Perfecting a visual strategy for social media is essential to building an authentic experience for users, as well as a good return for clients.
While platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are more visual than Facebook or Twitter, it’s still important that every aspect on every platform, even the text of a post, be taken into consideration when crafting a meaningful visual strategy for social media.
The following tips on crafting visual strategies are based on my experience – from managing social media accounts for major brands like Spirit Airlines, to putting social media processes in place for small, boutique agencies.
1. Content Categories
Pre-defining categories lays the foundation for a successful visual strategy.
Categories are helpful for a number of reasons.
They allow for organization, and they ensure posts are diverse in content – social media days are great, but not every post can celebrate avocados.
Most importantly, categories enable your feed to be visually diverse, and organizationally stunning.
It’s important the client feels their brand is still generating business as well as awareness, and pre-selecting content categories are a seemingly simple, but crucial step to making that happen.
2. Keep Categories Simple
When I’m hired to consult with agencies on their social media processed, the number one issue I run into is strategies that have a dozen or more categories.
Assuming posts are going out 3-5 times per week, per platform, there is no way to post for 12 categories more than twice a month.
That leaves for a lot of confusion for your strategists and art directors, as well as a content schedule that lacks diversity.
Many categories can be combined under one, and a good rule of thumb is to have no more than 6 maximum.
For example, if your categories are:
- Wine Wednesdays
- Throwback Posts
- Lifestyle Posts
- Socially Relevant
- Food Pictures
- Game Nights
- Type Treatment
They can be consolidated as such:
- Wine Wednesdays
- Throwback Posts
- Game Nights
- Lifestyle Posts
- Type Treatments
- Socially Relevant
Less is truly more when it comes to outlining content categories.
This makes it easier to craft and present briefs and helps your internal team to feel less “whelmed” because there’s nothing like a case of the can’t-evens to lose your motivation when dealing with the massive workload of social media posts.
As one of my favorite former creative directors put it “crafting social media posts takes the same effort as a full-blown advertisement. It’s like doing 30 mini ads at a time.”
Creative burnout is a major protagonist to social ideation – the deliverable workload for social clients is massive, and it’s easy for you content to get stale, by no fault of the creative team if the correct processes are not in place.
3. Process Is Everything
Whether you’re a one-person agency or a larger shop, a process will really help ensure your visual strategy is implemented and maintained.
Process gives you the room you need to focus on selecting or designing the best possible imagery.
Sticking to the same process every month lays the groundwork for consistency.
Your process doesn’t need to be my process, but I’m happy to share that with you – process will ultimately be determined by the client’s scope, and you can streamline your own processes accordingly.
In order to perfect the visual strategies for all the clients I manage, I first have an ideation meeting (more on that below), followed by the brief (production), QC rounds, the approval, the revisions (if needed), and lastly the actual scheduling or posting.
The first two steps are entirely dependent on the content categories, which is why it is essential to have these in place in order to make your visual strategy diverse and effective, but also to aid in your production process.
4. Ideate the Content
So, you’ve got your categories approved, and you’re ready to start production.
For each set of categories, ideating the content with a team can help elevate your visual strategy.
If you’re tackling the scope alone, ideate alone.
It’s easiest to:
- Lay out the calendar for the month.
- Set the dates for the posts.
- Then assign the categories so that they are evenly spread.
From there, the process of ideating post content becomes organized in such a way that enables the best visual and aesthetic performance possible.
You’ve essentially set yourself up organizationally to focus only on truly “thumb-stopping” content.
5. Inclusive Design & Direction
As someone who’s worked on a ton of beauty brands over the past few years, I can assure you that the importance of inclusivity when crafting visual strategies has never been more important than it is right now.
For beauty brands specifically, a lack of inclusive content (and products) is brand suicide.
If you aren’t already featuring content that represents the world that we live in, you need to start.
Brands that don’t include an accurate representation of our society will get left behind, and their visual social presence will not provide an authentic experience to users.
6. Size Matters
Teach your producers about optimizing post size.
Overwhelmingly, brands are not posting the correct sizes that the platform requires, which ends up really affecting a user’s mobile experience and having a negative effect on the post aesthetic.
Each platform has different optimal dimensions, and it’s a really simple standard that, when followed, sets your content apart.
You should not post the same size content across any platforms, and if you are, the user experience is negatively affected.
7. Unique Content
Just as size should be unique per platform, so should the content you post.
Scope will definitely play a factor here, but even so, it’s important that you aren’t posting the same thing across platforms for any given day.
It ruins brand credibility, and is, IMHO, an abusive user experience.
Users visit different platforms in order to have unique experiences, so it’s important we provide that in crafting our visual strategies.
8. Type Treatments
Adding a type treatment to your visual strategy is a unique way to elevate your feeds.
