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A Billion Photos Shared Each Day, Advertisers Nervous

According to Mary Meeker, we’re now uploading and sharing more than 500 million photos a day. By this time next year it will be a billion a day.

Daily Number of Photos Uploaded

Which is awesome — pretty soon I won’t need to feel self-conscious about sharing so many pictures of my kids on Facebook. (I’m pretty darn adorable, just for being related to them — right?!) My narcissism, at least on a relative scale, will experience a refreshing decline as greater narcissists outpace me.

But here’s the rub. The vast majority of those photos are posted to ad-supported sites — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr — or apps that are free to consumers (such as Snapchat) and therefore will likely pursue some kind of ad model eventually. Advertisers almost always follow consumers to a new media property once the sheer number of consumers gets too large to ignore. Take the recent rise of WorldStarHipHop. According to American Public Media’s Marketplace:

In recent days, ads for Fiber One, Walmart and Bloomingdale’s have appeared on WorldStarHipHop. O’Denat [WorldStarHipHop's founder] says the site’s racier content used to be a problem for advertisers.

“Advertisers were afraid of us,” he said. “We were kind of risque. We had girls in thongs, fights. Not until later on they decided, well, the site is too big. We’re just gonna have to work with them.”

When Facebook landed in hot water this week, though, it wasn’t for thongs or fights. It acknowledged that its “systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate.” More specifically, as one advocacy group brought to light, Facebook ran advertising on pages with names like “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs.” Oy. I’m betting Facebook has already rolled out a solution to prevent this kind of thing from happening again — software has gotten pretty good at reading text on a page and understanding when that text is objectionable.

Managing brand safety is really hard to do, though, when it comes to photo content at enormous scale. It’s still a whole lot easier to flag the word “rape” than it is to recognize a visual depiction of the crime inside one of those hundreds of millions of new photos that its members publish to the site each day. Advertisers are more than eager to pitch their wares to the enormous audiences at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and Snapchat — assuming they won’t tarnish their brands in the process. Figuring out that last part, especially as it pertains to user-submitted photos, is fast becoming a ginormous marketing opportunity. A billions-upon-billions of dollars opportunity.

(Disclosure: Until recently I worked at Luminate, one company that’s working on aspects of image recognition, including a visual brand watch system. I hope they succeed, partly because the online ecosystem will benefit from happy, confident advertisers, and partly — let’s be honest here — because those cute kids you see too often on Facebook want to go to college some day.)

Smile, People Like Your Pictures More Than Your Words (All Things D Version)

On March 7, Facebook announced a major overhaul to its newsfeed, the scrolling page of friend-news where we spend the bulk of our Facebook time. The central change: Facebook is making room for bigger pictures.

It’s a logical move when you look at the data. In November 2011, one-fifth of posts uploaded to newsfeeds were photos. Today, every other status update is a photo. My math friends tell me it that it’s hard to meaningfully affect percentage gains when you start with a really big number. Even with my quantitative limitations, I have to believe Facebook qualifies. Last year it told investors (as part of its IPO roadshow) that users were uploading more than 300 million photos every single day, and from that very large starting point photo activity just jumped 150 percent in 15 months. So much for the law of large numbers.

If you’re a brand, though, it’s not the fact that photo-enabled devices will soon outnumber humans on the planet, or that we’re piping all those pictures into social media. The important trend is that consumers are looking at them. In other words, your art-directed fashion spreads have a lot more competition these days.

There was a time when professional photography had a monopoly on our attention. When mass media meant national magazines, TV networks and big-city newspapers, only deep-pocketed corporations could afford access to large audiences. Back then it made economic sense to build your story around professional-grade photography: A single print ad would reach millions of readers, so a few tens of thousands of dollars spent on art and photography chewed up only a negligible percentage of a campaign’s costs. And for a few generations, this approach worked great.

It turns out, though, that cost-to-produce and magnitude-of-consumer-delight don’t plot analogous curves in an Excel graph. In fact, it’s hard to find a direct correlation between the two. A photo that captures something important or interesting or timely wins our attention — regardless of who took it or how much it cost to make. It also turns out the spans of our attention are shrinking. Google economist Hal Varian observed as far back as 2010 — before SnapChat, and back when we uploaded a mere 30 million photos to Facebook every day — that we pay less attention to stuff when we consume it online. “The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day.”

