Social Media Visuals: The Science Behind Viral Content

“Whoever comes up with a visual clarity of their idea always wins.” – Dan Roam.

Our intelligence as human beings is largely based on the ability to build sentences out of words. Animals have different ways of communication. Only homo sapience {meaning “a wise man”} have words.

We, sapience, are taught early on, usually in school, how to read and write forming ideas into sentences and making sense of ideas we discover. The importance of words is giant – this is how humans connect with each other, right.

Yet our {very sapience} brain relies hugely on images. What? I know, confusing. 

As you might have noticed, visual content is extremely important when it comes to social media. Thus, it’s definitely worth to take time to really think your visuals through when putting together a social media strategy for business or personal use.

Research shows that we’re more likely to retain information backed up by visuals, rather than blocks of text on their own. 90% of information transmitted to our brain is visual, which we process much faster than text. In fact, we only actually remember around 20% of what we’ve read!

Crazy, right!

As humans we know this. We bump into a visually pleasing Instagram account and often loose ours scrolling through it. Yes, once we are building our business’s online presence we totally forget this.

Why am I saying this?

Because this is what I absolutely seeing online:

Sunny Life Instagram Account - Content Queen

UGG Instagram account - Content Queen

But I am seeing a lot of this:

Aweful visuals Instagram account - Content Queen

UGG AUSTRALIA Instagram account - Content Queen

Think about how you personally use social media. When you scroll through your Twitter or Facebook feed, do you pay much attention to those small snippets of image-less text, which images you like and which you don’t and why? Exercise your observation. Don’t judge the inner motives of the images you see or guess why they are done or that day but let yourself feel what you feel when you see them. Why?

Because most people believe that the choices they make result from a rational analysis of available alternatives. In reality, however, emotions greatly influence and, in many cases, even determine our decisions.


Your emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions. When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences which lead to our decision. Thus, I don’t believe in “follow your heart” or “gut” which ever you prefer. Our heart and guts cannot rationalise – they rely on our previous experiences {aka rude staff, unresolved complaint, favorite brand you trust, etc }, current state of mind {aka tired, in a hurry, happy, sad, etc}. But can our brain be rational or does it rely on our emotions too?

In his article, The Importance of Images in Social Media, Vishal Pindoriya says that image marketing has become the dominant force online.

The Science Behind Viral Content - Content Queen

“The right picture can bring out strong emotions such as compassion, joy, disgust, or even hate,” he says, “a fact long known by sociologists, psychiatrists, marketers and politicians alike. An image can convey a wide range of information or it can focus in on a single thought or emotion, and it can cover all of the ground in between handily as well.”

Donna Moritz, social media and visual marketing expert (and founder of Socially Sorted), says “people have moved from blogs to microblogs and now to multimedia microblogs. The only direction to go is to communicate with pictures.”

Sometimes words aren’t even necessary!

Moreover, Donna suggests to utilise images in a subtle way – to tease your potential audience with a graphic. You don’t have to provide your whole story in one go; instead create your visual content as a call to action, an indication or a suggestion of something more.

This can help the audience to realise that they’re eager to explore the journey into your blog, or Facebook or Pinterest pages.

From the marketer’s perspective, images are crucial because they double the chances of exposure. Images separate metadata from posts, and when that metadata is set, you have another, separate search result generated from the same location, which helps with search optimisation.

A recent study published in Psychological Science discovered that we draw conclusions about others based on a given photo in less than a second (40 milliseconds, to be precise). This is damn fast!!

Puppy Bowl XIII: behind the scenes from Sports Illustrated - used to illustrate social media images - Content Queen
By the way,studies show that the closer a brand comes to reflecting a well-formed and human personality, the easier it becomes for users to identify with them. That is if your brand actually behaves like a human then humans like it more. Is this a surprise to anyone? 

Sometimes it seems that people either love or hate a specific image, and it’s really just a matter of luck whether your post goes viral or dies out forever. Not, really.

In fact, by appealing to a specific part of the brain, you have a better chance of creating a wildly popular campaign. Meet our Temporal Parietal Junction, the part of our brains activated when we consider whether or not to share something. The TPJ is located on both sides of the brain, just behind the ears. Its job is to effectively connect us with the beliefs and thoughts of other people, and is the ruling force behind empathy. This is where we decide if the picture of the cute fluffy kitten is worth sharing, or whether we choose to engage with the post of 116-year-old Besse Cooper blowing out her birthday candles.

Social media isn’t as much about technology as it is about psychology and science.

Understanding your audience and how their minds work is critically important for increased engagement. The appreciation of a good image is definitely within this spectrum, and thinking carefully about what your target audience might want to see is crucial.

Never forget that an eye contact is the first step in persuasion. Images allow you to make this first contact with confidence and sincerity. You’re the creator of your brand, so design it carefully.

If you are still unsure what type of social media content will work for your business, it’s time to brainstorm. Remove yourself from your usual working environment, clear up your mind and start writing ideas down. Just let them flow. See what happens. If you need a tiny bit of extra help, download our 33 ideas for your social media posting.

33 socal media ideas - content queen

If you are feeling absolutely lost, book a FREE 15-min consultation with us and let’s get busy.

Free Social Media Consultation - Content Queen team chat

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