Photos are having a moment. Companies such as Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr, the big three image-based platforms on the Internet, seem to be reaching new milestones every week. Facebook bought Instagram for a whopping $1 billion, and the newly public company may be purchasing Face.com, which provides software that recognizes, well, faces. Meanwhile, virtual inspiration board Pinterest's valuation skyrocketed to $1.5 billion and microblogging site Tumblr recently broke into comScore's top 50 web properties with 23.5 million unique visitors.
Brands have taken notice.
Unlike the slow uptake by marketers of other new technologies -- from early television advertising to social media -- companies have jumped on this bandwagon quickly. Companies are creating Pinterest boards and Instagram accounts, hoping high-quality images will grab customers' attention and, hopefully, encourage them to buy offline. "Visual storytelling is essential to building a strong online identity," says Michael Bepko, global online community manager of Whole Foods (WFM), which started using Pinterest in July 2011. " I think it allows us to tell a story – through posters, through banners, through text – we can get particular messages across through image sharing...in a very instantaneous way."
It's also following one of the first rules in business: go to where your audience is. "Ubiquitous camera phones and connected mobile devices has exponentially boosted social sharing of digital images," says Nate Warner, Red Bull's digital marketing director. "We saw a constant stream of people sharing their own images from our events as well as images pulled from [our] properties, or re-sharing images from Red Bull's social media accounts," he continues. "The ongoing growth validates this type of positive connection our fans feel with the brand." Red Bull – one of the first and more popular brands on Instagram -- has more than 230,000 followers and more than 87,000 user-submitted images tagged #redbull on the app.
One could argue that Tumblr started this relatively recent need for image-driven social connection between brands and their customers. Companies have flocked to the microblogging site to share behind-the-scenes photos that followers are only too eager to reblog thousands of times. With each repost, a user firmly aligns themselves not only with the brand, but the aesthetic being pushed through their curated images. The 2,275 people who interacted with a vintage photo of 50s era beach combers on Kate Spade's Tumblr are collectively saying they get how the bygone look inspires the brand's quirky prep creations today.