social media how toAre you looking for new ways to help your business stand out with social media?

Are you wondering why Pinterest is so popular?

The answer is pictures!

Photos are the perfect social media marketing tool for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Why Use Photos?

Photos are eye-candy that attract and engage readers with your offering. As the Jack (or Jill) of all trades, small business owners tend to have limited budgets—and more importantly, time—to promote their business. Therefore, each marketing element must effectively drive results.

With Pinterest‘s recent growth and Facebook’s purchase of Instagram, now’s the time to expand your social media content with photos.

To put this in perspective, Pinterest has experienced exponential growth as tracked by Nielsen, passing Tumblr and Flickr.

Concurrently, Instagram‘s growth trend monitored by Experian Hitwise has also taken off. Furthermore, don’t overlook older photo social media options like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

nielsen photo site chart

Photo sharing on social media sites—Pinterest, Tumblr and Flickr via Nielsen.

hitwise experian instagram

Instagram growth via Experian Hitwise.

You can put photos in your social media with these 13 easy-to-implement steps.

#1: Determine Your Business Goals

As with any marketing strategy, decide what you want the use of photos to accomplish.

Obvious options translate to increased customers and higher sales, building your brand, attracting new customers, showing products in context, answering customer questions and engaging fans.

At this point, start to think about how you’re going to track results later.

#2: Know Your Audience

This is the target market for your business goals. Think about who will:

  • Buy your product.
  • Engage on social media.
  • Take and share photographs.

#3: Create a Hook for Your Photos

As a visual medium, photographs serve many purposes. To reduce content creation time, develop an alluring hook or theme related to your product or business.

Peanut Butter and Co., a Greenwich Village restaurant-turned-food company, uses photographs of peanut butter creations on Tumblr and Pinterest.

peanut butter co tumblr

Peanut Butter & Co.'s the Nutropolitan Museum of Art on Tumblr—Mad Men photo.

peanut butter co pinterest

Peanut Butter & Co. on Pinterest.

#4: Build a Story Around Your Product

While a photo conveys a thousand words, don’t underestimate your story’s value. The story draws prospects in to find out more about your products.

As the Heath brothers point out in Made to Stick, people remember stories, not a collection of facts. To understand how to apply this to your small business, examine Woods Hole Inn Red Chair.

Started as part of a Facebook photography meme, it attracted paying guest photographer Julie Cromer. Guests continue to call and ask if it’s the home of the Red Chair.

red chair blog

Red Chair Travels blog—Get the full story.

#5: Extend Your Business Brand

While many businesses assume branding is only for large corporations, they miss that by not branding, they’re branding.

Here’s a quick starter guide to develop your branding logo. Understand branding your business by itself doesn’t add extra costs; it requires consistent presentation.

To this end, the Woods Hole Inn should add the tagline “Home of the Red Chair,” since guests ask about it.

#6: Protect Your Intellectual Property

Because photographers own the rights to their images, determine how you’ll protect these property rights and those of contributors.

Watermarking photos is one option. If you use a professional photographer, include the right to publish the photos across digital, social media and print options in your contract.

When using customers’ photographs, ensure they own the rights to the photograph and give you permission to use it.

Note: The legal nature of photographs goes beyond the scope of my expertise.

#7: Optimize Photos for Search

By themselves, photos aren’t visible to search. Associate relevant text with your images that a blind person would need to understand the photo. Use keyword-based filename and alt tags such as Woods_Hole_Inn_Red_Chair.jpg.

Don’t use a numbered file such as IMG000123.jpg. Take time to check Google’s image suggestions.

google image search

Mouse over "Related searches" for a preview of the new set of results and click through to see the full results for that search.

#8: Expand Your Photo Presence

Go beyond your initial social media presence to include other social media, online and offline alternatives such as catalogs, window displays and other collateral.

Peanut Butter and Co. went big with a peanut butter–themed popup gallery show.

peanut butter co pop up gallery

Outside view of Peanut Butter & Co.'s the Nutropolitan Museum of Art popup gallery in Soho, New York. Photo credit: Theresa Raffetto.

#9: Give Your Photos Legs by Making them Shareable

Encourage visitors to expand your reach with social sharing. Consider the breadth of social media options including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr and blogs.

Where appropriate, invite conversation through comments.

social sharing buttons

Add social sharing buttons to encourage photo distribution.

