Using smashing pics for social media, why it matters and how to do it right

Jul 07, 2015

Once in a while you come across a picture or an image on Facebook or Pinterest that you find so beautiful, funny, smart, self-explanatory or all of the above, that you cannot help like or share it.

The next second, you're sitting there wondering how they come up with these, and why you are not able to make such brilliant images for your own social networks.

And sometimes, you just want to bang your head on the wall - or that of your community manager if yours hurts too much already - when comparing your own daily production on social networks to that of competitors, let alone the inevitable fantastic engagement numbers that come with it.

If any of these sound like you, you might want to read a little further to understand why this matters more than ever, and how you can close the gap between the cleverness of others and your own inability in terms of making great visuals for social media.

Visuals can make or break your social success

In case you haven’t paid attention to this steamroll of a trend, visual communication has totally taken over social media as the most powerful way to draw attention and boost engagement. That fact has held true for a few years now, and has never gotten old, quite on the contrary.

In fact, engagement on photos or images can be up to 8 times more efficient than posting simple links or status updates on Facebook, while studies have repeatedly shown that on Twitter, retweets are close to 2 times more likely on tweets baring a cool picture.

Some of the reasons for this are quite obvious. A picture will take up much more viewing space and attract the eye more easily than a simple text, but there are other, lesser known causes that you might use to your advantage.

In the meantime, just keep this in mind: NEVER post a social message without an accompanying picture unless you have a solid, valuable reason to. 

You will make many exceptions to that rule, but if you do keep it as a rule, you will set yourself on the right path to social greatness.

The science behind great social pics

Now, let me ask you this: without looking, can you remember the title of this blog? Now, can you remember the main image of this same blog? Chances are you will be much more able to answer the latter.

Among the reasons that make us like nice images so much more than plain text, lies a basic truth: your readers are actual human beings, with actual emotions!

As content marketing pro ​Jonathan Crowe puts it rightly: “we are visual creatures”. Over 90% of the information processed by our brains is of a visual nature, and it is processed about 60,000 times faster than plain text. (Allegedly anyway, but you get the picture.)

That is why even the choice of colors affects conversion rates. Without delving too deep in how our brains are hooked on great images (we know you’re busy, and we have worked to do too), we hope we nailed that essential thought in your mind once and for all: a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s never been truer on social media.

Text vs pic: which one do you prefer?

You’re not Steve Jobs, but you can learn from him

Just because you have no skills in artistry, design or photography (nor does your entourage), does not mean you can’t create great looking social posts. All it takes is a little imagination, method and boldness.

First, you can browse your own Facebook, Twitter timeline or Pinterest page to find some compelling visuals that you like and strike you as awesome. Take a few seconds and ask yourself what makes them so great.

Most of the times, you will find that the picture in itself does not necessarily reflect immense artistic skills or mind blowing photography. Take a hint from the late Steve Jobs who famously said: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”. Same goes for social visuals.

Once you have finalized a post and found a good tagline, take its most important keywords to your favorite picture search engine, this will still give you some cool hints and ideas about a great illustration for your posts.

For instance, let’s say we want to blog about this article from The Next Web - an online geek news resource that always have nice illustrations and often hits it home with great social posts.

A simple search on Google Images gives us more than a few good ideas to illustrate our post. How about that cool piece of graphics, the one with an eye pupil in the shape of the Earth?

If you have a graphic designer handy, just send him the idea and have a quick image done, if not just go ahead and find reusable pictures that should look good for your own post. (As you can tell from that screenshot, we chose the option “Labeled for reuse with modification” to avoid any legal trouble which could cost you up to 1,000$ per image!).

Once you have the idea, there are tons of reasonably priced resources - and lots of free ones - on the web to find a great pic for your social posts, all it takes is a little effort. Over time, the more you will use and share such images, the faster you will get used to doing it. Who knows, you might even start to like that fun part of the work!

Studies have shown over and over again that striking visuals, humourous pictures and images that tell a story are the ones people react the most positively to. (Yes, sex-related imagery also works wonders in that domain, but you might want to set that idea aside for business purposes.)

Allow yourself to be bold with crazy colors, funny cartoons or pictures that convey the most intensive and positive response. And if you’re unsure that this is the way to go, don’t hesitate to ask someone around you what they think about your idea. (You do want to stand out but not look like you’re on drugs, or offend anyone in the process.)

Make yours this thought of one of the most celebrated American designer : “There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.” (Milton Glaser).

Creating cool images: from art zero to social hero

What if you’re like, totally worthless with a pen in hand, let alone a computer mouse, to create nice and striking graphics that will finally get you going somewhere with your social posts?

First and quick answer: hire someone! Sure, this is probably not what you had in mind but lots of social marketers out there have huge image databases and good designers on board along with seasoned community managers, so why not use them?

It may turn out cheaper than you think, and in this social sharing age you simply cannot afford to put out some half-minded, bad looking content. Believe us, it would make more harm than good. (And yes, we do have ​great deals in store for you at SeoSamba if you’d like).

