This is a guest post from graphic designer Mariya K., who has a great upcoming session on my Spark Your Profits marketing education program on the secrets of creating engaging social media images. To sign up, click here.
1. Choose the right pictures to post on social media.
The most common images you’ll post on Facebook, instagram or other platforms will fall into one of 4 categories:
1. Setting (outside or inside places)
2. Person (people, pets, headshots, gatherings where the focus is on the people or animal)
3. Thing (food, drink, product, body part, or any object)
4. Words (meme, word art)
But that’s far from the whole story. Certain audiences you want to connect with will respond to things like paintings and infographics. Feel free to add those and more to your list, and toggle between at least 3 of those image types when updating your status. Pictures of people tend to get the greatest response, so feel free to lean more heavily in that direction.
2. Know your platform
Think all social media image sharing is created the same? Think again. Want to get more likes on Instagram? Aim for black and white and low saturation pictures. A single dominant color also works great for Instagram engagement, not to mention lots of background shots can get you 29% more likes.
By contrast, getting more pins on Pinterest means more color. In fact that will get you 10 times more repins than black and white images. While Instagram users love background, aim for 40% or less background on Pinterest images to get twice the repins. Not to mention that Instagram is all about the square, while Pinterest is one of the only social media platforms that favors the vertical format. We think you get the point.
But enough numbers – especially considering that these stats will all change like the weather. The perfect image will always be a matter of getting yourself familiar with what others are posting and liking. Pick a platform and familiarize yourself with what your target market is posting and liking. Want a standardized way to do it? Here’s how we do a lot of our research.
Build a research library on your computer and name a folder after each platform you’re investigating. When you see a particularly successful image, save it to its respective platform folder. Like I said, things change quickly, so make a new folder each month. When you’ve got a good collection, look for similarities. Here are some things to consider:
1. Amount of Background
2. Number of different colors
3. Type of treatment or filter
4. Subject or focus (if this is a person, make sure you also note things like the pose, and where their body is cropped or zoomed in, *for example Pinterest images get more interaction when the subject’s face is not included. Go figure)
5. Captions Ex: The best captions for Instagram have plenty hashtags, while Facebook, not so much, and Twitter is obviously limited by characters.
6. And perhaps most importantly: What emotion did this image evoke in you, or in a friend
If you notice some repeating patterns or overlaps between different platforms, you can safely use the “repost in…” feature some platforms offer to post the same content on different platforms.
3. Make your images the right size
We didn’t mention this in the “Know Your Platform” secret because it needs it’s own spot on our list. This can be a huge factor in how your audience responds to you, not to mention how much they actually see of your image. Instagram and Twitter for example will crop things off to fit your image to their interface. That means that cute dog on the bottom of your photo might not get seen by Twitter users unless they click the image.
The most important thing you want to consider is the orientation your platform favors: is it vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape)? Maybe it’s a square, like Instagram?
For most platforms, like Facebook and Google +, exact size isn’t a big deal unless you post too small. The width will be constrained but the height will be resized accordingly without any loss of information. The recommended size for Facebook is 1200 X 628 but varies. With Google + 1,080 x 608 is what you want to aim for, but keeping it under 2,120 X 2,120 is the only concrete limitation (You can’t upload anything larger).
With that said, square formats would work OK on either platform (useful when you consider that you can potentially repost something from Instagram without having to create or source a brand new image). A vertical format, however, would look slightly awkward on the newsfeed.
On platforms like Twitter and Instagram, size is more important. Twitter will fit your image to 1,024 X 512 by resizing the width and cropping off the top and bottom if the height is too large for the space.
Instagram’s image size is 640X640, however I would create images about 800 X 800 (that’s pixels) and let Instagram size them down. The important thing to note here, and for all social media, is the ratio of width to height. A square for example will always be 1:1. In other words, the width will be the same as the height. To contrast a 2:1 ratio means the width is twice as much as the height.
Lastly remember this overall rule: make your images as large as possible while keeping them under the maximum size, and sticking to any necessary or recommended ratios. If you don’t know how to figure the ratio out, just use the largest suggested dimensions (like the ones here).
4. Keep your images looking sharp (and not fuzzy or pixelated)
What is resolution? It’s the information that a graphic file contains. By information we mean this: each dot that makes up an image is assigned a color. The problem with that is that when an image is enlarged beyond it’s original size, the dots have to move apart. The spaces between the dots then become filled with a blur of information – an assumed average of the two dots that space sits between.
These “Dots” are why resolution is measured in DPI, or Dots Per Inch. The higher the DPI is, the better off you are, but the size of an image also matters.
For example, if a 1inch X 1inch image has a resolution of 300 DPI (considered to be great resolution), and you enlarge it to 5” X 5”, that 300 DPI won’t help you much. You’re still stretching a fixed measurement.
5. Be careful of image rights: Royalty free Photos and Graphics, and free for commercial use images
Here’s the bad news, many free image providers are in a gray area of usage rights. What we can safely tell you is that a copyright lawyer is where you would go for concrete answers. If you can’t afford that always read the fine print, and proceed with caution.
Here are some general tips, and term breakdowns as we’ve grown to understand them from years of experience (*but with no legal claims or backing).