So corporate storytellers need to master a new narrative technique. It’s as if they need to shed those florid sentences that played so well in Victorian novels and dial it down to the Hemingway-esque. The good news: This new approach to storytelling still employs a language in which brands are fluent: Photos. There are three ways that brands should modify their visual storytelling.

One, feeds move faster than print magazines, so you need to tell your story in a series of frequent episodes, anecdotes and updates — not the grand gestures of Ogilvy or Draper. Photos are the currency of social media, but it’s a currency doled out in nickels, not twenty-dollar bills.

Two, let photos do more of the talking for you. Humans process visual information much faster than we process text. And when we’re online (remember those stats from Hal Varian), we navigate more quickly from story to story. If you’re going to capture attention in a digital landscape, you have to do it fast. So steal a page from the playbooks used by Pinterest, Flipboard, USA Today’s new design or the NYT’s TimesCast: Use visual content instead of words to invite consumers into the story.

Three — need I say it? — let them interact with your story, let them re-mix your assets and choose their own adventures. Let them steal your photos so they can more easily share them with friends. Let them explore inside your images to find links to products, deals and related links. And let them contribute their own. If the Web conversation is going visual, encourage them to talk to you in the local dialect — images snapped on their phones looking for a place to be uploaded.

(This post was originally published at All Things D.)

Smile: People Like Your Photos More Than Your Words (SXSW Version)

If you’re in Austin for SxSW this coming Saturday (March 9), come cheer me on at 5pm. Below are the slides I’ll be working from. One friend told me I’m playing with fire by talking about digital photos without any mention of cats, so if you have any cute pet pics — or any other ideas on how I might hold audience attention — please send em my way.

Sources for the stats used in the presentation:

–Ten percent of photos taken by humankind were taken in the past 12 months, from 1000 Memories.

–Two-and-a-half billion photo-enabled devices worldwide, according to Tomi Ahonen in Communities Dominate Brands.

–Research by Harvard Business School in 2009 determined that 70% of all activities inside social media involve a photo.

–Google chief economist Hal Varian observed (in 2010) “The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds a day, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes per day.”

–Flipboard claims its 20 million users conduct 3 billion “flips” per and spend 86 minutes inside the app each month.

–From PostRocket, a blog on Facebook marketing (citing Track Social data), photos attract greater engagement than other types of posts inside Facebook.

–In November 2011, 20% of posts to Facebook’s newsfeed were photos; now (March 2013) that percentage has risen to 50%, from Business Insider’s coverage of Facebook’s announced changes to the newsfeed.

–Sixty-three percent of shoppers value the image more than the product description, according to National Retail Federation data cited in an infographic from MDG Advertising.

–According to Luminate usage data from 2012, neon jeans and jewelry experienced twice the click-through rate as similar products in more muted colors.

–Ad Age coverage of Garnier’s visually-targeted ad campaign across Luminate partner sites, in which it experienced a 116% life in brand preference.


A street crew on the prowl at #SxSWi.

Getty, Luminate Partner Around Image Metadata

Yesterday Luminate (my employer) and Getty announced a partnership in which the companies will share image metadata. From NY Times:

Just viewing images of celebrities like Kim Kardashian might satisfy some Web surfers, but a new partnership between Getty Images and Luminate, a company that specializes in making digital images interactive, is bringing a new experience to more inquisitive viewers.

Digital photographs from Getty are typically tagged with basic descriptors of who or what is in the photograph — small bits of information known as metadata. Luminate will take those photos and append additional metadata, including, for example, Ms. Kardashian’s Web site, Twitter feed or related articles about her. When a user hovers over an image, the information will appear on the screen.

Luminate’s Related Tweets app running on Entertainment Tonight:

The Year In Pictures, In Review

Luminate CEO (and my boss) Bob Lisbonne debuted his Forbes column, Visual Approach, with a look back at “the most widely photographed year in history” and the major developments across the imagesphere in 2012: The Year In Pictures, In Review.

