By Jodi Harris published March 18, 2020 Est Read Time: 15 min

How to Create Visual Content That’s Worth a Thousand Shares

Editor’s note: We’ve updated this post with some fresh examples because compelling visuals remain a critical, yet often underused resource.

Visuals are essential to creating content that will help your business stand out and draw in an audience. Not only does imagery help make text-centric content more readable, digestible, and memorable, but it can be used to craft compelling messages that speak volumes without using a single word – just ask anyone who has posted a photo on Instagram, tweeted a meme to express their feelings, or created an Instagram video to share a memorable moment with friends.

#Visuals can craft compelling messages that speak volumes without a single word, says @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Considering how rapidly visual trends come and go and how often new creative platforms and capabilities emerge, it’s always worth taking a fresh look at ways to let your brand’s photos, videos, and graphics do the talking. Below, I’ve compiled a collection of best-practice tips from some of the industry’s most creative and design-minded content experts, along with a few best-in-show examples to inspire you to put your brand’s own vision on display.

9 visual best practices

1. Align your visual story with your content marketing strategy

Posting a photo or video online and waiting for the business offers to start rolling in is not an effective strategy. Neither is hinging your visual content success on creating the next viral phenomenon.

Like any content marketing format, you should have a compelling rationale for communicating with your audience through visual storytelling, as well as a clear plan for turning views into meaningful marketing results. A thoughtfully focused strategy can mean the difference between creating a one-note viral joke and becoming a master of the visual content medium like Ryan Reynolds, whose cleverly captioned images and hilarious videos on Instagram have created an unquenchable thirst for his Aviation Gin brand’s content:

Before you ask your content creators to sketch their ideas, make sure you know the answers to these questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish with our visual content?
  • Who are our audience members? What kinds of content experiences are they interested in?
  • What problems does our organization solve?
  • How can we create a consistent brand voice that communicates our value?
  • What is our clearly defined vision of who we are and what makes us unique? How can we communicate those messages in a compelling way?
  • What metrics will we use to measure success? For which terms should this image appear in search engine results?

While you’re at it, why not help your colleagues and upper management get better acquainted with all the core components of your content marketing strategy by using visual imagery to break it down for them? The visualization processes and creation tools recommended by Venngage’s Nadya Khoja can help you make this information easier to digest, remember, and act on by everyone involved in your content program.

Using visuals to communicate your #contentmarketing strategy is the best way forward, says @NadyaKhoja via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Take a look at the mind map example she shared, which used a customized template to give Ad-Lab Agency’s team a clear view of the marketing goals they needed to achieve:

TIP: If you’re looking for more guidance on how to build a strategic framework around all your content efforts, Content Marketing Institute’s Essential Content Strategy Guide can point you in the right direction.

2. Know the rules of good design

While the wealth of DIY design tools available online and on social media can give almost anyone the ability to create visual content (see No. 9 below), they don’t necessarily provide the know-how to do it well.

By following the few basic design principles outlined by Venngage’s Midori Nediger even graphically challenged marketers can learn to craft imagery that both draws the eye and drives the conversation forward:

  • Give your imagery room to breathe: Failing to leave enough white space between your visuals can make a page seem cluttered and hard to follow, causing your content to become more of a distraction than an attraction for your audience. To give your core elements some breathing room, Midori recommends removing images that don’t add to the visual conversation and expanding the space between unrelated elements to clarify page structure.
Non-designers mistakenly want to fill every inch of space with text, images, etc., says @MNediger via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

  • Don’t get color-blindsided: Your image assets should stay true to your branding guidelines, including your business’s color preferences. But don’t get so caught up in executing this priority that you overlook whether those colors will work well together online. Pick one color to use as a base, then find compatible complementary colors with an online color-wheel tool.

  • Speed up your page loads: Visual experiences are slowed down when images aren’t properly sized and compressed. That can send potential viewers straight to the back button in search of more accessible options. Use tools (like this simple one from Google) to check how quickly images load to determine whether they might need to be adjusted for consumption on different platforms and devices, including mobile.
  • Typography decisions matter: Pro designers are known to have strong opinions about font styles and spacing choices for good reason. Not only is choosing the proper font size, weight, and spacing critical to readability, poor typography decisions can also conflict with crafting messages that are understandable and memorable.

