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HARNESSING THE LANGUAGE OF IMAGES
ACROSS SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
emoticons or stickers are sent
around the world everyday
on mobile messaging apps
Source: DIGIDAY UK – ‘Emojis by the numbers: A Digiday data dump’
Original story is here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-police-
Visual vocabulary has exploded across
our screens over the last few years. Whilst
reading words is still fundamental for how
we communicate, a picture really can tell a
thousand words, and this opens up even more
opportunities for brands to communicate
This change in communication is reflected in the rise
of image-focused social media, together with the way
that existing social media channels are used; and in
turn, how consumers communicate with each other,
as well as how brands communicate to consumers.
Emojis are swiftly becoming the fastest growing
language across social media channels with 6 billion
emoticons or stickers being sent around the world
every day on mobile messaging apps.¹ Emojis are
used in almost half of all sentences on Instagram² and
are now used by Facebook as supplements to the
The relatively recent shift to a more visual, two-way
conversation has meant that social media platforms
are forcing brands to learn a new visual literacy to
continuingly connect with their audiences.
It could be argued that images are the most powerful
medium for sharing experiences. The shareability of
images is fast-paced and more often than not, taps
into the current cultural zeitgeist and vice versa – who
can forget the time Kim Kardashian broke the internet
with her bum, with the image having been retweeted
about 70,000 times within just a couple of hours. Also,
who’d have thought a woman trying on a Chewbacca
mask would be one of the most-watched videos
(over 50m views, May 2016) on Facebook Live?!
Sometimes an image can become a powerful
representation of a particular historic moment in time
that forces us to stop and think in a way that words
can struggle to articulate e.g. the ‘I am a vessel’ photo
of a Baton Rouge: Black Lives Matter protestor, which
went viral extremely quickly and tells the story of a
significant event in a single image.
While the sharing of images and shift to a visual
vocabulary has made it easier to decode the world
around us, it also comes with challenges for brands
and marketers of how to harness social platforms
in creative ways to effectively communicate with
consumers using visuals.
likes per day on
people are posting photos with the brands’ logo in
it, in order to measure brand penetration. Not only
does social intelligence allow us to add structure
to unstructured data, it also provides brands with
the cultural context needed to remain relevant by
observing current trends and behaviours across
Another example of how we can use our social
intelligence framework is as a supplement to, or
extension of, qualitative research. For example, we
can conduct a type of digital ethnography, looking
and learning from people’s photos about certain
topics; perhaps before or after a focus group to gain
context and understand what branded photos people
are posting. This is extremely useful, both in terms of
saving time in focus groups and adding an extra layer
of analysis and insight to a project.
With the rapid rise of visual language, it is becoming
increasingly important for both researchers and
brands to understand how to unpick and analyse
this new vocabulary; deconstructing the discourse,
to stay ahead of the curve. This also holds a great
opportunity for market research to increasingly
integrate semiotics into the analysis and coding of
images within social media and beyond, as
a way to help explore cultural and societal shifts.
What is apparent is that whilst there is an abundance
of qualitative data about traditional media, there
is an imbalance of the qual data available for social
media. Sure, hard stats can be found but deeper
knowledge on audience motivations, need states and
passions is lacking. We have found our Censydiam
framework helpful to unpick this. Censydiam is our
method to help unlock the path to creating relevant
and meaningful brands; the approach starts with
understanding the needs and motivations of people
and it provides clients with a compass on how they
can connect their brands with these deeper
So, how can brands and media owners ensure they
deliver the most impactful content and campaigns
on the most suitable platform at exactly the right
time to engage consumers? The answer lies in the
tailoring of content across platforms and ensuring
campaigns are culturally relevant on both a global and
To start with, understanding audiences’ needs of
each platform is integral for brands and marketers to
harness the unique ecosystem of each.
This is where research plays a fundamental role.
It may sound obvious but consumers use each
platform in different ways for different things. While
Twitter may be used to keep up to date with news,
advice and networking; Facebook for staying in touch
with friends; it is Instagram that has got brands fretting
about how to talk to their audience. Instagram is not
Facebook or Twitter and brands must not treat
it as such.