The year in images dawned with an explosive start when Facebook announced it would acquire Instagram. While many fixated on the $1 billion price tag, implications for Facebook’s mobile strategy, or whirlwind negotiations, I found it fascinating that a company whose essence revolved around relationships between friends, would find irresistible a network whose connections centered on pictures.

It was a year of significant hardware innovations, pictures from Mars, break-through interactive galleries and the first skirmishes in a battle of the Internet titans over who will dominate the future of photography. Full column here.

Visual Targeting: Garnier Taps Luminate to Target Images of Smooth-Skinned Women

Earlier this year, we at Luminate launched Visual Targeting, an ad platform that connects campaigns to images based on visual cues inside individual photos around the web. (I like how Business Insider describes it: “Luminate’s ad-serving system is ingenious.”) One of our pioneer partners was the Garnier unit of L’Oreal. From today’s coverage in Ad Age:

Instagram caused a Twitterstorm this week when it told users that it retains the right to use user images in advertising. Since images dominate content shared in social networks, brands are taking a keen interest. But even if Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and others wanted to target images, it raises a technical issue: How to target advertising at the content of images if you don’t know what’s there?

Startup Luminate took on the problem for L’Oreal brand Garnier this past fall for the launch of a new product, indeed a new class of product called BB cream (beauty balm), which has been popular in Asia for years but is just now becoming prevalent in the U.S. Garnier was interested in targeting images of women — not just any women, mind you — but fresh-faced, beautiful women with clear skin, which might put other women into a moment of beauty aspiration.

“We targeted images of women, not just celebrity women but women with beautiful skin, women in fashionable environments,” said Michelle Ryan, VP of marketing for Garnier Skin Care.

More on how the system works at Ad Age.

Luminate’s Imagesphere Summit 2012

On Tuesday we gathered 60 friends from the publishing community — execs from Conde Nast, Viacom, Thompson Reuters, Wenner, NBC, American Media, Time Warner, Getty, Dow Jones, Gannett, the IAB and others — for an afternoon deep-dive into the rising role of image content as publishing moves to digital and mobile platforms. Our first “Imagesphere Summit.” (Official release here.)

Our CFO suspected it was just an excuse to order Luminate-logo’d pillows. But most people, I think, actually came to learn from industry peers how to hone their image strategies. Given that more than a third of the web’s pixels are image content, 70% of social media activity revolves around a photo, and many of these publishers are seeing upwards of 60% of their pageviews coming from photo galleries, there’s an eagerness across the industry to figure out the image opportunity.

Steve Rubel, EVP at Edelman, kicked off the programming. He identified a schism dividing the landscape of digital publishers. On one side the “Continental Content Divide” publishers focus on ‘spreadable media,’ using infographics, lists and slideshows — short, frequent and easy-to-share content nuggets — to fuel success among social-media consumers. On the other side of the divide are practitioners of ‘drillable media,’ where depth, context and rich visual experience are designed to pull readers deeper into the story. At the center of both approaches (represented by the Play Button in his Media Cloverleaf) is content that directly addresses the visual culture. (More at Steve’s site.)

Paul Asel, managing partner at Nokia Growth Partners (and a Luminate board member) shared a global perspective: How mobile and touch screens are accelerating growth of the Imagesphere. Half the photos ever taken by humankind, he told us, were taken in the past 2 years. He also shared a prediction about the future of digital photos: Today if you hand a non-touch screen device to a child, she’ll ask, Is it broken? Soon all of us will ask the same question if we find ourselves starting at a static image.

Bob Lisbonne, Luminate’s CEO, presented a deck entitled “Welcome to the Imagesphere.” He posited a theory of photo evolution, where the Kodak Era has given way to the Imagesphere — a new phase in which technology has streamlined our ability to take, share and interact with photos. Members of Facebook alone upload more than 300 million pictures a day, and our sprawling social graphs mean that we each (on average) have access to nearly 100,000 photos shared by friends. Imagesphere technologies have enabled digital and mobile publishers to use photos in 3 new ways — as repositories of hidden information that can be revealed with the swipe of a mouse; as drivers or richer experiences; and as a new paradigm for navigation. An effective image strategy creates publisher value via more inventory, higher user engagement, and new monetization.

