A picture is worth a thousand words, and a picture-sharing app is apparently worth quite a bit more than that.

Facebook’s blockbuster acquisition of Instagram is a $1 billion-sized indicator of just how integral images are to the present and future of social media. As further evidence we need only look to exhibit P(interest). Photo-sharing has been incorporated into nearly every aspect across all of the major social media platforms. Thanks to the rise of smartphones and the improvement of connections and services, it’s easier to create, post, and share quality images than ever before.

Which begs the question: if images are so easy to utilize and so central to users’ content consumption, why are so many content marketers still so bad at or hesitant to use them?

One answer may be that up to now, they haven’t been a priority. As Matt Rhodes points out in a recent post for The Customer Collective, “many [brands] have focused on engaging people through words.” Written content is also the foundation of SEO strategies, which often involve creating blogs and forums and sharing links back to their site. Images, of course, provide less of a benefit, Rhodes argues, and image search is significantly more difficult and less reliable.

But if the goal of content creation is to engage, then the power of images is impossible to ignore. In my previous post on content curation, I neglected to mention one very important step in our process: before posting a summary we always find an image to accompany the written content. The same goes for any article or blog post that we put on the site. While it can occasionally be time-consuming, finding the right image can help draw attention and illustrate a point more quickly and effectively than any description. On the flip side, a bad image can also turn away your audience just as efficiently.

With that said, here are a few tips to help you successfully use images to bring your content to life:

1. Strive for a Pairing That’s Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

Ideally, an image work will together with a corresponding headline or caption to convey a particular theme or message it might not otherwise illustrate on its own. As with with any partnership, both sides should carry equal weight.

2. Don’t Take Things So Literally

Images can be very effective at illustrating concepts, but determining exactly what that concept should look like can be tricky. That’s where stock agencies can come in handy.

Image searches can be temperamental, and each archive or service has its quirks as well as strengths. If you get stuck trying to figure out how best to illustrate an abstract concept you might find it helpful to at the very least get ideas from resources like Getty Images and Corbis Images, which are better suited for that type of search. Once you see their suggestions you can always try more specific searches elsewhere (ex: a finish line rather than the broad concept of success).

3. Avoid Overused Stock Imagery

No one wants to read the same article over and over again, and likewise, if you’re using the same image to depict teamwork or leadership as everyone else, no one’s going to be interested, either.

Flickr can be a great alternative to well-troden stock photo websites. Just make sure you only use Creative Commons-licensed images, you pay close attention to any restrictions, and you attribute accordingly.

4. Don’t Bother Looking for the Perfect Photo – It Doesn’t Exist

Can’t find the perfect image that’s in your head? That may be because it’s not out there. Any time you sense you’re grinding your gears, it’s always best to move on. There are plenty of fish (and pictures of fish) in the sea.

Images provide your audience with their first and often most lasting impression of your content. You owe it to your content to ensure it’s a good one.

For a more complete rundown on using images in your company’s blog posts — including more info on copyright regulations — I recommend this extremely helpful guide from TentBlogger.com. For more on the growing importance of images in social media marketing, in particular, head over to Jeff Bullas’s blog to read this guest post by Christine Kane.

photo by: joshwept