Since launching in 2010, Instagram has attracted 500
million active users³ with 95 million uploads and 4.2
billion “likes” recorded on an average day. It’s clear
to see why brands want to tap into this fast-growing
ecosystem of inspiring, cool and creative content.
Here at Ipsos, we use social intelligence, the
analysis and synthesis of social data, to enhance and
complement our primary research.
As communication using visuals increases on social
media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat
and even Twitter, there is a huge need for, not just
social listening using words, but visual listening too.
As part of our offering we are able to go beyond the
analysis of text-based social listening and analyse
brand imagery in social media posts.
For example, if a brand wants to understand what
creative is resonating with consumers, in the lead up
to a campaign release, we can analyse how often
towards an individual or small group. As such, it’s
one of the least visible types of sharing and it’s easy
to underestimate how frequently people share in
this way. Whereas, image-based platforms, such as
Snapchat and Instagram tend to lean slightly more
towards the Recognition side of the spectrum, mainly
because this type of sharing encompasses an attempt
to make a splash on social media, or show the best
side of oneself.
We found that when brands share, they often do so
to make a big impact. This is because the ultimate
objective of their ‘share’ is to gain as much attention
and to get as many people to notice them as possible.
Consumers can be suspicious of this type of Power
behaviour, especially content that is posted directly
by brands. Therefore, the best way for brands to enter
social media can be to get actual consumers or social
Influencers to share their content.
In our research on branded content, looking at
influencers and engagers (Ipsos MORI, Social
Influencers study 2016) we found that motivations
are similar for sharing both personal and branded
content. For example, a piece of branded content is
more likely to be shared if it is of personal relevance
to the user or will help them to connect with others.
However, as you would expect, motivations for
sharing on social media platforms vary, because these
platforms fulfil different needs for users. Therefore,
brands must think carefully about what content will
work on each platform in order to remain relevant.
Tongue-in-cheek Paddy Power material might not be
sharable on Facebook for fear of offending Grandma,
but may be ok to share with mates on Snapchat
The downfall of many brands’ social media strategy
is that they either rehash the same content across
platforms or treat each platform as if it were used in
exactly the same way by everyone i.e. using Instagram
to share in the moment statuses like you would do
with Twitter. Successful brands alter their content,
objectives and tone of voice for each channel, while
ensuring they retain an overarching personality.
In a recent review of social media sharing; using
this motivational framework, we found that the vast
majority of sharing takes places within the core
Censydiam motivations of Conviviality, Enjoyment
and Belonging as opposed to Power and Control.
The motivation behind the majority of shares is to
connect with a particular individual or group, not,
as may be expected, to ‘projective share’; shout
something obvious about yourself across social media
(Social Media Sharing: Your invitation to the online
conversation: October 2014).
Interestingly, Convivial sharing, or sharing that makes
a personal connection, will often take place in
private channels, such as messaging. When posted
publically it will nearly always be specifically directed
I will only share this if
I think it is something
which I want others to
see. If I think it may not
be to people’s taste,
I will not share it.
INSPIRE YOUR AUDIENCE WITH BEAUTIFUL IMAGERY
AND TELL CULTURALLY RELEVANT STORIES
There are many brands that have effectively
harnessed Instagram’s unique traits of creativity,
expression and inspiration, and Airbnb has to be up
there with the best of them. Not only does Airbnb
use the visual platform to curate and create wonder
and awe amongst its followers, they also strive to
keep community at the heart of their Instagram
account with a high proportion of user-generated
photos. Users of Instagram are searching for visual
experiences that excite and delight and Airbnb
doesn’t disappoint. Airbnb successfully taps into the
Censydiam need state and motivation for consumers
to belong to a community; in spite of having a global
following of 1.1 million, by harnessing the power of
consumers’ photos, the brand manages to feel both
local and culturally relevant.
There’s a reason why National Geographic has gained
nearly 50+ million followers and has established
themselves as one of the most engaging Instagram
brands in the world; they post beautiful, inspiring
photos from contributors around the world that evoke
emotion. For a brand founded in the 1800s, originally
known for its print magazines, National Geographic
has adapted to keep up with marketing while still
retaining its consistent brand image and experience.
