Web & Social Tip: Balance Your Use of Images Versus Text and Links

This is going to be one of those “pet peeve” posts — sorry — but I have burning urge to share observations about something that drives me crazy: people using images and PDFs to do jobs that text, links and interactive web or social content could do better.

I see this issue a lot with a volunteer organization I’m working with on digital strategy this year (Toastmasters District 47) where people often put a lot of effort into creating flyers (PDFs) or “poster images” for promoting an event or item of news on Facebook or Twitter but neglect to include important details in the body of those social posts. They seem to forget that people often want to copy and paste text like the address of an event location or click on a link or email address, which they generally can’t do with an image in a social post.

The examples of this pattern I’m thinking of where this pattern is most counter productive come from the world of business, not volunteerism — so the volunteers have nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m just encouraging them to do better.

I’m going to pick on a business, not the volunteers, for my example of what not to do. The post below is not at all the worst example that I’ve seen. I don’t know this business, and I don’t have anything against them or their marketing team. The only point I want to make with the image below is that it contains what looks like it could be a button. I’ve seen other examples where the “button” has rounded corners that makes it look even more button-like. The first time I saw this in a tweet, I thought “Oh, cool, someone has figured out how to make Twitter posts more interactive.”

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The catch is the button is not really button; it’s just a picture of the button. If you try to click on it, Twitter shows you an enlarged version of the picture including the picture of a button. It doesn’t actually take you to a registration form, as you might expect.

Where they really want you to click is on the link in the text that appears above the image. So this is a case of misdirecting and potentially frustrating members of the audience for your social media posts.

The example below is better. They still have quite a bit of text embedded in the image, including a Register Now! headline, but someone who sees this is more likely to understand where they’re supposed to click to register.

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You need not necessarily include any text at all in the image you use with your post. Use the image to attract attention, not necessarily to convey the same information you put in the text of your social posts.

Here’s an example I like, with a striking image that draws the eye without trying to explain too much.

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The worst-case example, which I’ve seen more than once, is where the information someone is trying to share is in an image and only in the image. A picture can be worth 1,000 words — but it needs to be the right picture, used strategically and appropriately.

I’m thinking of the nicely designed social media image promoting an event people are supposed to be enticed to sign up for but with no information about how to sign up or get more information. Then you’re just leaving people guessing.

For bonus booby prize points, you can post a promotion like that in a closed Facebook group that makes it difficult-to-impossible to share that contest. If you have something you want to promote in a closed group, do yourself a favor and make sure it’s also made available in a more shareable form on a Facebook page or a website. Then preemptively tell people that “all this same information is also on our website” before they complain.

As for PDFs, I think they make the most sense when you are distributing information you expect people are going to want to print. Otherwise, you’re just adding clicks and downloads to the process of viewing your content, making reading it a less convenient, more clumsy way of delivering your message. Too often, I believe people use PDFs because they can be conveniently created using familiar tools like Word, Excel, PPT and desktop publishing and design tools, making it relatively easy to format your content. That is fine as a quick-and-dirty solution, but it’s not the best user experience. If you can put the effort into creating attractive web-native content, your audience will thank you.

Use images to amplify your message and to get people to pay attention to it. Good photography, graphics, and combinations of the two are priceless tools and, done right, can convey more information and attract more interest than words could alone. But as a writer, I kind of like text, too. Good headlines and pithy or witty social text also earn you social media capital.

Use all the media at your disposal to their best strengths, and you’ll accomplish more on behalf of whatever business, nonprofit, or personal mission you’re on.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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