Requires Attribution – means the original artist must be credited
Paying for an image doesn’t always mean you own it. In fact if you paid a dollar, chances are, there are usage restrictions, so always read the license.
“You are responsible for obtaining model and object release forms.” Is a clause we see on many “free” image sites. This means that even when people contribute to a free image site, it doesn’t mean they did the groundwork necessary to be allowed to do that. Even if they took the photo and gave you permission, you can still get in trouble if the subject of the photo never allowed it. The only way you would not have to worry is if both the subject and photographer signed away their rights to the image.
Creative Commons – while these types of licenses are geared towards free sharing online, that does not always mean the image is up for grabs anyway, anyhow. There are different types of Creative Commons licenses, some of which contain stipulations like attribution (described above), and others.
PLR or Private Label Rights sounds like a fancy legal term, and it usually means you’re in the clear to use the images as if they were your own, but is ultimately, and sadly yet another fuzzy word jumble that can mean an array of things.
Large Public Domain sites like Pixabay.com and privately owned sites built on the concept of sharing like Upworthy, SplitShire.com and Gratisography.com are a pretty safe route. They clearly outline their “free for personal and commercial use images, with no attribution” policy in plain English, in plain sight and are very reputable. Just do us all a favor and tip them when you can!
No Copyright Restriction is another decent bet. It usually means that the original owner has resigned ownership.
Here’s the good news. Most people don’t want to go to court or sue you over image rights. Most artists and photographers are just trying to protect their work and won’t go out of their way to confuse you. For example most won’t use a term like PLR, a term widely accepted as being free of any restriction, unless they want you to use the image free of restriction. I say MOST because every industry has its piranhas so I’ll say this again – be careful, do your research, and don’t be afraid to email the source with questions.
6. Post pictures that represent the real you
“High quality” and “Professional” certainly have their place in business, but if you are the face of that business, sharing extremely pruned and tweaked photos all the time might roll some eyes, not to mention cost you time or money. On a platform like Instagram images are expected often, so unless you want to devote your life to image editing, settle for sharing that poorly lit cell phone photo every once in a while. Don’t source other people’s photos all the time either – not if you want people to connect with you.
Of course there’s a threshold to how bad your photos can be. Remember the pixilation thing we mentioned? Don’t do that. Also, viewers can be annoyed with an image so dark, or fuzzy that information gets lost. It’s like a bad movie ending that leaves you hanging.
Check out the next tip and never waste the opportunity to do a quick-fix to your photo’s lighting, even if it’s not that bad.
7. Make a free and easy lighting correction to your photos and images
From the free and easy graphic software Canva.com, to Adobe Photoshop, you’ll have to look far and wide for graphics software that doesn’t offer a brightness and contrast adjustment feature. It’s often found in menus titled some version of “Photo Correction”. In Canva, though, it’s in “Filter”.
Often making the tweak is as easy as uploading your image, finding that menu, and moving each slider up in small increments. As you do this, keep an eye on the darkest and lightest areas or your image. Remember that annoying loss of info? Well you can increase the light and dark areas so much that they start to swallow details our eyes want. Therefore, be conservative.
While you’re here, maybe you can play with the saturation too! That’s another easy adjustment found in most software that increases the vibrancy of colors.
Sometimes a pre-set filter provided by the software (ie Vienna in Instagram) will include a common lighting adjustment within itself, so feel free to play around with those.
Picmonkey.com surveyed people’s reaction to original, adjusted and over-adjusted photos. The adjusted took the cake every time, so remember to do, but not over-do it.
8. Words are Beautiful
Quote boxes are the new meme. And it’s not just about quotes. Put an answer to an FAQ over a beautiful background, or even pose a question to your audience to engage them in an aesthetically pleasing way. If you do go with quotes, use brainyquotes.com.
Here are some good practices to keep in mind:
1. You’re allowed to mix up your fonts, but I wouldn’t use more than 2or 3
2. Give each line of text plenty of breathing room
3. You can use graphic lines as breakers between types of content, like the quote and the author, or around or under a word to accentuate it. Think arrows, dotted lines, elongated swirls, etc. Just remember that the text is the star, so don’t overshadow it with icons or even small graphics.
4. Make sure the fonts are legible. If you can, minimize the window, or step back from the screen. Imagine it’s on a cell phone, can you still read it? Watch out for cursive (script) fonts and thin fonts in particular.
5. Play with subtlety and transparency, not everything has to pop out at the viewer. You can either lower the opacity or you can just make the color something that’s a little closer to the background color, that’ll have the same effect. Just remember the legibility rule.
Bonus Content Tip!
Look at this image and enough said.
Not only do profiles like this (on any social media platform) look amazing, and become an image all to themselves, they establish brand recognition. In other words, they make your audience familiar with who you are and what you “look like” on social media. The challenge is that you may not always have a fancy set up on hand to take photos with a running theme of colors and shapes throughout. The solution is that Instagram and many other free graphic software, like the ones we discussed here, often provide filters, frames and overlays that can give you some level of harmony. Obviously these fail in function unless you use the same ones repeatedly, so think about something you can stick with, and then proceed to post!
For more info about topics like these, visit Mariya’s blog at thegooddesigner.net.