Bob also proposed that we borrow a concept from fighter jets, “heads-up display,” to imagine a richer experience for digital photos. Heads-up displays allow fighter pilots to watch their gauges without looking down at the instrument panel — relevant data appears as an overlay to visual content outside the windscreen. When an image has “stopping power” and sparks reader demand for more information, don’t force them to look down, look elsewhere on the page, or (god forbid) click off your site to get answers elsewhere. Interactive images can mimic the “heads-up display,” providing your readers answers right inside the image experience.

Rafat Ali, founder and former editor-in-chief of PaidContent (now doing the same at Skift), interviewed Steve Carpi, the global director of production Fantasy Interactive. They discussed FI’s partnership with Gannett around the recent re-design of USAToday.com. Touch screens are training media consumers to navigate by way of photos instead of headlines, Steve said, and websites that steal from tablet design will be better positioned for the next wave of mobile and desktop user experience. It’s an approach he called ‘tactile design.’ Rafat provoked an interesting discussion around two questions: One, now that every story is an image, are image galleries dead? Two, with images moving into such a central role in publishing, will important stories will be lost if they don’t have a compelling picture to pull in readers? (An audience member from Getty volunteered to help!)

Advice from Liz Coughlin, former head of the entertainment sites at Yahoo (now at Young Hollywood): You can either attempt to push your readers to content types that you know how to monetize (eg, articles with large IAB units) or you can figure out how to monetize the content they love, which tends to be your photos.

Brandon Whightsel, design director for WSJ Digital, started with a shot of the newspaper in 1889, the year it began publishing. Beyond turning a five-column format into six columns and the introduction of those iconic woodcut images, though, the paper’s look and feel evolved only gradually until 2003 when it introduced color photos. WSJ Digital, however, has evolved at a radically faster pace. A large photo element across the top of the website — the “Assassination Module,” he called it — was once reserved only for very, very big stories. The importance of images on the tablet experience, however, has changed the design rules. Large photos now anchor many digital and tablet stories, assassination no longer required. Whightsel tipped his hat to Rupert Murdoch as an outspoken advocate for the migration to a more visual approach to publishing.

Offir Gutelzon, business development VP at Getty, talked about the potential unleashed by image metadata. Once a publisher knows what’s inside each image, it can automatically deliver photos relevant to every story and can attach ads targeted by image context.

Luminate CTO James Everingham wrapped up the afternoon with a sneak peek at some products Luminate will launch later this fall — support for new content types, upgraded social features, new controls for publishers and users, and some snazzy functionality for tablet users.

Throughout the day there were more questions than the speakers had time to answer. I guess we’ll just have to do another one of these soon.

Visual Storytelling for Brands in the Facebook, Pinterest, Insta-gallery Era

In November 1995 I had a job selling ad space for tech magazines. One afternoon the office fax machine scrolled out 12 pages worth of insertion orders from a software company I’d been pitching for two months, and I did a happy-dance in my cubicle. With those orders, the company had committed to running a full-page ad in every issue the magazine would publish in all of 1996. I called the client to confirm the mailing address for our traffic coordinator and the creative instructions — right-reading film, emulsion-side-down — and got the further good news that the ad creative was already on its way in a FedEx pouch. The ad creative. A single photo with ad copy that would serve as the campaign’s creative all year.

I don’t miss the inky mess I’d make of my hands when I had to change the cartridge on that fax machine. But they sure were simpler times in the world of advertising and publishing.

Back then the brands on the other end of those fax machines could afford to sink significant time and resources into the production of each creative unit. Hiring a renowned photographer, a model, a team of set designers, makeup artists, art directors and post-production editors might set them back $25,000 for a single photo for a single print ad. But given the enormous role played by that one photograph — it would likely anchor a $15-million national ad campaign across many magazines for months — the time and dollars invested in getting it exactly right could fairly be called a rounding error. Twenty-five thousand dollars in creative development divided by 15 million in media spend is less than two-tenths of a percentage point.

While the math still works for brands advertising in glossy fashion magazines, there is trouble in paradise. Or rather, paradise has moved to the Internet. If brands want to engage with consumers online (which, more and more, is where their consumers spend time) they need to compete with publishers and social media sites that refresh their bins of eye-candy every few minutes. By the time they’ve art directed, developed and shipped a piece of right-reading, emulsion-side-down film to a publisher, Gangnam Style has been replaced with parody videos of Gangnam Style.

