The secret is getting out: If you want to optimize your Facebook marketing, you have to know how to properly leverage photos to the maximum.

In a recent tbk Creative corporate page study of 31,854 fans across 10 brands (brands ranging in size from under $1 million upwards to $65 million), we observed that when the brands posted photos (vs. Text, Link, or Video based), they reached 31% more users.

In this article, I’m going answer the question:

Why do Photos reach more people than the other common post types?

Then I will share with you 4 major scenarios when you will have to make a critical decision with how to use photo(s) on Facebook.

This is an important article to publish because you will see after reading it how brands of all sizes are all across the map.

If you’re a Community Manager / Social Media Manager, this is an article you don’t want to miss.

Let’s start with why Photos are gaining more user Reach.

First, an understanding of what Reach is:

According to Facebook, “Reach is the number of unique people who see your post.”

Note: Reach is slightly distinct from impressions, which is the number of times a group sees your advertisement (they could see it more than once).

You can find how much Reach your posts are gaining by going to your Corporate Facebook Page, go to the Admin Panel (at the top), Click Insights, and on the Overview tab, scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll have a list of your page post data which includes the Reach data.

Facebook Insights Reach

Some have said, “Facebook is driving photos to be more popular on the News Feed.” If you’ve logged into your personal Facebook page recently, you’ll notice it’s true that photos are obviously reaching News Feeds more.

However, the statement above, isn’t entirely correct.

Facebook isn’t driving photos to be more popular on the News Feed.

Users are.

What Facebook has learned (and this is validated in your statistics when looking at metrics like Engagement and Talking About This), when a brand posts a picture, more users take action upon it.

Think of your own Facebook behavior – what are you more likely to click on, a photo or a video (which takes a few minutes of commitment) or a text (which which isn’t clickable), or a link (which is driving you to a new website)?

For most of you, you’ll answer photo.

It’s the perfect blend of sensory stimulation, with low time and mental commitment, with security (you stay on Facebook).

More users will click the photo (to make it bigger), and from there they have the options to: Like it, comment on it, or Share it (on their Wall or a friend’s).

And from Facebook’s perspective, taking action upon posts is key.

When users are taking action upon content in their News Feed, that means users are on Facebook longer, visit more pages, and create dialogue with other users.

When this happens – advertising dollars go up.

So yes, photos reach more people on Facebook and I believe for no other reason than: More people are taking action upon it, which triggers the posts to turn into stories which reach more of their friends. Your fans seeing these posts combined with your fans’ friends, is what gets represented in the Reach metric.

Optimizing Your Photo Use

Now let’s dig into the 4 scenarios that you will have to think carefully about with your Photo use:

1. Cover Photos

The Cover Photo is the big, new area of your Timeline where you can post a picture that best represents your brand. The critical thing to be thinking are this:

Know the Rules.

Along with the launch of Facebook Timeline on February 29, 2012 date, Facebook released a new set of rules for the Cover Photo, detailed here.

According to Facebook’s Guidelines, here’s what you need to know:

i. price or purchase information, such as “40% off” or “Download it on socialmusic.com”

ii. contact information such as a website address, email, mailing address, or information that should go in your Page’s “About” section;

iii. references to Facebook features or actions, such as “Like” or “Share” or an arrow pointing from the cover photo to any of these features; or

iv. calls to action, such as “Get it now” or “Tell your friends.”

Without getting into too much detail and theory about why Facebook has made Cover Photo creation so prohibitive to brands who obviously want to use Facebook for marketing, I’ll share this:

At fMC in New York City back on February 29, 2012, Facebook explained that the focus of the new Timeline will be more about creating a better user experience vs. brand pages being a heavy advertising experience.

They are focused on user experience and challenging brands to create higher quality content that users can relate, engage, and take action upon.

Now that you know the major restrictions, here are the three different types of Cover Photos I’ve found:

A) Quick & Easy

This takes no design work. It’s when you upload a photo that you feel best represents your brand. See King’s University College’s Cover Photo:

Cover-Photo-King's-University-College

Or Canadian Cancer Society here:

Cover Photo Canadian Cancer Society

As a piece of collateral that doesn’t take much time or money, it works for them.

B) The Branded Experience

This takes more creative time and design work. This is when you create a custom image and you can use this opportunity to deliver some brand promises or unique value propositions.

See Tepperman’s Cover Photo here:

Cover Photo - Tepperman's - Windsor Sarnia Chatham London Ontario

Or Siskinds The Law Firm here:

Cover Photo - Siskinds LLP

C) The Promotion Cover Photo

This is where you use the Cover Photo to inform / send a message about an upcoming event or other item you want Facebook users to know about, but you do so in a way that doesn’t violate Facebook’s Page Guidelines.

See Red Deer Regional Health Foundation here:

Cover Photo - Red Deer Regional Health Foundation

In Red Deer Cover Photo, you can see we’ve made it clear there are great prizes for this year’s lottery, and there is even a bold Facebook tab below the Timeline titled Prizes, but we don’t invite people to click on it (this Cover Photo isn’t a call to action and therefore, compliant with Facebook’s Page Guidelines).

A second example of this is Fertility Ontario here:

Cover Photo - Fertility Ontario

The purpose of this Cover Photo is to inform people of Fertility Ontario’s upcoming Fertility webinar, but we don’t provide a URL in the photo in which they can register because that would also be a violation of Facebook’s Page Guidelines.

