orange hued images have 2-3 times more repins that blue-hued images
  • Multiple dominant colors perform better than single dominant colors
  • A 2:3 aspect ratio works better than very tall images

Instagram works on a similar premise, in that this highly visual, user-centric app encourages participation and engagement. Here, user-focused images are king, so there’s possibly no better platform to shine the spotlight on your customers and how they’re using your product, or on your own employees doing work behind-the-scenes than through Instagram.

As with Facebook, photo based contests and suggestions open up more dialog between a brand and its followers. Take a leaf from the book of online art retailer Society6 who invite users to share images of their recently purchased products in action with the hashtag #shareyoursociety6. Not only does it give users a chance to share your spotlight, it shows off your product in an authentic way,

15

If you’re looking to target Pinterest and Instagram users in your social strategy, follow these steps to make your marketing efforts count:

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Bold (And Colorful!)

Pinterest users trend toward enjoying warm, bold, colorful images. Don’t be afraid to showcase your latest styles, ask customers to vote for their favorites, or just incorporate your product into their daily routine or their lifestyle and encourage them to share their favorite pins with you as well.

Put the Customer First

The most engaging brands on Instagram look for ways to spotlight their customers, even if the campaign is centered around the product. Brainstorm ways to foster communication with your visitors through Instagram, whether it’s through crowdsourcing, product spotlights or customer stories.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn may be the last place where you think of images going social. This networking site mainly attracts startups, new college grads, job recruiters and specialists – but that’s not to say that images have no place here.  One of the best ways to incorporate a visual marketing strategy on LinkedIn is through the use of slideshows.

If you regularly create and share slideshows through sites like SlideShare, don’t forget to amplify your efforts on LinkedIn as well.  You can do this by directly embedding your SlideShare presentation to LinkedIn:

16

When that’s done, you can include the link in your profile as part of your professional portfolio:

17

It’s worth noting that LinkedIn only accepts media from certain sources.  These include:

  • YouTube
  • Spotify
  • Pinterest
  • SlideShare
  • TED
  • Twitter

With that in mind, the key way to stand apart from the competition and really let your professionalism shine on LinkedIn is to:

Showcase Yourself Visually

LinkedIn provides a variety of opportunities to put your best foot forward by showcasing your work and promoting yourself visually. Link to your articles in your profile, your portfolio in your achievements, and your slideshows as part of your background summary. Try to think of LinkedIn as a scrapbook of all of your shining professional successes and achievements.

Need more inspiration? Click here to view a slideshow on how to use the Professional Portfolio to its fullest, and how successful business owners and individuals on LinkedIn are doing just that.

Google+

Although it’s last in our list of social media profiles worth highlighting as part of your strategy, Google+ is certainly not least. Being that it’s a product of the most pervasive search engine on the web, Google+ still carries some cloud with other Google properties (including search).

As with many of the social platforms we’ve shared here, it pays to stylize your Google+ profile page with a good cover photo, relevant keywords, a clear profile photo, and a link to your website.

One study, from the University of Trento in Italy, looked at images that went viral on Google+ and what features they shared between them.  The goal was to find an underlying cause – a strategy that could be used and applied to other images on the network.

It’s easy to dismiss Google+ as a Facebook clone, but likes (called +1s here) and shares have different motivations here. Instead of being purely an agreement or a show of support, a +1 is viewed as a point toward admiration. Think of it as a virtual nod of approval.

The study found that Google+ users also tended to share items that were aesthetically attractive, inspirational or motivational. This drink pyramid from Starbucks, enjoyed over 1,000 plusses and nearly 100 shares for its beauty, despite the branding.

18

And although the study didn’t go into a great amount of detail on which types of photos did best, an underlying theme was that images of people and faces tended to garner more +1’s (admiration) while images of pets, food, and even memes enjoyed more shares.  Finally, images that featured positivity in some aspect – including quotes, inspiration or good things happening in the world also tended to be popular among the Google+ using crowd.

The most important take-away for building a social strategy on Google+ is to not focus entirely on images. Google+ users value text as well, which means you can combine the best of both worlds and:

02. Part 2: Social Media Strategy Pro Tips

Use Your Brand to Tell a Story

The Content Marketing Institute highlighted a story told by Ford on Google+:

19

This iconic Mustang was given away as part of a charitable donation – providing context through the images while still telling a story that creates positive feelings about the brand itself. A few images with a couple of paragraphs creates a meaningful interaction between Ford and its followers, resulting in over 1,200 plusses and over 200 shares.

Ask yourself: can you tell a story, share an attractive image of your product or introduce new products and encourage customers to comment on their favorites? If you can hit all of these marks, you’ll be on your way towards mastering Google+.

Spotlight the Positive Ways Your Brand is Making a Difference

Another highlight from the Ford example above feeds right back into the positivity that thrives on Google+. People on nearly every social platform enjoy reading positive stories about corporate responsibility and positive change. What cause could your company join and make a difference through? How can you use your product to change lives? Those are the things that resonate with Google+ users.

Social Blogging

Although each of the steps outlined here are intended primarily for their respective platforms, you still cannot forget the indelible mark that blogging has left on the social sphere.  That’s why, in order to bridge the gap between social platforms and your blog, you should incorporate the final two steps as part of your strategy:

Don’t Make Social Icons an Afterthought

Many people install a social media plugin and then forget about it – hoping that blog content will stand on its own two feet as something socially-worthy. But unless your respective social profiles are thriving in their own right, few people are going to take the time to share your content socially unless it’s somehow impactful to them, personally.

That being said, don’t just throw up some icons and hope for the best. Look for ways to integrate your most promising platforms in a way that complements your blog, such as a “Click to tweet this” option for statistics or facts, or a “Pin on Pinterest” option for your images.

The more you blur the line between social and blog, the more people will share between the two.

Look For Ways to Carry Users Over from Social to Your Blog, and Vice Versa

Oftentimes, people will participate with your brand on their preferred social network, or get to know you through your blog, without realizing that you’re on social media as well. Contests, giveaways, surveys, exclusive deals and private membership sneak peeks are just a few of the many ways you can bridge the gap between the two and encourage your blog visitors to follow you on social media and vice versa.

Resist the urge to again, simply install a plugin that posts your latest blog content to the social web without any context or meaning. By putting in a bit more effort to connect with your audience, you’ll be able to reap a bounty of rewards that set your brand front and center in the minds of your customers.Good luck!

Read more by Sherice Jacobs