Many startups fumble when it comes to marketing, but social media offers a powerful and inexpensive medium through which to grow your business. In this, the second of our series on social media tips for startups, we look at how pictures perform best on social.

On social media, visuals speak loudly. According to MDG Advertising, content with relevant imagery gets 94% more views than its non-pictured counterpart, and research from Xerox has found that brightly coloured visuals increase people’s willingness to read a piece of social content by up to 80%.

Using pictures wisely then is a key tool for any startup or small business looking to spruik their wares on social media. Here are some ways to make sure your choice of imagery says the right thing.

Big and bright

When selecting an image for social you want something which will ‘pop’ off the page. Without a doubt, clean, vibrant visuals outpop and outperform their greyscale, murkier, multi-coloured cousins. Choose an image with no more than one or two bold ‘hero’ colours, high contrast dramatic lighting, and/or isolated subject for the best effect.

On the subject of subjects, people and animals are strong performers – anything with quirky or otherwise visible emotion instantly captures attention in the fury of the feed. When a non-living subject is required, ensure your subjects are well-lit, isolated against a contrasting background, and have some sort of charm about them. The less cluttered, the better.

A short guide to stock

Stock image websites offer a library of high quality, high resolution images you can purchase and download for use. These is a great option when you’re strapped for time or a physical shoot is not possible – however they can err on the side of generic.

When using stock image websites, look for imagery which abides by the above rules and try to either skip the first few page results for your search term (as these are likely to be widely circulated already for other purposes), or really get specific on your search term. Failing that, consider giving a generic image a unique treatment (for example with any words laid over the image).

And don’t fear the big price tag on some of these stock images – for social media you’ll only ever need the small sizes, which aren’t overly expensive.


Cinemagraphs are subtly moving images (or GIFs), and perform particularly well on social media. Keep in mind, they can be more expensive to produce, often requiring a bespoke and quite involved shoot. Any talent will need to be well-directed in order to disguise the loop of the cinemagraph – but failing this, rewinding frames in post-production is possible. Boomerang is just one app that generates this style seamlessly and to great effect.

Less text best

For a long time Facebook had a 20% text rule – that is, when placed inside a 4 x 5 grid, if your image had more than four squares filled with any sort of text, it would not be accepted or promoted to your audience.

All that changed in the middle of 2016. The new rules do not prohibit more than 20% text over an image, in fact they allow an image of even 100% text to pass through. However – the more text the less reach your image will receive. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to keep text on imagery to a minimum – ideally a small tagline/headline or logo in the corner.

Image rights

It’s important to keep in mind that you have permission to use the images you use to promote your business. If you’re shooting original photography or creating a design/animation from scratch there’s no problem. However if you’re purchasing stock imagery, be wary of the license you purchase it under – ‘Commercial’ or ‘Promotional’ photography can be used, ‘Editorial’ photography cannot.

When sourcing user-generated images from your community or another social media platform, tagging the original poster in the caption is not enough – you must get express permission from the photo owner.


On Instagram and Twitter (less so Facebook), hashtagging is a great way to make your image more discoverable. Try not to spam hashtags in the caption, instead opting to hide them away in a follow-up comment or below a series of empty paragraph breaks. Opt for tags that categorise your image in terms likely searched by your audience (such as #sydney, #food, #lifestyle), over tags which describe whatever is in the image (such as #cactus, #yellow etc.).

Telling a story

Finally, many image sharing platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat now offer some sort of ‘Story’ service. These are essentially a series of images strung together – to move between pictures in a series, users simply tap the screen.

Stories are highly engaging formats but should be used wisely – limited to 4-5 frames, and used to cover events or introduce competitions, Stories are very effective.

When it comes to social media, pictures truly say a thousand words. Make sure you make them count.