That being said, there are some very good tools - some them free - available for you to create pretty looking images in very little time. (We’ve prepared a list for you at the end of this blog, so you don’t even have to search for the best ones.)

Finally, letting the artist in you getting out of the closet might be long overdue. Not a chance, you say? Well, you should give a shot to some of the most underrated and yet super useful software there is: screenshots tools.

Assuming you do have at least some computer skills you can put to good use, you can easily combine screening tools and word processors or editors such as Microsoft’s Word or Powerpoint.

As an important additional benefit, learning to use screenshot tools will allow you to create easily and quickly nice images presenting your products. Using pictures you already have from your website or online catalog, you can easily take part of the photos to create many shareable graphics from a single picture, then add text to it as needed, just like we do below.

Step 1 : Create basic art in your favorite editing software

We won’t go into endless details here but with a low time investment you can learn to use your favorite word processing or image software to create some nice looking art for your social posts

For instance we’ve made the image below in Word by just pasting the picture in a blank document, and inserting some text on top of it with the WordArt function. That took maybe 39 seconds, tops.

Step 2 : use screengrab tool to capture your art

Screengrab tools are like using the [Prnt Scrn] key from your keyboard, making a picture with whatever is on the screen, except with those tools you can easily choose what part of the screen you need, and export it directly as an image on your computer or the web.

Let’s just do that with Microsoft Word, Greenshot and the graphic composition we made in less than a minute.

And that’s about it, just make a pretty picture in whatever software you’re confident enough with, then simply printscreen it to bypass any sort of exporting hurdle. It hardly gets easier than this, and the result ain’t so bad for 1 minute of our time.

That simple technique will put you right up there with the social content kings, letting you craft meaningful and appealing messages in no time. See for yourself, our 60-seconds social-post is just as good what TNW can come up with (actually we like ours better, wink nudge) :

Just say it: fill the blanks with cool looking quotes

Of course there will be times when you have no idea and no time. So how do you preserve your one-day-one-post rule and still look cool with nothing to say? Let others talk! But for the love of (social) gods, don’t just type it in your status bar. You’re talking to a content-hungry audience, not texting your mom.

There are many tools (see partial list at the end of this blog) that you can use to make your own “picture quote” and make a quick social post that will have your audience, if not go “wow”, at least go into a reflexive “hmm” that might stop their scrolling flurry for just long enough to grab their attention for good. And why not get a few extra likes and traffic hits in the process?

So go ahead, fire up your search engine and type a keyword for your subject of the day - for us that will be “design” - add the word “quotes” to it, and make a simple image with any online software that gets your liking. Here we used and a couple clicks later we had this:

Then we screened it - ahem, we saved it. We just had nothing to say, and two minutes later there was our post on our Facebook.

We hope we haven’t lost our most skilled readers by now, but we just had to make it a point: you can make good looking images even if you have little time, almost no original material to work with, and close to zero designing skill. And that means you have no excuse to not perform better on social networks.

Now for those who need a little more meat to grind, we saved you some pretty cool tips to reward your patience.

Perfecting the art of social media visuals

Now that you’ve started using more and better pictures for you social medias, and that you’ve made it a rule to ALWAYS use them whenever you can, let’s see how you can improve on those skills without having to hire an expensive ad agency or a genius designer to make your pics look good on EVERY social network.

At SeoSamba, we hate complicated and/or expensive things. If an idea or a tool is not simple AND cost efficient, we simply ditch it. That’s why we provide our clients with tools that let them share quickly and easily perfectly formatted social posts on all their social networks and accounts at once, with just one click.

Unfortunately, as you may know, every social network out there has its own guidelines and specifications for posting and specifically for posting pictures and images. Yep, it’s a pain you knows where, but it wouldn’t be fun if it was too easy, now would it?

The good news is that many a good marketer (like our friends at Constant Contact) have created “social images cheat sheets” to help you figure out what is the best format for images on every major social network.

The bad news? This means you have to output as many different versions as you have social networks. If you don’t, your beautiful images will be cropped, distorted and tortured to the point where your followers will say “meh” or “ugh” instead of “wow”. This will take quite some skills, time and eventually might just make you wish you’d never got started reading this blog.

Frankly, we’d hate you to hate us so here is a very useful tip for you that we’ve been passing along to our clients so they never have to deal with that frustrating conundrum.

1.91 is the magic number

To avoid unwanted and ugly cropping from your favorite social networks, you can use a single template that will work for almost all of them, allowing to use just one picture for all your posts. That means that you will now be able to use automated social posting tools such as those from SeoSamba"s SambaSaaS or SeoToaster CMS to make great looking posts in a breathe.

All you need to do is to respect a certain image ratio and certain margins on all your social images.

The ideal ratio - the length of your pictures divided by the height - that we found working best on the most social networks is 1.91. Without going into unnecessary and boring explanations about why, just know that this corresponds to an image that is 560 pixels wide and 292 pixels high.