The digital landscape changes fast, and pictures are a main catalyst. Netscape released the first commercially-available web browser in 1994 and fewer than 15 years later Flickr housed more than 6 billion photos — more than 450 times the number of photos held by the Library of Congress. In 2009 more than 2.5 billion camera-enabled devices were in the hands of would-be photogs and in the course of a year would go on to take ten percent of all photos ever taken by humans. Instagram, the photo-sharing apps for smartphones that Facebook bought earlier this year for $1 billion, measures its customer engagement in uploads-per-second; 60 uploads per second, back in the quaint old days of December 2011, pre-acquisition, and before comScore released data showing Instagram’s daily usage is now greater than Twitter’s. By early 2012 Facebook members were uploading to the site more than 300 million photos every single day.

This slurry of data signals “the end of the Kodak Era, where we took photos birthdays and vacations, and shared them only with a small group of friends,” says Bob Lisbonne, CEO of Luminate (my boss) and former SVP for Netscape’s browser group in 1990s. “We’ve now entered a phase in which visual communication is supplanting the written word — what some are calling the dawn of the Imagesphere.”


(Source: 1000 Memories Blog.)

But it’s not taking or uploading pictures that should worry marketers. It’s the fact that there are consumers on the other end of these photos — viewing them, engaging with them, and generally spending more time with images they see on Facebook, Tumblr or Pinterest than they used to spend reading glossy magazines that arrived on the newsstand once a month. comScore’s Mobile Metrix 2.0 survey says Facebook users are spending more than seven hours per month visiting the site by way of mobile phones alone. Om Malik, founder and editor in chief of GigaOM, asserts that photos are the fuel driving the mass migration to social media:

Malik writes, “Photos are the reason many of us continue to engage with Facebook. Facebook has tried many verbs to increase and maintain our engagement with the service — read, listen, watch. But in the end, it’s the photos that work wonders for the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social-networking giant.”

Research from a team at Harvard Business School supports Malik’s claim. A 2009 study finds that 70% of all activity inside social networks revolves around photos. Keep in mind, that was in 2009 — when Facebookers were uploading a mere 31 million photos a day, and My Space was still relevant enough to be included in a study of social-media sites.

These millions of new photos — or at least those shared by friends and organizations we choose to follow — are pushed to us each day in an unending, ever-updating stream of visual storytelling. We watch our friends’ kids grow up, in near real-time, and news stories unfold throughout the day as fresh photos replace those from hours or minutes before. Publishers, too, are responding to their readers’ growing appetite for image content with larger, high-res photography and the gallery-ification of stories as disparate as celebrity news, travel destinations and business analysis.

Roughly one-third of pixel real estate on the web is image content, according to the Wall Street Journal, and those images get old fast. In its first three days on the Internet, the average photo has attracted half the total views it will ever attract. If you look at content shared via social media platforms rather than the entire web, the half-life for content is measured in hours not days.


(Source: Bitly Blog.)

And there lies the rub for brands. The changing dynamic of media consumption has changed the rules of marketing in three fundamental respects.

One: “Professional grade” doesn’t get the mileage it once did.

Sure, the list of most-viewed clips on YouTube includes Justin Beiber music videos, but it also includes quirky independent interviews of people waiting in line for iPhones and home-movie sensations such as ‘Charlie Bit My Finger… Again.’ The same goes for photos. Consumer interest no longer tracks with traditional definitions of “photo quality.”

There was a time when all media was professional media, created and distributed by large publishing companies. It only made sense, then, for advertisers to polish their creative units to a professional, high-production-value shine. Good advertising should always seek to imitate the editorial content around it; ‘native advertising’ has been around long before the Internet. There’s mounting evidence, however, that recall rates for TV spots and display ads in magazines are declining, despite the professional expertise that goes into their creation. Nowadays relevance trumps production value.

Now that amateur photographers have gained access to distribution — Google might lead you to an independent photoblog, Instagram might introduce you to some great photos from an excellent hobbyist — consumers are dividing the world of photos into ‘interesting’ and ‘not interesting,’ not ‘professional’ and ‘amateur.’ Interesting no longer requires the talents of a professional.