To give your visuals a bit of brand flair without sacrificing clarity, use simple fonts for the bulk of your copy, and reserve highly stylized fonts for use in large headers, as illustrated in the Mercy & Grace example that Midori shares:

If you aren’t sure which fonts to work with, consult a typography guide, like The Non-Designer’s Type Book before adding text to your visuals.

Avoid highly stylized fonts like this to caption videos unless you want to incite a flame war. 

TIP: Don’t forget you want your visuals to get shared as far and wide as all your other assets. Influencers can be instrumental to this goal, especially on social media. To enable them to help you with distribution, give them multiple options – such as tagging them on social media and providing them with direct access to the raw files for download.

3. Don’t be afraid to get emotional

Some of the most memorable visual experiences are those that found a way to tap into the power of emotion. Need proof? I challenge any animal lover to watch this thank-you video that Best Friends Animal Society sent to its supporters and not feel the love behind the story:

While B2C brands and nonprofits often excel at tugging on heartstrings in their visual content, it’s tougher for B2B marketers to communicate through feelings. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible – just ask Forrester Research’s April Henderson who took to the stage at Content Marketing World 2019 to deliver a lesson on using empathy-driven content to connect with B2B consumers on an emotional level.

As April explains, “(These consumers) want your business to understand and share in their feelings. Why do they want that? Because business buyers aren’t buying your product. They’re buying into your approach to solving their problem.”

As an example of how B2B marketers can embrace this kind of empathy in their visual content, April points to the Day in the Life video from telecommunications company ShoreTel. Though the video features some of the company’s tech solutions, the focus is the story of a father torn between taking his daughter to school and retrieving key budget information from his office in time for an important client meeting:

Personal stories can also up the emotional empathy quotient of your visual content. One way to capitalize on this is by keeping a lookout on social media for great customer stories that your brand can bring to life through powerful visuals.

Customer-inspired stories can up the emotional empathy quotient of your #visualcontent, says @joderama via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

For example, Southwest Airlines turned a customer-posted Facebook photo into the memorable spot Hudson’s Big Day, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that the company captured on video:

4. Avoid generic stock images

Using professional photographers and high-powered camera equipment is one way to approach quality image creation, as their talents and capabilities can often help your brand tell richer and more compelling stories. Google illustrates this to stunning effect in its Art Zoom video series, which takes viewers on a guided tour of art masterpieces, from Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night to Claude Monet’s La Gare Saint-Lazare. The paintings were captured with Art Camera technology developed by the Google Cultural Institute, which results in ultra high-resolution gigapixel images:

However, if cutting-edge equipment (and the talent to operate it) is out of your price range, using a stock-image service can be a viable alternative – but find ways to put your branded spin on the images.

As one super-meta example, look at the Be on Fyre parody video created by Shutterstock as part of an It’s Not Stock campaign. The stock-image broker took a lighthearted jab at the controversial promo compiled by the organizers of the ill-fated Fyre Festival, while pointing out the legitimate benefits of using Shutterstock’s assets to delight audiences rather than deceive them:

5. Repurpose information and insights as visuals

Content marketers can adapt their most popular written or audio content into compelling visuals – including data-driven formats like infographics, charts, or checklists. Not only is it an excellent way to draw fresh attention to your evergreen content, but it also helps make your brand’s insights more digestible, memorable, and shareable.

For example, Bannersnack’s Robert Katai points out that aesthetically pleasing and data-rich content formats like infographics can be created for your website or blog, then cropped into snackable visual content bites for use on other platforms like social media.

To be a well-known leader in your industry, create data-driven #content, says @katairobi via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

For example, Venngage surveyed design experts on the latest visual trends they’ve noticed and turned the results into an infographic to inspire its audience to be forward-thinking with their designs:

Updated annually, the most recent entry in the series was repurposed into a YouTube video that links to a blog post, helping it to earn a 2019 Content Marketing Award for Best Infographic:

Our editorial team repurposes many of our audio- and text-based content assets in a similar fashion. For example, CMI Community Manager Monina Wagner takes audio clips from our Weekly Wrap podcast and adds captions and a soundwave motion graphic to give the audio-based content a visual flair that makes it a better fit for Instagram.


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The New Yorker is a media brand that has been killing it by repurposing its in-depth textual content into visual stories that can be easily consumed on Instagram. Look at this recent effort on Instagram Stories to highlight The Black Cube Chronicles – Ronan Farrow’s three-part exposé on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. By clicking through the series of stylized vignettes, readers get introduced to a captivating story of intrigue and suspense. The New Yorker then used a clickable call to action to build a bridge of engagement back to its website, where the audience can read more about all the shady details of the case.

