ImageDid you know that of all the content that people share on social media, images are the most viewed and attract the highest levels of engagement?

The written word will always be important, but last year saw the rise of the visual social web (which some are even calling the imagesphere). This was largely driven by the explosion of platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest which have placed even more emphasis on visual communications, creating further opportunities for individuals to quickly and easy share and comment on photos via their social networks. Statistics show that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal and that people process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

According to Facebook, visual images generate 120 percent more engagement than other types of content. Photo albums generate 180 percent more interest and engagement than other types of posts on social media. According to Shareaholic, Pinterest generated more referral traffic for businesses in the US than YouTube, LinkedIn and Google + combined. According to 3M Corp., our brains process visual content 60,000 times faster than text.

Thinking visually is becoming a must for any social marketer or community manager, as they consider how they can create and propagate images that get attention. But this thinking shouldn’t stop there. At the moment we’re witnessing what some people are calling a ‘photographidemic’, which reflects among other things, the growing trend for the enhancing of images. Images are no longer static. Instead they are becoming a highly flexible format which for brands particularly, can provide opportunities to tell a story about the business and become a truly engaging piece of content.

Here we will look at five trends in how images are being brought to life online.

1. Memes and ‘memejacking’

A meme is some sort of concept, behaviour or idea that spreads very quickly across the web.  Memes are usually visual – often an image or video, but they can also take the form of a link, hashtag, a simple word or phrase (e.g. an intentional misspelling), or even an entire website.

Memes are popular because they are highly sharable and visual, usually with a small amount of descriptive text added. They are often based on trending topics, or newsworthy subjects that most people can relate to. Like most digital trends they move fast and any brand hoping to use memes in its digital marketing strategy needs to be set up to respond to cultural ideas and behaviours as quickly as they emerge.

Memejacking (which is hijacking popular memes for your own benefit, and often for marketing purposes) takes out a lot of the groundwork, as rather than creating something from scratch and hoping that it ‘goes viral,’ you’re leveraging an idea that is already successful.

Some basic knowledge of a photo editing tool like Photoshop can come in handy when creating or hijacking brand new memes, but there are also lots of meme generators out there like Meme Generator and quickmeme. You can also use photo editors such as PicMonkey, which make it extremely easy to hijack popular memes. Other useful tools that can be used to create captions on images are ROLFBOT or Someecards.

As an example, an Oreo Twitter ad, which made the most of the 34 minute game-stopping blackout during the recent Super Bowl, became a viral hit overnight. The Oreo ad picture was re-tweeted 15,000+ times, favourited over 5,000 times, garnered almost 20,000 Facebook likes, inspired over 790 comments, and has enjoyed more than 6,000 shares, and it only took Oreo’s ad team five minutes to conceive and produce the ad.

2. Animated GIFs and Cinemagraph

A GIF (graphics interchange format) is an image file format that can be used to create a looping animation. It can be a great way of bringing a static image to life.

Like most of these suggestions, animated GIFs can be relatively easy to produce either via photoshop, or by using one of the many online tools available such as picasion.com or makeagif.com. Twitter has also recently announced a new mobile service called Vine which allows users to create and share looping videos, of six seconds or less.

Two notable brands that have used animated GIFs include Calvin Klein, with its sultry model in her underwear; and Japanese clothing company Uniqlo, which commissioned seven animated GIF artists to design a Christmas promotion, in which customer’s email addresses were captured in exchange for a free gift/GIF.

Taking the idea of GIFs one step further are Cinemagraphs, which are images that are partially animated. The main difference between GIFs and cinemagraphs are that the latter tend to better quality photographs, and a bit more subtle and stylish.

Diesel has used the technique to provide shots for its A/W campaign. Freeview also held a Summer Olympics themed cinemagraph competition.

3. Interactive

One of the great things about content marketing is that it enables a brand to share its story in long form and in their own words, and images can be a great way to do this if you consider the various tools and technologies out there which allow you to ‘unlock’ details within a photo.

The easiest and simplest way is to add a great caption. This can help to encourage shares, and could even kick off a new meme.

Taking things one step further, image tagging platforms such as Taggstar.com provide the tools for transforming static images into navigable spaces, embedded with richer content and information. Once signed-up, you can ‘tag’ important details within an image, linking to other relevant sources be they videos, articles, audio or other websites. When you add a ‘tag’ to an image, a hotspot appears in the desired position which readers can touch or hover over to reveal the relating link or piece of content. Usually all content and links are engaged with inside the image, meaning that site visitors can remain within the article or page they are reading, unless they decide to follow a relating link.

4. Filters

Instagram is most probably the best known photo app with over 90 million active users.  Several top brands have already accumulated one million Instagram followers to date, and many more have over 100,000 followers on the platform. Furthermore, Instagram web profiles also launched in November 2012, making it easier for businesses of all sizes to promote their Instagram presence.

Apps such as Instagram allow you to easily add a filter to your images, which enables even the most amateur photographers to send artistic images out into the world.

If you’re looking for an alternative to Instagram, other sites such as Snapseed, Pixlr-o-matic, PicYou, InstantRetro and Rollip.com also let you easily add different Instagram-like filters to your images from your desktop. You can take the use of filters one step further and use an image technique known as Tilthift which makes your images appear toy-like.

There are a number of great brand examples to look to for inspiration, who are applying filters to their images very effectively. Starbucks was one of the original adopters of Instagram and remains one of the top brands on the platform. Boasting 1.07m followers, Starbucks has worked to create an emotional connection with customers by capturing in-store experiences at locations around the world. It invites its fans to tag their photos with #starbucks. Burberry has also been a trailblazer with Instagram, and is doing more than just displaying clothing and advertisements, but rather capturing the lifestyle of the Burberry brand through the lens in real time. Photographer Mike Krus presented Instagram followers with a real time photo feed during a London runway show, allowing fans to see pictures before they were available anywhere else.

5. Infographics

We live in an age of big data, which is now part of our knowledge world. Infographics are a visually compelling communication medium that done well can communicate complex data in a visual format that is potentially viral.

The popularity of infographics has rocked over the last few years and they should be front of mind when it comes to your own content planning. Infographics make great content because they are highly visual with easily digestible facts and figures.  They are great ways of getting traffic to your website and building buzz. One tip, make sure your infographic has an embed code!

You do not have to be a graphic design genius to get to grips with infographics, there are many sites that you can use to create your own, including Easel.ly, Piktochart, Infogr.am, and Visually .