Two: Attention Deficit Disorder has become a lifestyle choice.

A trend that’s probably as old as the publishing industry has achieved fever pitch: Content miniaturization. Articles get shorter and shorter, and readers still can’t get to the end of them. I mean, who has time to read the entire tweet anymore? Audience ratings seem to suggest that frequency and freshness of content are trumping quality and depth. In a world where tapping our thumbs on the Instagram icon on our iPhones unleashes an endless stream of photos taken in the last four hours, looking again at last month’s print ad for Prada strikes many modern consumers as boring.

Three: Consumption is giving way to interaction.

There’s something that’s even more popular than posting pictures: Liking them and commenting on them. It’s a sign that we define ourselves not only through our own pictures, but also through association with the pictures of others. It’s this instinct that explains the growth of Pinterest, the social network that rocketed to 10 million users faster than any social network before it. It’s not built on photo-sharing in the sense that Instagram or Facebook are (“Hey, check out my pictures”); it’s about photo-assembling (“I’ve collected these pictures so you understand who I am and what I care about”). Forty-one percent of us, says new research from Pew, find photos and videos online and re-post them on sites designed for sharing with others. It’s one of the most popular things we do on the Internet.

In order for brands to embrace these new platforms for photo mixing and mashing, they need to get comfortable with their images being separated from the carefully assembled context of yesterday’s print ad or the Spring catalog, and being extracted from the traditional models that protect ownership rights and pay out talent royalties. Your customers want to befriend you and play with you, but that game is going to be on their terms.

So what’s a brand to do?

The creative departments at traditional agencies simply can’t adapt to this new world, says John Battelle, founder of Federated Media (disclosure: I was his co-founder there) and the first managing editor of Wired Magazine. The old rhythm of branded storytelling — devise the Big Idea, take a month to convert it into an art piece of advertising, and then enlist the media department to implant it deep into the skulls of consumers through mass media — is losing its efficacy. Agencies will continue to find success producing professional-grade assets and distributing them around tent-pole events, but they’re ill-equipped for the in-between times, the 363 days a year that don’t feature the Super Bowl or the Oscars. The beefy muscles built up over years of pumping out thirty-second TV spots and full-page print ads aren’t well suited for the marathon running required by lasting social-media conversations. “Brands need to catch up to media,” he says, and they’re going to need some help.

“Most creative agencies don’t see themselves as ongoing, real time publishers — that’s the business of, well, publishers,” Battelle continued. “I predict the two will merge over time — agencies must become more like publishers, and publishers are going to have to learn how to service brands like agencies do.”

Federated Media says the solution is a distributed, crowdsourced model for branded content creation. It invites advertisers to tap the talents of “the world’s largest creative department,” the 30 million some-odd bloggers affiliated with FM, from the vast army of small WordPress publishers to large-reach sites such as Boing Boing or Notcot.


(Source: Tom Ryabo, featured on Intel’s My Life Scoop.)

Three years ago, David Veneski, Intel’s director of US media, took FM up on the offer for a program called My Life Scoop. While the site features periodic updates on products like Intel-powered Ultrabooks, the bulk of the content is created by a broad array of independent content producers who speak the native language of Intel’s customers — those young, affluent people who seek out cutting-edge tech gadgets to enhance their lives. The imagery that accompanies the site’s content is not highly produced. Instead the emphasis is on fit, tone and relevance — photos and videos collected, curated and presented to My Life Scoop readers at a fraction of the cost associated with a professional shoots. The content is on-message (‘Sponsors of Tomorrow’ and ‘Ultrabook’), it’s frequently refreshed and it’s inviting social amplification. Nearly 50,000 Twitterers are following the My Life Scoop feed, and 100,000 Facebook members have Liked it.

“It’s important to us that we provide an authentic and compelling brand story for our target audience,” says Veneski. “We find that visuals and imagery, both photos and video, alongside written content, offers a way of telling a story that is more interesting to the people we want to reach.”


(Source: GE’s Tumblr.)