#10: Engage Prospects, Customers and the Public in Your Efforts

When using photos, don’t assume you have to do everything yourself. Invite your employees, customers, distributors and others to share their photos.

The current trend is that only a small proportion of people actively engage on social media—90% of participants lurk; 9% of participants do something small like share, comment or vote; and 1% create content like guest posts.

Photographs are easy, low-risk participation items because even feature phones have cameras. Follow Exude Lipstick‘s example by curating customers’ photographs to maintain editorial control.

Note: The Asian doll photo in the image below is from a customer.

exude lipstick pinterest

Exude Lipstick's Pinterest boards include customer-curated photographs and promote press attention.

#11: Promote Your Photos

Tell your audience about your photos and get them involved.

Use all of your potential promotional tools including internal media (namely your blog, website and email), social media (especially social sharing) and press.

Canvas Pop, a new service that prints Instagram images on canvas, has partnered with other firms like Threadless to create contests.

canvas pop instagram

Canvas Pop instagram.

#12: Test Other Photo-Centric Social Media Venues

Since it’s still in the early days, try different options to expand your business’s visibility. Take advantage of new platforms established firms may not be willing to try.

Exude lipstick tested the social shopping site, Svpply.

exude lipstock svpply

Exude Lipstick's Summer 2012 collection on Svpply.

#13: Measure Your Photos’ Results

Track your photography marketing results to your business goals.

While many small businesses lack integrated analytics, they’re not alone in assessing social media results (many large firms can’t associate social media efforts with sales). At a minimum, use anecdotal information like Woods Hole Inn’s Beth Colt when people ask for the Red Chair.

As attention-magnets, photos are great marketing tools. They’re a highly sharable social media format that engages without requiring a lot of participant skills because everyone’s got a camera in their pocket ready to take a photograph.

For small businesses, the main consideration is how can you get attention for your product with photographs?

What do you think? Do you have any other suggestions for using photographs in your small business’s social media mix? If so, please include them in the comments below. Also, if you’ve successfully used photographs to step up your marketing, please share your experience in the comments box below.

Image from Theresa Raffetto.


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  • Great list, i liked #9 most, giving legs to photos with the help of social media platforms work like giving wings. They don’t walk, they fly (with a rocket speed!)

  • Great Post @Heidi Cohen..Yes marketing through photography is best for those who want to reduce Content Creation time.I have a little confusion in 13th point like How Can we track our Specific photography marketing results??

  • Neil Fabbo

    Great Article Heidi. Social Media Continues to drive traffic and this list hits some new points. Thanks

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  • Photos helps my facebook pages to grow faster and reach more users. 

    Nice tips. Thanks for sharing it.

  • This seems so obvious! But I’m sure like everyone else I forget from time to time thanks for the reminders and new ideas! #3 is my favorite, you’ve got to know your market! Especially with all of Google’s algorithm changes we are coming back around to true marketing and not just posting stuff online.

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  • erichoffman

    Very helpful post Heidi. I just wanted to note on the optimizing images for search step (#7), that it’s still up for grabs as to whether using underscores or hyphens to break up file names is a better practice. Personally I like hyphens, they’re easier to see in hyperlinks, but it’s definitely key to rename image files to something other than what your camera provides.
    Also, great point about licensed images and posting to social channel too, intellectual property rights are always something to be very attuned to.

  • Luke W. Stapleson

    Great bunch of advices, thanks Heidi. Any online marketer should read your article and it does not matter if he/she is beginner or pro.

  • Hi Heidi, 

    my name is Fabio (CoFounder of Followgram). When I read your post and I saw the Followgram image, I said “Fantastic!!!”… but, I don’t read no reference to Followgram! 🙁 

    Can you link our image to our web site

    thank you

  • heidicohen

    Moin– Social sharing makes it easier for your readers to distribute your content, especially photos. Always include a contextually relevant call-to-action to support it. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Devesh — As with any content marketing, you can track results in a variety of ways. One easy way is to link your photographs to appropriate product or content on your website. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Neil–Used properly social media especially when used in combination with content marketing drives traffic and sales. Don’t forget it’s critical to streamline the purchase process on your website. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen 