6. Use your fans’ content

Consumers love to snap their own pictures and share selfie videos with their friends. Instead of interrupting their experience with product shots and promotional pitches, why not include their creative work in your content marketing?

For example, online plumbing and HVAC supplies company launched a user-generated content campaign called Trades Built on Pride to honor tradespeople and the work they do every day. The marketing team asked their Facebook fans to record videos of themselves saying how long they’ve been in the trade, what they do, and any other relevant info they wanted to share. Not only is this a great way to recognize active members of your online community, but it can help your content stand out from your competitors’:

7. Stay on brand

Whether or not you’re getting fans involved in your imagery, take steps to maintain your brand’s visual identity – including how your corporate colors and logos are used. Ideally, all your content assets should feature a consistent design motif – one that viewers can instantly recognize and identify with your brand, no matter where the content appears or who creates it.

For example, in this ongoing Instagram content campaign, Cheerios eschews fancy photography in favor of personalized, text-based posts on a brand-appropriate colored background. The content may be simple, but brand fans can instantly recognize them thanks to Cheerios’ familiar “#GoodGoesAround” tagline:

You also need to pay attention to the way your target distribution platform publishes those images because the specs and size requirements might not be the same across the board. If you aren’t paying close attention, the hard work put into crafting the perfect image to share can get mixed up or mangled in a way that can mask your brand’s value.

For example, when using embedded links to share your content on social media, visual content strategy expert (and avowed comics geek) Buddy Scalera points out that the platform’s native tools can choose the wrong image from the page or crop it in a way that might rob the image of its resonance and branding elements. As a workaround, he suggests using Open Graph tags – a little piece of code that gives you greater control of the visual experience you’re trying to create.

Use #OpenGraph tags to get greater control of the #visual experience you’re trying to create, says @BuddyScalera via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

TIP: Don’t forget to add your logo to your original images and tag them with relevant keywords, categories, hashtags, and metadata. This helps your fans find your content — even when it gets shared in unfamiliar contexts.

8. Tailor visuals to the delivery platform

In addition to appearance considerations, you need to consider how well those visuals fit the conversational context and audience preferences of each sharing environment.

Of course, with the right insights, your visuals can find an audience anywhere – even in places you wouldn’t expect to be a good fit.

Consider The Washington Post, as an example. You might not think a 142-year-old newspaper (especially one where the average reader is over 40) would have a dedicated TikTok following. But thanks to the clever efforts of WP’s TikTok creator Dave Jorgenson, the venerable print mag is rockin’ around the ’Tok with clips about life in the newsroom, fashioned in the style of the TV show The Office:

@washingtonpost##ceoof wild nights♬ Strange tattoo – washingtonpost

9. Find the right tools to help you get the job done

The above practices should make it easier to understand what quality visual content creation entails. However, producing that content on an ongoing basis can still pose a challenge for many businesses.

Though there’s no substitute for the expertise and skill of a dedicated professional designer, plenty of robust visual content apps and tools can help you manage the basics, like editing photos, adding captions, and reformatting images for social media – including those you can find on your smartphone’s camera app.

You can also work with more specialized tools when you are ready to branch out in unique visual directions – like the WordSwag app that social media strategist Rachel Pedersen uses to turn her ideas, quotes, and content into attractive graphics that can be shared on Facebook, Instagram, and anywhere. BreadandBeyond founder Andre Oentoro also recommends several apps he uses to spice up his visuals for use on Instagram.

How do you visualize your brand experience?

Of course, these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg – there are dozens of ways content marketers can work with visuals to draw audience attention, show off the brand’s personality, and make content more digestible and engaging. You’ll find more image-centric inspiration in CMI’s content hub on the subject, but we would also love to hear how other businesses are painting pictures of marketing success. Tell us about your favorites in the comments. 

Editor’s note: No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used). 

 Register to attend Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is director of content strategy at CMI. She describes her role as a combination of strategic alchemist, process architect, and creative explorer. Prior to this role, Jodi spent over a decade developing and managing content initiatives for brand clients in the entertainment, CPG, health care, technology, and biotech industries, as well as for agencies and media brands. Follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.

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