What Experts Think About Visual Social Media

Today’s guest post provides an in-depth look at visual marketing channels from content marketing expert Jim Dougherty. You’ll find tons of great insight here from a variety of visual artists and designers. Be sure to check out Jim’s previous guest post, 6 Ways to Use Social Media Grow Your Business, and connect with him on Twitter. I know we don’t know each other well. I know this may be a bit forward (and I don’t want to make this awkward), but I want to share my process for creating and posting photos to social media with you: I use my

visual social media

Today’s guest post provides an in-depth look at visual marketing channels from content marketing expert Jim Dougherty. You’ll find tons of great insight here from a variety of visual artists and designers. Be sure to check out Jim’s previous guest post, 6 Ways to Use Social Media Grow Your Business, and connect with him on Twitter.

visual social media

I know we don’t know each other well. I know this may be a bit forward (and I don’t want to make this awkward), but I want to share my process for creating and posting photos to social media with you:

  1. I use my iPhone to take a picture.
  2. I open the picture in Retrica to filter the picture, then save it.
  3. I open the picture in Word Swag or TitleFx if I want to add text to the photo, then save it.
  4. I open the picture in Instagram, may filter it further and then share it (with simultaneous posting to Facebook and possibly Twitter).

You now know my dirty secret: my process for posting photos to social media is a pretentious farce. I don’t know that any of these steps improves the quality of my pictures or how people receive them, but here’s my absurd rationale for the pretense:

  • I post to Facebook because I know my mom and my mother-in-law are on there and I post to compensate for not calling as often as I should.
  • I post to Instagram because I like playing with filters and I like the one-click integration with Facebook and Twitter.
  • I put words on photos because I read somewhere that people read words more often when they’re incorporated in the picture.
  • I use Retrica because the filter choices are more overwhelming better than Instagram’s.

I am CLEARLY not an expert about posting social photos, but I don’t think many of us are.

In search of a better way, I asked a few photographers, graphic designers and visual artists their opinions about visual social media, and I think you might be surprised at how they view different social platforms. Here’s what they told me:


Facebook is the eminent social network in the world with a far larger user base and time on site than any other social network. AND 75% of all content on Facebook are images. Facebook images are clearly a big deal, but the experts that I asked found far more value in its features than in the way that Facebook presents visual media.

Graphic designer Chris Stovall of Giant says that the ease of use of Facebook is one of its greatest advantages:

“Facebook is great to share a bunch of images with family and close friends. They have an easy to use interface and make it easy to tag friends and family.”

Graphic designer Lillyan Hendershot of the Branding Iron and Naked by Design says that the versatility of Facebook makes it a very appealing platform to post to as well:

“My personal preference is Facebook. Simply because you are not limited to how many characters you can use and you can post anything including photos, articles and video….. Facebook has the widest audience sharing images at an incredible rate.”


Spoiler alert: visual artists love Instagram. I could have written this entire piece with the feedback that I received just about Instagram. The enthusiasm was crazy, but maybe not entirely surprising.

Not only do visual artists love Instagram (aka IG, Insta, or the Gram), but users love it too. I recently wrote a piece detailing the rapid ascent of Instagram relative to Pinterest and Facebook, and its engagement level is absurdly better than any social network in existence. Here’s how visual artists perceive the benefits of Instagram:

Photographer Leonard Carter of SureShot says that the appeal of a medium like Instagram is multifaceted. He says that IG can satisfy both personal and professional needs quite effectively:

“Personally, my sharing isn’t always for the benefit of others. Sometime I see my sharing as a sort of a digital time capsule. I enjoy seeing where I’ve been and what I was up to at a given point in the past. As an artist I’m able to view my technical and artistic maturation. As a businessman, I am trying to gain exposure for my business or current venture.”

Graphic designer and strategist Kristy Gardner of Peppercorn Creative says that the ease-of-use and engagement level of Instagram make it especially appealing for a visual artist:

“I like the ease of story telling and the interaction I get to have with my readership there because that’s really what my photography is about – community…. Telling stories via imagery and photographs is a way to connect and nurture my community without words because a picture is worth a thousand of them. Plus you know, it’s pretty ;)”

Giant’s Stovall adds that easy embedding and active hashtags set Instagram apart as a visual platform:

“I can make it show up on my website easily and the hashtagging makes it easy to get my photos in front of a lot of new viewers who otherwise wouldn’t see my images.”

Google Plus

Google Plus Photos is a fantastic site. This is my personal opinion, but with the animation feature (which is unfortunately named “auto awesome“), unlimited storage, 10GB full size photo storage, editing options, and incredible mobile app, I was shocked that more visual artists weren’t bullish about it.