  • heidicohen

    Swamykant – No surprise. People are visual beings and photographs are like magnets. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Brad– Understand that what’s obvious sometimes gets forgotten. Knowing your audience is always at the heart of any good marketing. Social media is no different. Every online post should be aligned with your overall business and marketing strategy. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Eric– The key point when it comes to optimizing your photographs (and other images) is to associate real text that has meaning to the photograph and context in which it’s placed. Don’t just leave a meaningless number.Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Eric– The key point when it comes to optimizing your photographs (and other images) is to associate real text that has meaning to the photograph and context in which it’s placed. Don’t just leave a meaningless number.Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • Brendalindfors

    Sigh. As a professional photographer, this post leaves me struggling with the ongoing issues of gaining visibility by sharing work online and having that work stolen, used without my permission and my copyright infringed upon.  This is a HUGE issue for all photographers.  As you say, image “sharing” and reposting are easy…in some ways, too easy. In this digital world it is all too common for photographers to have their images stolen, reused without permission, etc…  It’s really hard to know how to balance this risk with the potential benefits of exposure (no pun intended).  Photographers make a living based on owning the copyright and usage rights to their the images they create….but many people aren’t highly aware of, or concerned about, copyright laws….when they see an image they like, and when it is out on the internet, it appears “free” for the taking/copying/sharing/redistributing.    It is true that it is possible to put a big watermark across images…this is often rather unsightly though….but maybe it’s the best way to go.   

    As for protecting against copyright infringement….Many photographers put text on their sites letting people know that the images are protected by copyright laws.  I don’t know that this is a major deterent, but it’s an attempt to remind people of the law.   Others try to disable the “right click” function that lets people copy and download images from websites.  Other people, as you’ve said, put a watermark or logo over a portion of their image.

    There’s no perfect solution….yet.  As you say in your article, one of the benefits of photos is that they can so easily be shared and distributed. For professional photographers, that’s a problem.  How to weigh the advantages and disadvantages?  I’d be curious to hear others responses…particularly those who make a living from photography.

  • Thanks for this article. I have been making a point to add an image to almost every post I make now on Facebook and notice the engagement has increased. We are very visual so it makes sense…hardly ever a post now without an image or video…

  • Susan Blackwell

    Just started doing this with press releases as well and have found that the media too is very visual. Coverage has picked up and the quality of who is covering has improved. In this day of information overload, a picture says a thousand words -fast!

  • Kate

    Pictures are key for my objectives!  And its fun for me as the marketer!

  • Superb Takeaway points Heidi! Web is heading towards a more ‘Visual and Interactive’ based platform, and you’re suggestions can be put in Action right away!

  • heidicohen


    I appreciate the challenges of having your intellectual property taken by others. I’ve had that problem with the content I’ve written on my site as well as other media sites. 

    With the newer photography focused platforms like Pinterest, it’s too easy to use images that aren’t intended to be shared broadly. While it’s against Pinterest’s terms of use, it’s hard to police. 

    I’d suggest sharing some of your photographs publicly and keeping others offline. Two examples of professional photographers are Ron Diorio who uses his Flickr account to build a following (Check and Scott Schuman who shows his photographs at

    As you say, there’s no perfect answer.

    Happy marketing,
    Heidi Cohen  

  • heidicohen

    Luke — Marketers should use photographs to help attract a following. Thanks for reading. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    David — Thank you for commenting. I agree with you. Using photographs along with other content posts attracts attention because humans are visual beings. This works on a variety of sites including Facebook and blogs. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Susan — Thank you for sharing your experience with the use of photographs and press releases. I’d suggest that providing interesting, useful images that the public can share is important. Of course, it’s critical to ensure that you have the rights to the images. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Kate– Glad you found the article useful. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Neeraj–I agree with you regarding a more visually driven web. When it comes to images, they’re very easy to snap and share with any mobile device including tablets. Happy marketing,Heidi Cohen 

  • Great advice but find myself puzzling about how this works when what you offer is a service vs. a product?

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  • Hi Heidi. Thanks for sharing such a great article. Some wonderful and helpful tips.

  • @961adc82ec03b965a90f2414dc6e94a5:disqus if you are that worried about having your work stolen from you online, then either don’t post your photos up at all or find another career. Every photographer out there from the amateurs to the professionals post their pictures up somewhere online and probably 99% of them don’t worry about having their work stolen. What’s the point in worrying about it when a thief can easily find ways to get around your watermark and save it to their own drive and use it as they see fit? 

