Okay, But What Types of Photos Actually Perform Best on Social Media?

Fact: Just because it’s a great photo, doesn’t mean it will perform well.

That’s the first thing I learned when I started taking photos for a small business’s social media account. I will never forget how confused I was the first time I watched this take place. I had the perfect photo, but as soon as I posted it, it was a total dud.

If you’re a business owner, you know how important social engagement is. If your posts don’t perform well, it doesn’t matter how many people follow you—because of Instagram’s algorithms, no one will see your posts. Especially from new audiences. 

To show the world who’s boss and redeem myself, I set out on a journey to learn about photography and its link to social engagement—not just by skimming social pages with a lot of followers and writing down what I saw, but by actually sitting down with an excel spreadsheet, looking at the cold hard numbers.

Here’s what I did:

I took eight businesses located in Columbus, Ohio that I’ve had some connection to, categorized their latest posts, and crunched some numbers. The current status of the businesses included some with huge success on an international scale, and some with very little.

A small disclaimer: I’m not a statistician, I’m a photographer. But I believe in the results I’m sharing with you here and will do so as honestly as possible.

So, which social media photos performed best?

The gold-medal winner was by far photos of a company’s TEAM. That’s right. Your products are great and all, but what people really want to see when scrolling are the processes and people behind your favorite products. Making people feel connected to you and your team isn’t just a good way to get better social performance, it gives them one more reason to stay loyal to your brand, too. Take a look at your own feed. Is your team incorporated into your recent posts?

The bottom line: You can’t just think of your products when it comes to photography. Maybe consider hiring a photographer to take some awesome photos of your team, and not just your products!

  • Remind your followers how awesome you/your teammates are in your space doing what you do best!
  • Business is personal! Show your family, it reminds people that you’re human.
  • Anytime the whole crew is together, snag a pic! Even if your customers might think of your company as just a company, they might see your employees/team as friends.

The second best performing photos were those of new things happening in your business. This could be a new review of your work, a new product, a new location, or even a renovation in your office space. This gives you a perfect excuse to try a new creative idea you think might catch people’s attention, as well! Check out these awesome photos we recently did for a LIT Yoga event for example. People love to follow your business’s progress and next steps, so let them see. And while we’re on the subject, event photography is so important and so quickly overlooked.

  • LIT Yoga took a risk, put creative liberties into good hands, and it paid off
  • The W Nail Bar posting about their new products and new product labeling to show off what’s new
  • PENZONE gave their followers a sneak peak rendering of their new space, an updated really well received by their followers

Finally, there’s one weird outlier for well-performing posts, and that’s for food-based businesses—and for ONLY food based businesses: Photos of FOOD perform incredibly well. Hmm, I wonder why…

Which social media photos performed just okay?

People like seeing your space and generic photos of people enjoying it. It’s not always going to be the best performing post, but it performs at a decent rate. That being said, photos of office/work spaces perform much better if taken by a professional.

  • Let people see what your day to day is like!
  • Show off your space professionally!
  • Did you just upgrade or remodel? Let people see!

Which social media photos performed poorly?

Unless you’re a food-based business, the product photos taken for your ecommerce site typically won’t perform well on social. Professional product photos are incredibly important for ecommerce sales and taking your website to the next level. But you have to be smart about how you remind your clients of your products on social media. Is there something unique in your product photos that will grab a person’s attention? Is there a way you can involve people in secondary product shots to use on social? Check out these product photos we did for Gratitude soapery as an example! 

On Gratitude’s website, the main product photo used was the soap bar packaging, while the photo on the right was taken as a potential fun secondary shot available in a gallery showing the product. While the photo on the left is perfect for the ecommerce site, both of these photos were posted on social platforms and the photo on the right performed x2 as well!

Your product photos should match the vibe of the platform. So, if people are on social media, they’re more likely to respond better to lifestyle images (i.e. a skincare product on a bathroom shelf or a person using the product). Hire smart photographers to take your product photos who are up for this challenge.

Surprisingly, client/customer taken photos reposted by brands don’t perform nearly as well as I would’ve expected. I think this was a bit of an outlier/ error on my part due to the simplicity of the analysis. This is because sometimes it was difficult to tell what was client created and what wasn’t BUT what I did learn for sure is that it’s really important for the client photos to feel like they come from your brand or else they feel impersonal and a bit out of place.

Do your photos need to be taken by a professional?

The short answer? No. But it really helps! The truth is that the content drives performance on a post more than anything else. In most cases, some of the highest performing posts on many pages were taken on smartphones by people with good eyes. BUT the important thing to keep in mind is that the content of these posts was typically of something that was very unique for viewers to see, like a special event or new product. I found that while professional photography didn’t make much of a difference on an individual post’s engagement (i.e. likes and comments), it did a lot for overall follower growth. This suggests that people are more likely to follow your brand or company based on the professionalism of the photos when they first view your page.

Big Conclusion

  • Take photos of your team
  • Capture everything new
  • Get a professional to take photos of your space
  • Hire smart people to take your product photos
  • Make sure client photos are personal

Well, that was fun! What did ya think? Social media is a beast to understand—from captions to timing, photos and followers, it’s hard to pin down what’s working and what’s not. That’s where we come in! If you’re thinking of hiring a professional photographer, let’s talk! Contact us today and we’ll set something up. Otherwise, leave a comment below and I’d be happy to answer any of your questions.

September 20, 2019
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