A Picture May Be Worth 1,000 Words...But You Still Need Words

This email originally appeared in the June 29th edition of The Scribble, KYC's weekly marketing newsletter. You can subscribe to The Scribble at the bottom of this page.

It is easy to see with a quick scroll through your Facebook feed that status updates made up of only text are a thing of the past and posts with visual content have taken over. And why wouldn’t this be the case? With all of the filters and editing tools out there now, social media feeds have never looked better! Numerous studies show that followers are much more captivated by images and visual content than they are by text alone.
 
However---and this is a big caveat---that doesn’t mean that pictures and videos should stand alone without a compelling caption or engaging bit of text.
 
It feels like we’re too often seeing social media programs that are heavily reliant on photos and images, especially from startups and new small businesses. While that makes total sense for Instagram or Pinterest, it doesn’t make as much sense for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Yet we’re seeing it across many industries - highly produced and highly polished photos, without much caption, or sometimes any captions at all, serving as nearly 100% of the content for companies. Making it worse, they’re putting those same photos on all channels and even reusing them on the same channel.
 
The missing piece is, of course, a strategy. 

Companies realize that consumers want to see beautiful imagery on social media channels, but they don’t think about the purpose of that imagery. How does it align with business objectives? How does it align with marketing objectives? Or how about, what do you want people to do after they see a photo?
 
For photos to really work for your company, and fill a real marketing purpose, you must have a strategy behind them. An art director, designer or photographer can capture or create beautiful imagery, but they aren't a strategist, so probably aren't the best fit to lead your program.
 
We’ve talked about social media strategy in The Scribble before, so today I’m instead going to focus on an important and specific, but very overlooked, part of executing your broader strategy through social media content - photo and image captions.
 
Continually making creative and engaging captions isn’t easy. It takes time, creativity and effort. But for most posts that have a visual aspect to be truly effective, they need supporting text. Think of it this way: The picture tells the story and the caption adds the context. That context is often needed to bring people back to your brand. Think about art. Two people can look at a painting and form two completely different opinions of what the artist was trying to say through it.
 
By leaving out a caption, you’re making your audience do more work to decipher the message of your post. You’re also denying yourself a chance to make your post as impactful as possible. Your goal should be to reduce the amount of questions that your audience has after looking at your picture. You can’t just assume that they will understand your message or that they will “just get it”.
 
It’s very difficult to convey a call to action (what you want people to do after seeing a post - click a link, like the post, comment, share, etc.) through a photo. That's perhaps the most important reason to include accompanying text with your images. While images may draw your audience in, a strong caption sets your posts apart and connects those individual posts to your broader strategy.
 
You should be spending just as much time on your caption as you do with tweaking your photos with filters and other editing tools. Each piece is equally important to create quality and engaging posts. Captions don’t have to be long. For example, even though you have 2,200 characters on Instagram, you don’t have to--and shouldn’t--use them all. It is important to find a balance. Few people like to read lengthy text, but you have to give them enough to understand your full message.
 
Images can’t do it all. Snapping a picture and throwing on a few filters won’t cut it. But if you balance cool and appealing pictures with intriguing text and a solid overall strategy, you’ll end up with high quality posts that your audience responds to.

-Jason

Jason O'Brien