The comments about Google Plus were focused primarily on search discovery rather than features:

Graphic designer Roberto Blake says that Google Plus metadata is a helpful aspect of this platform for photos, and also believes that his G+ community is equitable to other social platform sites:

“I like Google Plus due to its ability to retain photo EXIF Data so I know what setting something was shot with and its ability to help index photos for the Google Search Engine while still providing stats on views and allowing for feedback and comments… I feel that sometimes people neglect the social aspect of social media and only think of it as a way to “blast” their content, instead of communicate in a meaningful way… Sites like Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Google Plus allow creatives like Photographers, Artists and Designers, not only to share their visual work but also to build a deeper relationship with those who are interested in it.”

Branding Iron’s Hendershot is succinct about the benefits of G+ for social discovery:

“Google Plus is a must in terms of being searchable online.”


Instagram and Pinterest came into the public consciousness at (more or less) the same time and it’s been an interesting ascent for both. Pinterest was originally valuated higher, had higher adoption rates and was generally thought to be the next big social “thing.” But Instagram started as an iOS exclusive app which masked huge enthusiasm for the platform. Once IG released its Android app, its value increased ten times and it eclipsed Pinterest entirely.

The enthusiasm gap between the two seems to extend to visual artists as well, although Pinterest has its advocates:

Creative director Jana Seitzer of Geek Girl Digital (also know by the alias Merlot Mommy) says that Pinterest and Instagram are possibly the strongest platforms to communicate visually.

“We connect emotionally to visual content more so than text. The emotional connection is a benefit for photographers, since people will make decisions and take actions more quickly when prompted by visual content on social media…. great images can often communicate more effectively than words; that’s powerful. Social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest are very strong for good visuals.”

Video editor Crystal Fewtrell (A broadcast journalist major and WJLA-alum) says that an appealing aspect of Pinterest is its capability to communicate to the user almost instantaneously:

“I appreciate Pinterest for the instant communication only an image can provide. The adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ refers to the concept that an intricate thought can be understood within a single still image. It also appropriately communicates one of the main goals of visualization, primarily making it possible to process large amounts of data quickly.”


500px (500 pixels) is a Canadian-based social network for photographers. It has been around since 2009 and has between 2.5 – 4 million users (Instagram for comparison has 300 million). Its appeal is that it is a photography community for photographers, a point vetted by one Canadian visual artist:

Photographer Diane Tisseur of Groovy Lens Photographic Art says that the collaborative aspect of sites like 500px and Flickr gives them utility for photographers in a way that other sites don’t:

“I prefer 500px and Flickr (probably the former more). Professional photography is one of the most difficult businesses around… How do you increase your visibility and gain a competitive edge? Are Social Media sites the answer: Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook? I thought so at first, and I’m guilty of using most of them…. They increase your visibility, but do they bring you more clients? No, not in a major way. Not one that will impact your bottom line…. Most professional photographers know that photography is no longer about tricks and trade secrets; it’s about collaboration.”

To Tisseur’s point, 500px has a monetization feature for photographers.


Flickr is one of the oldest photo sharing applications. Its parent company Yahoo! recently revamped and relaunched it with 1TB of free storage, photo filters, and other features to make it more appealing for users, that number 45-50 million (monthly active). That said, the enthusiasm for Flickr seemed to come exclusively from photographers:

  • Groovy Lens’s Tisseur mentioned Flickr as a collaborative tool, with similar utility for her as 500px.
  • Sureshot’s Carter mentioned Flickr as one of his preferred sites (along with Instagram and Tumblr).


Yahoo’s Tumblr isn’t a platform that you immediately associate with great visuals, but the platform has user numbers in the hundreds of millions and up to 50% of posts are images and gifs. Point being, a lot of people use Tumblr, it is easy to use, and is mobile friendly.

Giant’s Stovall sees the opportunity of Tumblr as an experimental platform for visual artists:

“You can post anything you want there. The hashtagging doesn’t seem to do much and I have no idea of anyone ever sees anything. I find a lot of super cool art there…”


Snapchat didn’t get a lot of love from the visual artists that I spoke with, but strategist Leah Fein-Roque of SociallyFein says that recent improvements to Snapchat (like Discovery and live stories) make it a really formidable visual communications platform.


You can see that not every visual artist thinks alike, but their insights are far more thoughtful than mine. There are quality, distribution, ease-of-use and professional considerations that give each social platform benefits relative to the others. There are so many options that there probably is an ideal platform for most folks to use, even if it is plain old vanilla Facebook.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with posting a picture to Facebook because you know your mom will see it, but posting to Instagram with killer hashtags is far cooler (you can always auto-post to Facebook for mom, too).

I’ll close with a quote that I really love from Geek Girl Social’s Seitzer:

“Great visual content inspires people to share it, and great images can often communicate more effectively than words.”

Jim DoughertyJim Dougherty is a writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He primarily writes about content and social media on his site leaderswest.com and is a frequent contributor to the Cision blog.



Heather Allen

Belle's first employee. Lover of great food, good books and spreadsheets. Mom of three. Native Floridian and city girl residing in the cornfields of central Illinois.