Now, illustrating your content is not just preferable, it’s mandatory. Facebook, Google+, and Twitter have become much better at following links and automagically populating your shares with photos, videos, titles, and teasers (instead of just making your Bit.ly links hot); aggregator sites such as The Huffington Post and link-share and social bookmarking sites also spider the link, proffering a selection of images to choose from to be associated with each submission.
If your goal is to be shared or read and you’re participating in social media in order to further your personal or corporate brand, then blog, tweet, Facebook, Tumbl, and Posterous without illustrating that content with a photo, chart, illustration, pull-quote, logo, portrait, or infographic at your own peril.
I have sort of known this for years, especially since I share like crazy. I knew that digg and reddit always looked for an illustrative graphics file every time I would submit a link and I knew that Facebook and Twitter would even give me the option of choosing which photo would best define my thousand words — I knew that.
But it wasn’t until I heard that Flipboard had really grown up and matured to include Google+ and Instagram — as well as rich-content like in-line podcasts and videos — that I took another look and my hat blew off! And I bloody love it (and I get why you all have loved it forever, but I was very old school and did my reading via Google Reader on the web and Reeder on my iPhone).
Flipboard is an app for smart phones and tablets. Until recently, it only offered apps for iOS devices but it’s now Android-friendly. It takes all your own personal social media walls and streams and mashes them together with breaking news, sponsored content, topical content (you can choose from a dozen topics, including Fashion, Style, Design, Technology, Entertainment, etc), and my very mature and awesome collection of RSS news feeds via my Google Reader and reformats and displays them to look very much like an eBook or digital version of the New York Times, Wired, National Geographic, or whatnot — rife with illustrations, cover stories, pull quotes, and panoramic photos.
It is really mesmerizing. Now my Klout score is going through the roof because reading content from the 12k folks I follow on Twitter and the 4,800 I follow on Facebook and on Google+, and the thousands of feeds I have imported to Google Reeder is a morning breeze! I love it. I am engaging more, I am listening better, I am missing less, and I am generally entertained. I am finally doing what I said that you should do: listen 80% and talk 20% (who has the time, right?)
I have been paying attention to my reading habits, too. And I am drawn to pretty things: embedded video content, audio content, infographics, photos of pretty girls, photos in general, scenics — actually, I am almost only drawn to content that has an associated visual element.
It’s impossible not to be drawn to these rich-content posts because Flipboard always gives them at least a quarter of the page but often gives closer to 1/3 to half the page — even for content that is brief. A good, high-quality, high-resolution image always gets you better visibility as simple tweets or Facebook posts without a visual component always just gets pulled together into a list to the side, crushed together with all the other text-only tweets.
Links to other articles with visual content also works because Flipboard populates your Twitter RTs with the destination’s graphic elements as well as makes it simple to read that target content inline with the Flipbook app — very seamless and also very easy to share, retweet (so, in many way, the very best solution is to Facebook, tweet, and G+ longer-form content that, itself, is well-illustrated with photos, videos, infographics, or attractive people.
One piece of advice for all the jerks who only share content teasers on their magazines or blogs, requiring me to leave Google Reader or whatever reader I am using and head off to your site, you had better put that illustration at the top because if it is below the “more” link, it won’t be of much benefit to sites like Flipboard and the other aggregators — though I hate that tactic, I understand that you have an ad revenue model and that you really would love to control the conversation a little bit more and maybe get some new readers and maybe a few comments — I get it, I get it. That said, heed my words and make sure there’s at least one photo of Lindsay Lohan before the “click to read more” link — otherwise, you’ll not only lose me but quite a few others — who can resist good dirt on Miss Lindsay?
Since I am trying to relate to my friends on Flipboard, I try to slow down and read the naked tweets and Facebook posts that are just lonely, lonely, 140-character blobs — but if I were less in love with my friends, I would really just blow all of those off and, instead, just dance around the colorful expanse of the nicer, kinder, prettier world of the illustrated web.
Mind you, that’s just me — but I tend to do all of my best cultural extrapolation with just the one data point: me. Even so, if you really want to draw the attention (and clicks through, reads, Likes, stars, favorites, retweets and shares) from your readers, use a picture.