2. Sizing of Photos

When ramping up your Facebook content strategy and integrating photos into the mix, you need to begin critically thinking about Photo sizes.

You can see a tbk Creative post where we didn’t optimize this approach:

Timeline Photo - North Star Windows & Doors - St. Thomas Ontario

You can see that the photo we upload was too wide (it’s original purpose of this image was to be a Cover Photo). The width being too wide caused the photo to not fully fit inside the image room in the Timeline. This is not an optimized post but isn’t horrible because if a user clicks on the photo they can see the photo in its entirely. However, if you’re committed to delivering the highest performance experience for your community and Facebook users, then this is a point worth noting.

As an aside, it’s a humbling and slightly embarrassing experience to share with you something that I believe, in hindsight, that I could have done a better way. The truth is, each day the web and social media matures and although I’ll never be perfect at it, one thing that has allowed tbk Creative to become so advanced in this area of marketing is that our team debates, questions, and challenges everything. And I think it’s this commitment to excellence that allows us to gain this type of knowledge so fast and be able to share these best practices back to you.

Let’s look at two brands that have created photos with the Timeline image space in mind.

In the photo below, you can see how Goodlife Fitness created a photo so that the entire quote can be read from the Timeline or News Feed:

Timeline Photo - Goodlife Fitness

In the next photo below, you can see how at Fertility Ontario, we’ve also sized the photo as so the entire message about their upcoming webinar can get across to the reader:

Timeline Photo - Fertility Ontario

As a valuable side note, if you recall earlier in this article, Fertility Ontario used a wider image for their Cover Photo to promote the same upcoming webinar. That’s what’s key here – We actually re-created the image size to optimize it as a Timeline post.

Before we move on to the next section, I want to share one more tip with re-sizing posts. There may be time you don’t have the resources or time to re-size your post perfectly (you’d have to get into the design file to make these changes). There is a little obscure new Facebook feature that exists called Reposition Photo. This feature, when used, will let you move your photo around so it fits better than not inside the image area. It’s not always a perfect solution, but may help you in some occasions:

Facebook Featured Photo for Reposition

3. A Little Secret With Big Results When Posting Links

As part of your editorial calendar, you will regularly create posts that provide links (back to your website, other webpages, etc.).

Here is a standard example of how a link shows up when you post it on your Facebook Timeline:

Facebook Link Post - tbk Creative - twitter marketing

Most companies do it this way.

Here’s a little secret: Provide the link you require, but post an image at the same time. This is a good practice on the appropriate posts, because of what we’ve learned about Photos – they get 31% more reach than any other type of post.

In this first photo, you can see tbk Creative posting a link to a new website we’ve created for Sports & Fitness Insurance Canada Inc.:

Link With Photo - tbk Creative - Sports & Fitness Insurance Canada Inc.

By providing a photo along with the link, we’ve made it a more visually appealing post and predictably will have gained higher Reach, Engagement, and Talking About This, as a result.

In this second photo, you can see Fertility Ontario posting a registration link for one of its upcoming educational webinars:

An interesting point about this photo: You see how in this photo we’ve now included the URL for Fertility Ontario, whereas, in its Cover Photo promoting the same event we did not. Again, the latter would be a violation of Facebook’s Page Guidelines, whereas, the former is not.

4. Optimizing Your Profile Picture

Your profile picture is the image area that appears in the bottom left hand corner of your Cover Photo (but not part of the Cover Photo itself).

I’ve seen brands do one of four things with their Profile Pictures:

A) Upload only their logo.

See Western University’s use of the Profile Picture as a good example:

Facebook Profile Pic - Western University

B) Upload info on their company or a different image, but not their logo. See BC Children’s Hospital Foundation profile picture:

Facebook Profile Pic - BC Children's Hospital Foundation

C) Upload the emblem side of your logo, but not the company name. See St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation here:

Facebook Profile Pic - St. Joseph's Health Care Foundation And see Fertility Ontario here:

Cover Photo for Fertility Ontario

D) The last version is when you get your logo and additional information inside your profile pic (location, brand statement, value proposition, etc.).

See how Tepperman’s included the four cities that they have retail centers:

Teppermans Profile Picture

I believe A, C, and D have differing degrees of merit, but option B is never a good idea (not having your brand associated with the Profile Pic).

Here’s why: You Profile Picture is the image that gets associated to your post when it lands on users’ News Feeds.

From a branding perspective, if you’re going to spend the time reaching thousands of people with each post, you want to make sure your logo being displayed is consistent with your branding guidelines.

This will have users associate your brand with your posts, faster and more consistently.

Note: This point has similar personal branding implications too.

When we are managing our social channels for personal branding interests, I believe you will get the most long-term branding impact by changing your Profile Picture as infrequently as possible (I’ve used almost exclusively the same photo for the last 2+ years across Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In):

Facebook Profile Pic - Andrew Schiestel

The purpose of this article today was to give you thorough and explicit guidance on how to manage photo curation on Facebook. Implementing these tips should give you a thorough Facebook front for your brand with all your visual touch points and provide you with the background strategic knowledge to maintain this strengthened new effort.

Andrew Schiestel is a Sr. Partner & Chief of WOW! Projects at tbk Creative, a national award winning, web design & social media marketing agency based in London, Ontario. The company’s social media work has been featured in media publications coast to coast including CBC, CTV, Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Huffington Post, London Free Press, Yahoo! News, Metro, the Canadian Press, and more.

The company instigates and accelerates consumer action around their clients, digitally.