Posting Pretty Pictures Is a Legit Web Marketing Strategy

It's called "visual networking." The idea? Use image-heavy sites like Pinterest and Instagram to grow your business. Here's how it works.

With the rise of image-rich sites like Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr, Web marketing folks are now throwing around a new term: "visual networking." Sounds fancy, but it boils down to this: people like to click on and share pretty pictures.

Are your social media efforts still limited to just Twitter and Facebook? You're missing out a whole new, visual world of marketing possibilities.

I talked to Sharad Verma, CEO of Piqora (formerly known as Pinfluencer), which offers analytics tools for the big three visual networks and works with brands such as Hautelook, Crate & Barrel, Fossil, and AMC. Below, he explains why visual networking is something businesses shouldn't ignore.

Why do you think visual networks are gaining traction?

The big three networks [Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr] and Vine are the future of entertainment, curation, creation, and commerce. Online consumers are looking to find inspiration, discover content, and products on these visual networks.

According to a July ShareThis study, Pinterest constitutes more than 50 percent of all the sharing on iPads. Consumers are spending a lot of time on tablets and on their mobile phones, which are lean-back entertainment devices. The hardest thing to do on a tablet or mobile phone is to type; the easiest thing to do is to tap on an image. So while the first generation of social networks mapped out the personal social graph, I think a lot of consumer time is now going to be spent on these visual networks.

What should businesses know about how consumers use these networks?

Visual networks are built around interest and intent, whereas Facebook and Twitter are built around people and the connections between them.

They are open, highly viral, and organic social spaces which leads to a very high degree of virality, high amplification, and bigger reach. They're also highly interconnected and content crosses over these network boundaries frequently. For example, 11 percent of the pins on Pinterest come directly from Tumblr and 1 percent of the pins come directly from Polyvore. And the product-related conversations on Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr are mostly organic--not driven by brands but emerging from people.

Pinterest's potential to drive traffic and sales makes it really attractive to online retailers. Instagram and Tumblr are great channels to drive brand awareness and discovery.

So what should businesses do beyond simply sharing great photos?

Visual networks are a great place to respond to purchase intent expressed via comments and images. Businesses, especially online retailers, should be actively monitoring whether their product photos are being pinned, Instagrammed, and Tumbled, and if the conversation around those posts are inquiries about product and price.

Knowing your advocates and influencers on these networks and running contests and sweepstakes to distribute your SKUs in the visual feeds is a great way to generate free earned media and traffic from these channels.

What are some of the most interesting things you can track through Piqora?

Piqora's marketing suite can track any hashtag from the big three interest-based visual networks, all through a single unified dashboard.

For example, a business can track branded hashtags like #nike or a lifestyle hashtag such as #retrofashion or even competitor hashtags such as #reebok. If you are running a photo contest on Instagram or Tumblr to grow your audience, you can easily track all the entries and participants via Piqora's hashtag tracking.

Using the new analytics you can enter any hashtag you want and see photos, contributors, and posts in real-time across Instagram and Tumblr. You can also easily plug in your Instagram profile and get analytics, such as most engaged and influential followers and trending images.

What are some other cool features you provide?

We are working on some smart filters to "bubble up" the conversations with purchase intent: for example, "I want this pair of shoes" or "Does it come in size 10?" or "I live in San Jose. Do you ship there?" If a pin is pinned on to a board named "To buy," we will raise those pins to the top so that e-commerce managers can quickly respond to those users.

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