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Growth of Visual Media in Social Media, ECommerce and Messaging
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Growth of Visual Media in Social Media, ECommerce and Messaging

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The seemingly unstoppable growth of visual media shouldn’t be a surprise. As humans, we have evolved to understand the world around us from visual cues; sight is our primary sense.

As such, it makes complete sense that much of our digital world is now largely composed of visual media. Social Media platforms, eCommerce, and Messaging apps have all swiftly evolved from largely text-based beginnings to being increasingly reliant on visual media.

This article discusses the growth of visual media. It looks at how it has rapidly become the primary vehicle for consumer engagement. The article also considers the unique sets of challenges and problems that have arisen as a result of this growth and how AI & computer vision are helping organizations resolve these issues.

Visual Media in Social Media - TikTok Dance

What is Driving the Growth in Visual Media

Ultimately, as already touched on, the growth is driven by how we have evolved to interact with our environment. Or, to put it another way – A picture paints a thousand words.

This is really what it is all about. Try describing your dog to your friends on a Facebook post, and your post won’t get a second glance. However, post a picture of your cute puppy and watch interactions soar. It is as simple as this.

Technology obviously plays a huge part too. For decades computers were burdened by constraints in processing power and slow internet connections. This, to some degree, had kept the use of visual media minimized, more so when video is considered. But with the rise of faster internet, mobile 4G, and smartphones that easily outperform computers from a few short years ago, the floodgates opened.

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Now visual media infiltrates all our lives

We are no longer satisfied with a grainy picture for our online shopping experiences. These days successful online retailers are posting galleries of images and videos and increasingly using augmented reality to offer 360° views of their products. This is more akin to a physical shopping experience, where the description of the goods is less important than the look and feel of it.

Messaging apps, once the bastion of text, are now left by the roadside if they haven’t embraced this change. Gone are the days when a simple emoji was considered a visual element. Apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat that allow easy integration of visual media have become the norm.

Finally, social media is perhaps the most public face of this transition. The rise in visual content has been explosive, and as discussed below, this has been largely responsible for the next generation of social media platforms that don’t pretend to be anything other than visual media showcases.

Visuals in social media. Travel vlogger holding up map to camera

Visual Media in Social Media

One example that exemplifies the rise of visual media in social media is that of Twitter.

The platform was established in 2006 as a means for users to share short messages of a similar format to the text messages of the day. How times have changed! Twitter has now fully encompassed visuals on its platform. A point conceded in Twitter’s blog, which points out that 97% of its user base focuses on visuals that are posted to the platform.

It is worth reiterating that this was a platform that was established as an almost purely text format.

For platforms like Facebook, which weren’t so text-dependent, the picture is even more heavily skewed towards visual content. Figures for the first quarter of 2021, show that 87.8% of all posts had visual content. This figure can be broken down further, with 71.2% of content comprising of images and the remaining 16.6% being video.  

This rise in the use of visuals was the driving force behind the rise of platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and, more recently, Tik-Tok. The culmination of this is that each minute of each day, Facebook and Instagram users post 300,000 images, and 167,000,000 videos are watched by Tik-Tok users. (Source – Statista)To get some context here, it is worth considering that in 2004, the most popular image-sharing platform of its day was Flickr, which boasted 100 million images posted for the entire year. Compare this to today, when 3.2 billion images and 720,000 hours of video are shared daily.

Problems arising from the growth in Visual Content in Social Media

As noted, the power of visual content is not something that organizations can overlook. There are huge benefits to be had from “visually” engaging with customers, but it does have a downside.

The problem can be summarized in one word – Scale. All data needs to be policed in one form or another, and visual media is no different. Brand and social media managers have to be constantly vigilant that their brand isn’t misrepresented or associated with posts that may contain misguided, ill-informed, offensive, or other misuses of imagery.

Moderating text content is relatively easy when compared to moderating images. This problem is now amplified by the exponential growth of visual media uploads. However, as will be discussed a little later in the article, AI-powered computer vision is a solution that is being increasingly used as an effective and real-time moderation tool.

Visual Media in Online Shopping

The journey a consumer takes to make a purchase has changed rapidly in recent decades. Of course, it starts with the transition from High Street purchases to online shopping, but even this has rapidly evolved.

First, there are the online stores themselves. These now offer multi-angled large product photos, video galleries, and even user-generated visual content. This not only enhances the online shopping experience but also drives conversion rates, consumer interactions, and repeat visits.

Alongside this, consumer behavior has changed too

With the absence of other senses like smell and taste, consumers lean more heavily on visuals when making purchasing decisions. Often this means that they will head to platforms like YouTube to look for further visual clues on which to base their purchasing choices.

Consumers have become more educated. A fuzzy photo of a boxed product isn’t going to cut the mustard. High-quality visual media and lots of it are essential for online retailers.

Importantly, another aspect that has rapidly evolved is how retailers are using social media to get their products noticed. These days consumers are just as likely to get the first glimpse of their next purchase on Instagram or Pinterest.

According to a study commissioned by Forbes, two-thirds of online shoppers use Social Media as part of their shopping strategy. This is another sector that has seen exponential growth that will only continue for the foreseeable future.

And, of course, this adds fuel to the already spiraling increase in the use of visual media.

Online shopping - visual media

Visual Media Problems in Online Shopping

Once again, scale is the primary problem. As the number of product images grows exponentially and the number of platforms they are uploaded to also rises, the problem of moderation falls outside human abilities.

It is true that for retailers, moderation isn’t a huge issue, at least in-house. The bigger problem is identifying visual media that infringes the use of copyright and logos, and also the ever-growing problem of identifying counterfeit products.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the world trade in fake goods accounts for 3.3% of all trade and is rising. A large portion of this is online sales, and identifying fake products amongst the billions of visual media items posted daily makes the problem of moderation look minuscule by comparison.

Visual Media in Messaging

Texting and online chat are areas that have seen huge rises in the use of visual media. Not so long ago, a text was of restricted length, and an emoji would be considered lavish.

Sending a message to a friend telling them you were eating in your favorite restaurant might not generate an enthusiastic response. But, sending them a picture of a beautifully presented plate of deliciousness will undoubtedly receive a fast reply.

This might be important to friends wanting to share memories, but the information comes into its own when using messaging as a marketing tool. A study by Simple Texting ran an A/B test on two versions of the same text. One was purely text, and the other ran identical text but with an accompanying image.

The result showed that the campaign with the image had a 52% higher click-through rate than the text-only achieved.

Visual Media – Computer Vision Rising to the Challenge

The way we interact digitally has rapidly shifted from a text-based medium to a visual medium. As with all revolutions, problems, both foreseen and unforeseen, will inevitably follow in its wake.

The problem for organizations is policing all this data. Text is a relatively simple medium to moderate – Type the word dog, and any AI system will easily be able to quickly return any text containing the word dog.

Now compare this to what an AI system has to do when presented with the challenge of finding visual media that has a dog in it. Straightforward enough, if the photo or video has the dog as the central subject. But what if it’s in the background or is a picture of a dog swimming in the sea. This makes it much more difficult to identify.

However, as discussed in this detailed Visual Content Moderation article, the technology that uses AI to deal with the problem of visual media moderation already exists. By combining AI that emulates human vision to interpret visual media but performed at computer speed, organizations can reap the benefits of the visual media revolution and negate many of the associated drawbacks.If you have any inquiries about our product, please fill in the form below or simply fill in the form below.

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