It’s also a good way to stunt on you or your producer’s creative prowess – and impress clients.
I see a lot of companies that change their design or type treatments every time they post.
This is not a good visual strategy because it doesn’t allow for cohesive experiences.
A single type post can be repurposed multiple times with different imagery and words in order to achieve greater for awareness, and a cleaner, more recognizable social feed.
9. Accent Treatments
Like type treatments, accent treatments help maintain consistency and brand awareness as part of a brand’s visual strategy.
Accent treatments are good when used in place of the ever-so abused logo treatment that many businesses still think is a good idea to place over a photo on social media.
The avatar and brand name are already on the post, and for that reason, it is overkill to also include the logo.
This is where a simple accent with branded colors can help maintain the consistency a logo is trying, but failing to achieve when added to posts.
10. Mini Style Guides
Identifying the voice and tone for social posts help elevate a brand’s overall visual strategy because the copy is part of the visual user experience, and needs to be treated as such.
Without a consistent, socially friendly style, it’s easy for your posts to sound like, and therefore be treated by the algorithms as spam.
A style guide lays out the foundation for the do’s and don’ts such as:
- Not having a CTA in every post.
- Never referencing slurs.
- Always being grammatically correct.
These aren’t full-blown, traditional style guides and can often consume just one page of a deck or process document, but they still help solidify your overall visual strategy by helping implement a cohesive style and tone.
11. Hashtag Guides
Within your style guide, it’s essential to include hashtag guidelines.
The seemingly minor formatting of a hashtag can have a major effect on user experience.
For instance, if you’re still using multiple hashtags in Facebook posts, you alienate yourself from an entire demographic that understands how hashtags work and knows that’s not the way.
Additionally, if half of your Instagram posts include the hashtags in a separate comment, whereas the other half leave them in the body of the post – you’re not only ruining the visual potential of the account, you’re opening up opportunities for other advertisers to call out your mistakes.
12. Emoji Use
Another key part of the “mini style guide” should focus on emoji formatting.
In case you didn’t know, strategic use of emoji’s increases post engagement across platforms, however, when not formatted consistently it can really mess with your visual strategy (or lack thereof).
- Should you put the emoji before or after punctuation?
- Should emoji act as punctuation?
- Should you put spaces before and after an emoji, or only before?
The answers don’t matter as much as using the same formatting each time, creating text that is familiar and comfortable for the user.
13. Vertical Content
Because Snapchat is less frequently a part of the mix than it should be (from my experience), it’s important to really take advantage of the visual offerings of vertical content on both Facebook and Instagram.
On Instagram in particular, there are two really important indexing opportunities that can only be used with vertical content, and are guaranteed to increase your brand’s awareness.
These opportunities are the Hashtag and Location story features.
When used, these features index your content in two additional stories, which is a really strategic form of growth hacking that can have a direct impact on the bottom line.
14. Lifestyle Imagery
If your client doesn’t have the scope for you or your team to digitally design every post, lifestyle imagery is a great way to instantly elevate the social feeds.
Nearly every brand, no matter what the vertical, has an opportunity to post curated lifestyle imagery.
These “brand in action” posts provide a good user experience because:
- They’re beautiful.
- They help users connect with the emotable feelings of using a product or service.
15. Post Cadence
While post cadence is more strategic than visual, the times that you post are relevant to the visual strategy.
For instance, posting a picture of alcohol in the morning, or breakfast at night, will affect the experience the user has when they see the image.
Being mindful of the appropriate post times the correlate to your designs or imagery is an important part of the overall visual strategy.
16. Make Use of Abstract Content
Abstract content is a gift to creative producers everywhere.
For art directors, using abstract content allows the focus to remain solely on beautiful imagery.
For copywriters, the puns can abound – because who doesn’t love making neon cotton candy relate to virtually any business through creative wordplay?
17. Social Lingo FTW
There’s no such thing as too much social lingo.
When you visit another country, it’s customary to speak in the language of origin, so why wouldn’t you do the same thing on social media?
Using social lingo makes your posts go further, and it looks great.
User-generated content is one of the most essential elements to creating a well-rounded social media visual strategy.
The strategic elements that go into garnering UGC are many, and for another post, but the sooner your brand can make use of UGC, the more your audience will form meaningful connections with your brand, product, or service.
19. Use Native Features
Utilizing the native features of a platform increases engagement and impresses clients.
Visually, these posts stand out, and therefore perform. Many of the native post features, particularly on Twitter and Facebook, are designed to get the users to engage.
On Instagram, tagging a location increases engagement by nearly 70%.
Native features visually stun while also adding to the overall diversity of your feeds.
Following these guidelines will help ensure your visual social media strategy is #blessed.