General Electric has taken an even more stripped-down approach. On Tumblr they’ve created (with help from the Barbarian Group) a corporate site that is nothing but photos. You’ll only find text only where it’s used to caption or hashtag a photo. What’s initially surprising is that airplane engines, smart LED bulb testing facilities, and gardens decked out with PulseArc Multi-Vapor metal halide lamps are quite photogenic, especially when they’ve been dolled up with an Instagram filter. Without set designers, models or professional photographers, GE is telling its story with frequent, low-cost iPhone pictures. More importantly, GE fans are spreading this story to their networks, with comments and hashtags included.

And the ‘interactivity’ isn’t just something that occurs after the brand unleashes the content — GE uses Twitter to invite its social-media followers to pick the locations of future photos.


(Source: GE’s Twitter Account.)

Without breaking the bank or getting reckless with its brand, GE found a path to social-media relevance. The brand is leaning into the consumer acceptance of spontaneous, inexpensive photo storytelling, which isn’t just reducing production costs either. It’s giving GE a stream of highly sharable content nuggets to satisfy the short-attention-span types and the sharers.

In other words, they’re speaking our language — the one in which every missive is worth a thousand words.

(This article first appeared on iMediaConnection under the title Why Visual Storytelling is the Future of Digital.)

Forget About Romney! Forget About Obama! Vote for ChasNote!

I recommended to the folks at SxSW that next year’s conference should have a session on “image strategy for publishers,” and that I’m just the guy to lead the discussion. If that sounds like an interesting topic, please click on the button above to vote for my session.

Friends are more likely to hit the Like Button if status updates include a photo; Tweets with pictures have a longer shelf life than those with text or links alone. Even news publishers report that the majority of page views happen in photo galleries. It’s no wonder that images take up more of the web’s pixels than they did 5 years ago — or 5 months ago.

If selected, I promise to offer up at least 5 good ideas on how you can boost the effectiveness of the images on your site. Maybe I’ll even hand out cupcakes.

SMB Marketing: The Image Opportunity

Back in the day, the primary vehicle for small businesses marketing was the yellow pages. It made perfect sense: yellow pages directories were the primary tools for consumers looking for a plumber or a local sporting goods store, and they drove business leads efficiently.

And then consumers found a better tool: the Internet and its magic-performing search engines. Type in the product or service you need — in other words, help Google understand your needs, give its algorithms a little context — and relevant business listings appear in less than a second. According to eMarketer younger people are now five times more likely to use a search engine than the old, thick print directory. Marketers have had no choice by to follow their customers online.

Of course those potential customers are using the Internet for more than just hunting down a phone number with the help of a search engine. Is there an opportunity, then, to meet likely customers even when they’re not searching?

One of the most frequent things they’re doing online is looking at pictures. By some estimates the 3 trillion-plus online images make up 40% of the pixels on the Internet. Everyday Facebook users alone add 300 million more, and Pinterest, the third most popular social network (and fastest site ever to go from zero to 10 million users), is built solely on images. Yet more evidence to support the research that says 70% of everything we do inside social media involves a photo. Big media sites report a similar trend, with some of the largest online publishers logging 60% of their total page views inside photo galleries.

The next trick for marketers is to bring the magic of SEM — an acute understanding of context — to the imagesphere, so that businesses can pluck from the trillions of images the handful that are attracting the attention of potential customers.

At Luminate, my employer, our mission is to make those 3 trillion images interactive, to enable a user to just mouse into an image and be presented with apps that deliver content and services relevant to that particular image. In order to make those apps work — say sports stats on athlete photos, apparel information on red carpet photos, or Wikipedia profiles on the people or places inside almost any photo — we need first to unpack the context of each image. That context, it turns out, is very interesting to certain marketers. The two side-by-side images above show how a retailer like Macy’s runs ads on Luminate apps when an image contains at least two apparel items that look like similar to products in its catalog. The app (and advertising) isn’t presented unless a user rolls over the invitation to “Get the Look,” so the opportunity combines visual context with a level of user intent.

Businesses of all sizes are focused on mobile strategies and social strategies — as they should be. But given the enormous consumer interest in photo content, an image strategy has become equally important. Forget about those often-talked-about thousand words, a picture may be worth much more to a business that learns how to connect its brand with the context inside it.

(This piece was originally published as a guest post on Shawn Graham’s site, which is dedicated to “marketing and strategy for badass small businesses.”)