With the relatively recent introduction of Instagram’s
new algorithm (April 2016), which means users’
timelines will no longer feature the most recent posts
first; brands and advertisers run the risk of losing out
on organically appearing in users’ feeds. Brands need
to work harder than ever to capture their audiences’
attention by investing in an Instagram strategy to
guarantee their content is seen through ads. Be bold,
creative and unique and true to the brand to stay
However, a more cost effective way to increase
engagement and grow a brands community could
be to hand over control of social media channels
to influencers and vloggers as content creators and
brand ambassadors. Nespresso recently launched
their Instagram influencer US marketing campaign
with great effect; choosing influencers that fit the
brands aesthetic, promoting good taste and elegance.
Influencers bring with them a loyal audience who will
probably be more likely to pay attention to a brand
if the content is from a source they know and trust.
Instagram’s new algorithm will ultimately prioritise
quality of posts and engagement, so partnering
with influencers could help brands reach their target
audience without solely relying on ads.
This month (August 2016) has seen yet another
update from Instagram, which brands need to take
into consideration: Instagram Stories; a new feature
that allows people to post a collection of photos
and videos in story format, lasting just 24 hours…
near identical to Snapchat Stories. If you can’t beat
them, copy them, right?! While Instagram Stories
may be causing some confusion among people,
who had originally categorised all their social media
platforms and understood the clear role for each, this
new feature could bring with it a wealth of creative
advertising opportunities for brands. Yes, brands will
need to work even harder to capture and maintain
audiences’ attention, while remaining consistent with
their message, but the fleeting nature of the moments
means that brands won’t have to worry as much
about posts publically underperforming or over-
+44 (0203) 059 4779
SENIOR RESEARCH EXECUTIVE
FOR MORE INFORMATION,
Alice is a Senior Research Executive
within our Ipsos Connect Closer
team, and is a highly skilled qualitative
researcher with a background in
Cultural Studies and Sociology. She
has a keen interest in how brands can
effectively harness social media to be
SO, WHAT DO BRANDS NEED TO DO IN ORDER
TO BE SUCCESSFUL ACROSS THE FULL RANGE OF
SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS?
1. Tailor content to fit the platform: remember, the
use of social media is constantly evolving and each
platform fulfils different needs for consumers. Think
platform and need state first to ensure content
is always relevant and cuts through the noise of
2. Harness social media platforms in creative visual
ways to effectively communicate with consumers:
tap into the ever increasing visual vocabulary trend
by ensuring images are powerful, inspiring, current
and consistent in look and feel. Think both globally
and locally when creating content, in order to
remain culturally relevant.
3. Tone of voice can differ by platform, but brand
values and personality must remain consistent
and authentic: as mentioned previously, Instagram
is not Facebook or Twitter, and a brands’ tone of
voice must reflect how consumers are using the
platform. However, consumers do need to be able
to glance at a brand and recognise its personality
immediately in order for it to stay top of mind.
4. Avoid getting lost in a sea of algorithms
by investing in a social media strategy and
partnering with Influencers: capturing audiences’
attention is only going to become increasingly
difficult across platforms. The first step is to take
social seriously within your business, dedicating
resources to build a strong, and future-facing
social media strategy. Then, if budget allows, don’t’
forgot to harness the power of the Influencers who
impact the zeitgeist of social media usage, but be
sure to allow them the creative freedom to push
the boundaries for your brand.
ABOUT IPSOS CONNECT
Ipsos Connect are experts in brand, media, content and communications research. We help
brands and media owners to reach and engage audiences in today’s hyper-competitive
Our services include:
• Brand Campaign Performance: Evaluation and optimisation of in-market activities
to drive communications effectiveness and brand growth.
• Content and Communications Development: Communications, content and creative
development from early stage idea development through to quantitative pre-testing
alongside media touchpoint planning.
• Media Measurement: Audience measurement and understanding.
Ipsos Connect are specialists in people-based insight, employing qualitative and quantitative
techniques including surveys, neuro, observation, social media and other data sources. Our
philosophy and framework centre on building successful businesses through understanding
brands, media, content and communications at the point of impact with people.