    In my opinion, watermarking a photo distracts from the image itself and is generally frowned upon by ad agencies, creatives and clients around the world as that is the first thing they notice when they see your image. I don’t do it at all and I never will. It serves no purpose and won’t stop a would be thief from stealing it.

    There are a few ways that you can overcome your fear about your work being stolen. One, which you should already know, is that all photos you post up on the web, make them small enough that the image will look horrible if enlarged. I make all of my images, even on my website, below 1mb and 72dpi. They look great on the web but are useless if blown up or printed. Next, I would register all of your photos with the copyright office which then protects you from any of your images being stolen. If you do find the person(s) or companies that did steal your images, you can take them to court and win as your work is copyrighted. Without having them registered though, it will be a tough battle. 

    Hope this helped some. Continue doing what you’re doing and don’t worry so much about having your work stolen. It will happen regardless if someone really wants your photos that bad. Not hard to do with technology these days. Good luck. 

  • heidicohen

    Todd — Thank you for sharing your experience and insights. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • As a travel blogger using photos is an absolute MUST! I don’t know of any successful travel blog that doesn’t make use of eye candy in the form of travel pictures.

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  • Sally Butler

    Love your article and the idea of adding a little creativity excites me too! The difficulty I have is where to start with my subject of training? Ideas would be great if you are reading this.

    Thank you Sally fish4development

  • shantel hansen

    thanks so much for this article especially optimize your photos! I didn’t even think of that but super smart for SEO! Any word on the street about url and SEO outreach in Pinterest descriptions? Thanks! Shantel 

  • heidicohen

    Samuel –Agree. Travelers need to see what these places look like. You want to entice people to travel to new locations. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

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  • Stacey

    Have you checked out Via.Me as a way to share not only photos but also video and sound clips as well?

  • heidicohen

    Jane– When you offer a service or something that’s not tangible, you need to find ways to show your offerings benefits in ways that are more concrete. For example, the Woods Hole Inn sells a great personalized vacation experience. They could have shown pictures of their rooms. Instead they use the Red Chair. I suggest brainstorming with your team and asking your customers what images they associate with your product. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Sally — Please check what I wrote to Jane. SInce training may seem intangible, you need to figure out what images your prospects and customers associate with your offering. This doesn’t necessarily maan showing text books but other things that are associated with the benefits of receiving your training. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • heidicohen

    Shantel — When it comes to content marketing, it’s critical to consider the search implications. With regard to photographs, you must add text to give the content context. Happy marketing

  • heidicohen

    Stacey–I’ll have to check it out. Thanks. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • Great article. Love the story about the red chair! 

  • paul stickland

    Hi Heidi, thanks for this useful article.
    #7 Would you recomend underscores or hyphens when naming images?
    Do you have to link the words like this? Why not use paul stickland.jpg  as opposed to paul_stickland.jpg

  • heidicohen

    Kelly–Thank you. The Red Chair is an example other small businesses can improvise on. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen 

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  • I share the same thoughts as Brendalindfors and Todd on the use of photographs online.  There are 2 sides to it.  On one, one would like his work of art shared with as many people as possible.  On the other, he would want copy protection as his livelihood may depend on it. Similar to digital music and online publishing, there is no perfect solution.  However, in this internet era, one will need to establish yourself as a Brand in your own niche.  Your Brand has your traits and characteristics and no one else can copy.  For example, singing artist Lady Gaga and  painter of light Thomas Kinkade.  Both have their music and painting spread across the world and their works are copied over and over again.  Yet they remain authentic and original.  People know and appreciate it.  Eventually, people actually buy their art and derivatives.  Yes, it takes hard work and, yes, a long time to be recognised.  Well, no pain, no gain.  Charice Pemgenco shot to fame in the music industry and her vehicle of success: YouTube.  But what made her unique and stand out is her powerful voice and her style of music.  Just a few cents.

  • Great post very intriguing. The one thing that I have trouble with for my business is that pictures are hard to get in a sense. It is more about written content. I may have to figure out how to implement more pictures into our content. Thanks for the good read. 

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  • hloom

    Red Chair story is absolutely amazing. It shows that there is always a way, you just need to think outside of the box and be creative.

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  • HOW? I can post a pic to my site, but what plugin or feature helps add the comment and share feature to the pic?