(Or, why every business builder should be a huge visual culture nerd.)
When you find or make images for your social media marketing, do you take into account not just your ideal customers, but the larger visual culture?
If not, you should be. (Don’t worry, it’s not that hard - and its pretty interesting!)
When it comes to standing out in busy, noisy markets (and what isn’t busy and noisy in the social media arena?), it’s not just about our ideal customer’s challenges, problems, and wants. And its not just about our message and how we respond to client’s problems with our offers. Its not just them -- or us.
Its also about how the connection between us happens - and doesn’t - within the context of the larger culture we are all swimming in.
Because that larger culture shapes our perception of words and images. It prepares us to see some things and not others. It determines so much - maybe everything - about how our potential clients see and experience our visual and written messages. And whether they see them at all.
The current visual environment of social media is characterized, above all, by quantity and speed. As we sit stationary and stare at our moving screens, we encounter thousands upon thousands of images a week (sometimes even per day), presented at a breathtaking pace and in a constant state of change as trends and conversations blow through our social media spaces. It is way more than the human brain was built to process, and we filter a lot of it out for simple lack of ability to integrate it.
The stories and posts that are treated as most important by social media’s algorithms are the ones that are most recent -- combined with what is most similar to other things you have looked at.
(Maria Popova talks about the phenomenon of the NEW overtaking all other metrics of importance in a stunning interview on the podcast Design Matters.)
This leaves us each walking through a custom tailored reality in our online world - and one which promotes literal amnesia and rapid response to persuasive marketing tactics; and discourages broader analysis, integration, imagination and reflection.
As you know, this is the environment in which YOU are trying to get noticed with your images; and that can sometimes feel like quite the challenge!
But there is good news in all this. The most important: understanding the characteristics of the larger visual culture as you craft your social media content is a superpower. It allows you to be able to maximize the advantages of this current moment and account for its challenges, which gives you a considerable advtantage in your market. It allows you to make content people will SEE.
On to the rest of the good news:
The tools of digital image making are becoming ever more accessible. There are countless apps that can help you turn an everyday snapshot into a more polished or surprising form of self expression in moments. Overall, the general population of internet users and smartphone users are getting more and more visually adept; including you.
Relatedly, the production of culture is becoming less controlled by the gatekeepers of big corporate media, and there are opportunities for people with far fewer resources to make waves and be seen and heard, especially within the context of networks and communities online. Culture is being created in bottom-up ways that are challenging the top-down structures of corporate culture right and left.
Though we may struggle with distraction and overwhelm in this visual environment, we have begun to see the world, and online culture, and even marketing - as a networks of continually evolving processes rather than fixed products. This makes us more nimble, less bogged down, and offers immense potential for creative growth in our businesses, for rapid correction when needed. It also takes the pressure off of each individual creation - it is your ongoing body of work that becomes important, as you grow in public.
The internet is changing our brains - dulling and compromising our ability to focus, yet strengthening our ability to engage in cultural production and in marketing as an ongoing, creative process which is accessible to us all.
Here are some questions you can be asking to incorporate important information about your visual environment into your marketing strategies, both visual and otherwise:
- Is your content marketing - and your brand - evolving continually, or do you feel that the materials you have to work with become outdated over time and need replacement?
- Do you have creation systems in place to allow continual change and revision to occur within your branding and marketing as the landscape changes around you, and as you learn better ways of doing business?
- When you look to the visual world of your market, what kinds of images do you see a lot of? What are the visual trends?
- What stories do these visual trends tell - and what (or who) is left out?
- What contribution do YOU have to make to those larger stories? Are you here to offer an alternative? What parts of the dominant stories do you support? What do you reject? Who are you in this space - a disruptor? A guide? A nurturer? A … ?
- How do your images function in the larger visual culture of speed and quantity that characterizes social media? Do they compete? Interrupt? Defy? Blend in? Create space? Talk back?
- What are some strategies you can employ in your images to make sure they are seen, heard, felt in the current visual environment?