We all know that a picture has the ability to be worth a thousand words. With the rise of popular visual content platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook Lists and Storify (to name a few), content is finally moving beyond words to help build connections. As a community manager, how can you begin to leverage the power of a picture to enhance relationships and promote your brand?

Visual Content Isn't New, But It's Relevant

Recently, Avaha Leitbag spoke on how platforms such as Pinterest and Storify are helping to turn visual content into a commodity. Since then however, Pinterest has come under fire for copyright infringement issues. But that hasn’t stopped more visual content boards from popping up or the consumer’s current love affair with pinning, posting and scrapbooking their favorite and inspired images from the web.

To be clear, visual content isn’t new and it isn’t replacing video, another visual content -- it’s merely adding to the mix. As a result, photos, illustrations, infographics, and other images are becoming a part of how consumers interact with a brand. Most of it is inadvertent -- when someone pins a photo of a pair of Kate Spade shoes, they’re not necessarily endorsing the brand, only showing their affinity for fashion and design. But it’s still an opportunity for brands to leverage their visibility and tap into a growing fan base.

Community, brand and marketing managers alike work hard to make their message visible and get their content recognized. As successful as we may be, it’s nothing compared to having users do it for you. Just as citizen journalism and user-generated content sought to reinvent the way consumers added their perspective to breaking news, the rise of virtual, social visual content platforms is changing the way consumers influence how brands are represented online.

You Need an Image Strategy

How do you effectively manage your brand via images posted by others who may or may not be readily connected to your community?

Short answer: the same way you’re leveraging all customer engagement.

In a recent post for AdAge, Chas Edwards advocates for an image strategy, which, like its social and mobile counterparts, incorporates three main elements: Audience Engagement, Audience Acquisition and Revenue.

Think Before You Pin

Before you rush to build your brand a pin board or sign up for an Instagram account, it’s important to find what, if anything, users are pinning, posting and sharing about your brand. Just like other social platforms, it may not be necessary for everyone to be everywhere. If users and prospective consumers have organically set up shop on a certain network to engage about your brand/product/services, among other things, start there.

If no one has posted anything yet, it’s critical to ask yourself -- is this where I should be? If you’re selling servers, it may be that your images don’t necessarily lend itself to pinning and sharing. However, if you have infographics to share or other visual elements that concisely and appropriately convey your brand’s message, make it easy to share and pin (providing you understand and aceept the copyright implications).

What’s the Goal?

As with anything you do to engage your community, it’s essential to understand what the ultimate goal is by sharing information, whether it’s visual or not. Posting pretty pictures for the sake of posting pretty pictures doesn’t make much sense, unless the visceral reaction speaks for itself.

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News organizations and consumer brands are using Instagram as an opportunity to showcase behind-the-scenes events that help to personalize and incentivize their content. On Pinterest, brands such as IBM, Microsoft, and Symantec and have reserved their pages, while Yahoo UK, Intel Asia Pacific, Motorola and others have made their Pinterest boards a reflection of past, present and future ideas and concepts.

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If They [insert social action] It, Then What?

So what if you’re pinning, your followers are repinning -- how can you monetize it? Chas Edwards suggests “delivering advertising that's attached to a user-initiated bonus content experience.” To do that, ad content must be relevant to the image content.

Another approach is to glean information from what images of your product/services are getting the most attention. Perhaps offering deals or incentives for certain types of inventory may make sense or bringing back an old line of products as a “retro” appeal may help. Visual social sharing sites such as Pinterest, Instragram and Tumblr can help companies better understand user behaviors so they can appropriately tweak their offerings.

Of course, there aren’t as many people on Pinterest or Instagram to warrant shifting marketing messaging just yet. But they are growing, and the more accessible your brand is to them, provided it aligns with their interests, the more you can better know and grow your community.