Visual Social Marketing 101

Written by Seth Fiegerman, Business Reporter at Mashable:



In preparation for the upcoming Mashies awards, we are running a series of articles looking at the changing face of marketing. More information on the Mashies can be found here. There’s no shortage of mobile platforms available for brands to reach consumers with gripping visuals. If anything, the problem is picking out which platforms to embrace and which to ignore. Brands can now share images and videos with followers through InstagramVine and Snapchat, just to focus on three of the most prominent visual platforms. Some companies may try to make use of all three of those; others may struggle to get a grip on just one.

While Snapchat, Vine and Instagram may share certain features in common, the strategy for making the most of each is different. In general, Snapchat is best used for sending playful messages that look more informal, Vine’s optimal use is for posting playful videos that look professional and Instagram is best employed for sharing professional content that looks professional. We talked with a couple marketing experts to pick out some of the best brands on these three platforms and identify some dos and don’ts for each.


Of the three platforms, Snapchat is the one marketers may have the most difficult time getting a grip on. The tools are intended to produce clips that are less polished than creatives are used to and the platform isn’t designed for reach. “It’s not the way the typical creative process works, nor is it the typical way the advertising process works,” says Ian Schafer, CEO and founder of Deep Focus, a digital agency. Snapchat, he argues, isn’t really designed for marketers all. “Snapchat is probably for their kids.” Still, a growing number of brands are braving the platform. Schafer highlights Taco Bell, one of the first brands on Snapchat, as a prime example of how to do it right.

“The key to it has been them figuring out their voice and being able to speak in the vernacular of their audience,” Schafer says of Taco Bell’s success on Snapchat. “It means being relevant to them and understanding where they fit within their customers’ lives.” Taco Bell isn’t afraid to be weird and make use of Snapchat’s illustration features. Perhaps more importantly, Schafer believes Taco Bell’s customer base overlaps significantly with Snapchat’s user base. “They know where their audience is. You follow the scent and that’s where it led them,” he says. That same thinking also explains the success that other food and entertainment brands like GrubHub, the New Orleans Saints and HBO’s Girls have had on the service. The best brands on Snapchat are playful and authentic. They’re willing to experiment with features and offer candid behind-the-scenes moments. And they’re relevant to the younger demographic using the app.

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A Snapchat from Girls


Vine is the newest of the three platforms, though many learned of it before Snapchat gained more mainstream attention last year. Vine videos are often whimsical and some even seem effortless, but the most popular users may spend hours or even days creating memorable stop motion videos. “Don’t take a 15 second spot and cut it to 6 seconds,” says Josh Engroff, chief digital media officer at The Media Kitchen. “Embrace the medium and create for it.” The best videos, according to Engroff, tend to be surprising and memorable. He offers the example of Tide, which frequently shares videos that are unexpected and hilarious.

Another of Engroff’s favorites on Vine is the video below from Samsung. Not only is it clever, but it succeeds in using Vine to make a soft sell rather than a hard sell for Samsung’s products. “You don’t really notice that it’s a Samsung device… It’s interesting in its own right,” he says. “That’s the bar. These have to be interesting in their own right, regardless of the brand.”

Beyond that, those we spoke with pointed out that Vine has more potential for real-time potential than the other visual platforms because it integrates with Twitter. That doesn’t mean brands should constantly be trying to put out Vine videos that tie into real-time events, but if it’s a good fit, you might find some traction. The Vine video below from Nike is a good example of a timely post that ties into a big event — the World Cup — which Nike’s customer base clearly cares about. It gets bonus points for working very well with Vine’s infinite loop.


Many of the world’s top brands are now on Instagram and for good reason. The social network has more than 200 million users, integrates well with its parent company Facebook and lends itself more to the types of professional photographs and 15-second video spots that marketers are accustomed to. The brands that prove to be the most natural fit for Instagram, according to Schafer from Deep Focus, are those that have products that can be “fetishized.” These tend to be more high-end products like Lexus cars, Beats headphones and Burberry outfits.

Brands can also find success on the platform by capturing a gripping moment in images or video. Engroff lists GoPro and Red Bull as prime examples of that.

Those we spoke with recommend adding some topical hashtags to your posts on Instagram to gain traction, but not to go overboard or try inventing some complicated branded hashtag of your own. As for whether to post videos or images, the goal is just to optimize the mix. Videos haven’t caught on among users the way Instagram had hoped, but they remain an effective tool for brands and media outlets if done well. For Instagram, and indeed for all three platforms, Engroff stresses that it’s important to remember you’re not dealing with marketing on a television or a giant billboard. These images and videos are being seen on a small screen that is much more personal and intimate to the viewer. “It has to be authentic, has to be an evocative emotional moment in that it stirs something in the viewer,” he says. “The brands are getting much better at it, but it’s often been something they’re not good at.”

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