Other fitting dimensions for that magic 1,91 ratio are 800 x 417 pixels or 1,200 x 626 pixels, but going beyond that would make little sense as the more your image is resized on your social post, the worse it will look especially for typography, vectorial art and line drawings (simple photos like JPEGs will be somewhat spared).

Safe margins to use one single image on all your social networks

Now that we shared our secret social visual wizard trick with you, don’t rush to your favorite image editor just yet. Whatever size you choose for your images, you will need to avoid putting any important content outside of a virtual box within your picture, just like you would with a print job when you don’t want anything crucial to be cutoff by the printer.

If you do run a text across the whole length of the picture, or put some text or URL at the bottom, it might look good on Google+ or Facebook but will likely be cropped by some networks like Twitter or LinkedIn

If you’re using an image of 560 x 292 pixels, don’t put anything important within 50 pixels left and right of your image, as well as 20 pixels away from the bottom (you don’t need margins on top).

All you need to do now is to put this image as a header in your web page, news or blog post and use it as a preview when posting to social networks.

Ah, we almost forgot, a picture is worth a thousand words! So here is what it looks like:

Now you can go ahead and add some branding text with your favorite image editing tool, knowing it will not get unintentionally cropped.

And… voilà!

A few specs for your image margins based on image dimensions:

SAFE MARGINS FOR IMAGE 560 px * 292 px
​TOP: 0 px / BOTTOM: 20 px / LEFT: 50 px / RIGHT: 50 px

SAFE MARGINS FOR IMAGE 800 px * 417 px
​TOP: 0 px / BOTTOM: 30 px / LEFT: 75 px / RIGHT: 75 px

SAFE MARGINS FOR IMAGE 1200 px * 626 px
​TOP: 0 px / BOTTOM: 40 px / LEFT: 100 px / RIGHT: 100 px

Please note that this trickery will not work with Pinterest who uses vertical thumbnails for pictures.

Final tip : save time, money and aggravation

Before we let you go out there and become the true design hero you ought to be to succeed in this new social-driven era, our final tip is admittedly self-serving, but we strongly believe that it might also tremendously help you boost your online branding.

While we stand by everything that we wrote above, and despite anything anyone might tell you, developing a social strategy takes quite a bit more than pretty pictures and smart quotes. It takes much preparation and ongoing commitment along with a carefully elaborated content marketing plan to do it right.

To help you out, there are more than a few automated social marketing solutions out there but none of them managed to convince us with a software that would be easy to use, cost efficient and smart enough to be worth the investment. That’s the main reason we just decided to build our own.

Earlier this year, SeoSamba released a new, powerful social networking tool to create, enhance and schedule social posts on major social networks for any number of your accounts. Now we enhanced this remarkable tool with a “repeat” function that lets you output as many occurrences of any social posts you create.

That means that with SeoSamba’s social marketing tool, as soon as you’ve created a newsworthy content item you can create as many social posts you want for it, post them in a virtually unlimited number of accounts (including personal accounts) across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other registered network, as many times as you like!

So instead of posting once a simple link or text extract you can now put all the above tips to work and use any image you want to create an unlimited of social posts promoting the same webpage, news or blog post as long as you want without boring your audience, or get a slap on the wrist from social networks for posting abuse.

And if you still really have no time to do any of this, remember that we’re here for you. After all, what are online friends for?

Some useful resources to create great social visuals quickly and easily

Canva: a popular simple graphic design software : create and share visual ideas online

Pixlr : a free online photo editor

Picmonkey : easy photo editing online tool

Unsplash : free non-copyrighted photo archive

Flickr Creative Commons : find non-copyrighted graphic inspiration for your visuals

everystockphoto : online search tool for free photos

Piktochart : an online tool to create infographic from templates

Social Image Resizer Tool : optimize images on the fly for social media

Recite This : create images from quotes

Share As Image : online tool to turn text into a shareable image .

Greenshot : quick edition and export of screenshots

Awesome Screenshot : another cool screenshot tool

Skitch : a handy all-purpose graphic tool to capture, create and editing images

Over : add text to photos easily

Fotor : create collages online to add logos to an image

Iconfinder : online collection of free, searchable icons for Social Media

Brainy Quote : searchable quotes online resource

About marketing automation software SeoSamba

SeoSamba is the multisite & multistore marketing specialist, helping web agencies, etailers,franchises and enterprises build, manage and optimize websites for top search engine performance.

SeoSamba patent-pending, hybrid open source marketing framework is built around SambaSaaS and SeoToaster. SambaSaaS lets you manage SEO, social networking and online marketing across any number of websites through a single cloud-based interface, while our open source front-end SeoToaster let you build, manage and market easily corporate, directories and ecommerce websites.

For more information about SeoSamba, or contact, and in the US: +(1 ) 877.450-9894 or in Europe at +(33) 6756376. 

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About the author

Michel Leconte
Michel Leconte

Omnivorous mammal & SEO Samba CEO, I'm a regular speaker at search engine marketing conferences around the world, including Search Engine Strategies London & New York, and a contributor to a number of publications, including Website Magazine, and Feedfront Magazine. I enjoy strategy, coaching, and motivating both customers & staff.

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