Show, Don’t Tell: The Power of the Image in social media PR


Barack Obama:

“Four more years” – when Barack Obama posted this picture as he announced his re-election as US president it became the most re-tweeted tweet ever!
The saying ‘a picture is worth 1000 words’ has been around for over 100 years. It was first used in 1911 by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane discussing journalism and PR. From ensuring a celebrity is snapped in the appropriate branded clothes, to the launch of a new book or an official royal engagement, images have long been central to successful PR campaigns.

And the power of the image is increasingly beginning to be recognised for social media campaigns.

A 2012 report by ROI Research found that 44% of respondents were more likely to engage with brands who posted pictures on their social media channels rather than any other type of content. Social media has allowed the public to immediately upload photos – think Instagram, Pinterest and Storify, which all suggest that there is a desire to communicate in this way – and it’s clear that consumers are beginning to expect the same activity from brands.

Think of the UK’s Guardian Newspaper’s Picture desk live, a rolling feed of photo coverage of the day’s events around the world. An entire story – whether that’s a political announcement, sports results or fashion updates from Paris Fashion Week – is portrayed through just one picture.

One example of the power of an image is that of the Red Bull Stratos campaign in late 2012. It centered on one, gut-churning and captivating image of Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall from space to earth. On October 14, 2012 he became the fastest man in freefall reaching a preliminary speed of Mach 1.24 (1,342.8 kmh / 833.9 mph), breaking the speed of sound.

The picture needed no caption.

Whilst not all brands have the budget to send a man into space, the lesson can work for any business: those images that tell a story, or encapsulate an emotion, can spread to your target audience across social media. The day of the ‘corporate handshake’ shot has certainly passed, and there’s no doubt that consumer demand is pushing for more visually arresting news coverage.

Short snappy news via Twitter is fast translating into single pictures portraying the given news story. Whether the PR industry will be able to fully utilise images in this way remains to be seen, but the opportunity for more visual content to be consumed by a company’s audience is certainly there – and it’s growing!


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