Thought Piece


Visual vocabulary has exploded across

our screens over the last few years. Whilst

reading words is still fundamental for how

we communicate, a picture really can tell a

thousand words, and this opens up even more

opportunities for brands to communicate

with consumers.

This change in communication is reflected in the rise

of image-focused social media, together with the way

that existing social media channels are used; and in

turn, how consumers communicate with each other,

as well as how brands communicate to consumers.

Emojis are swiftly becoming the fastest growing

language across social media channels with 6 billion

emoticons or stickers being sent around the world

every day on mobile messaging apps.¹ Emojis are

used in almost half of all sentences on Instagram² and

are now used by Facebook as supplements to the

‘LIKE’ button.

The relatively recent shift to a more visual, two-way

conversation has meant that social media platforms

are forcing brands to learn a new visual literacy to

continuingly connect with their audiences.

It could be argued that images are the most powerful

medium for sharing experiences. The shareability of

images is fast-paced and more often than not, taps

into the current cultural zeitgeist and vice versa – who

can forget the time Kim Kardashian broke the internet

with her bum, with the image having been retweeted

about 70,000 times within just a couple of hours. Also,

who’d have thought a woman trying on a Chewbacca

mask would be one of the most-watched videos

(over 50m views, May 2016) on Facebook Live?!

6 billion

emoticons or stickers are sent

around the world everyday

on mobile messaging apps

Source: DIGIDAY UK – ‘Emojis by the numbers: A Digiday data dump’

Sometimes an image can become a powerful

representation of a particular historic moment in time

that forces us to stop and think in a way that words

can struggle to articulate e.g. the ‘I am a vessel’ photo

of a Baton Rouge: Black Lives Matter protestor, which

went viral extremely quickly and tells the story of a

significant event in a single image.

Original story is here:

While the sharing of images and shift to a visual

vocabulary has made it easier to decode the world

around us, it also comes with challenges for brands

and marketers of how to harness social platforms

in creative ways to effectively communicate with

consumers using visuals.

So, how can brands and media owners ensure they

As communication using visuals increases on social

people are posting photos with the brands’ logo in

What is apparent is that whilst there is an abundance

deliver the most impactful content and campaigns

media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat

it, in order to measure brand penetration. Not only

of qualitative data about traditional media, there

on the most suitable platform at exactly the right

and even Twitter, there is a huge need for, not just

does social intelligence allow us to add structure

is an imbalance of the qual data available for social

time to engage consumers? The answer lies in the

social listening using words, but visual listening too.

to unstructured data, it also provides brands with

media. Sure, hard stats can be found but deeper

tailoring of content across platforms and ensuring

As part of our offering we are able to go beyond the

the cultural context needed to remain relevant by

knowledge on audience motivations, need states and

campaigns are culturally relevant on both a global and

analysis of text-based social listening and analyse

observing current trends and behaviours across

passions is lacking. We have found our Censydiam

local scale.

brand imagery in social media posts.

social media.

framework helpful to unpick this. Censydiam is our

To start with, understanding audiences’ needs of

each platform is integral for brands and marketers to

harness the unique ecosystem of each.

This is where research plays a fundamental role.

It may sound obvious but consumers use each

platform in different ways for different things. While

Twitter may be used to keep up to date with news,

advice and networking; Facebook for staying in touch

with friends; it is Instagram that has got brands fretting

about how to talk to their audience. Instagram is not

Facebook or Twitter and brands must not treat

For example, if a brand wants to understand what

creative is resonating with consumers, in the lead up

to a campaign release, we can analyse how often


has attracted

500 million

active users

since 2010

Another example of how we can use our social

intelligence framework is as a supplement to, or

extension of, qualitative research. For example, we

can conduct a type of digital ethnography, looking

and learning from people’s photos about certain

topics; perhaps before or after a focus group to gain

context and understand what branded photos people

are posting. This is extremely useful, both in terms of

saving time in focus groups and adding an extra layer

of analysis and insight to a project.

With the rapid rise of visual language, it is becoming

method to help unlock the path to creating relevant

and meaningful brands; the approach starts with

understanding the needs and motivations of people

and it provides clients with a compass on how they

can connect their brands with these deeper

human motivations.

it as such.

increasingly important for both researchers and

Since launching in 2010, Instagram has attracted 500

million active users³ with 95 million uploads and 4.2

billion “likes” recorded on an average day. It’s clear

to see why brands want to tap into this fast-growing

ecosystem of inspiring, cool and creative content.

Here at Ipsos, we use social intelligence, the

analysis and synthesis of social data, to enhance and

complement our primary research.


95 million

uploads and

4.2 billion

likes per day on


brands to understand how to unpick and analyse

this new vocabulary; deconstructing the discourse,

to stay ahead of the curve. This also holds a great

opportunity for market research to increasingly

integrate semiotics into the analysis and coding of

images within social media and beyond, as

a way to help explore cultural and societal shifts.


towards an individual or small group. As such, it’s

one of the least visible types of sharing and it’s easy

sharing on social media platforms vary, because these

platforms fulfil different needs for users. Therefore,


to underestimate how frequently people share in

brands must think carefully about what content will



this way. Whereas, image-based platforms, such as

Snapchat and Instagram tend to lean slightly more

work on each platform in order to remain relevant.

Tongue-in-cheek Paddy Power material might not be






towards the Recognition side of the spectrum, mainly

because this type of sharing encompasses an attempt

to make a splash on social media, or show the best

side of oneself.

sharable on Facebook for fear of offending Grandma,

but may be ok to share with mates on Snapchat

or WhatsApp.





We found that when brands share, they often do so

to make a big impact. This is because the ultimate

objective of their ‘share’ is to gain as much attention

and to get as many people to notice them as possible.

Consumers can be suspicious of this type of Power

behaviour, especially content that is posted directly

by brands. Therefore, the best way for brands to enter

I will only share this if

I think it is something

which I want others to

see. If I think it may not

be to people’s taste,

I will not share it.

social media can be to get actual consumers or social


Influencers to share their content.

In a recent review of social media sharing; using

something obvious about yourself across social media

In our research on branded content, looking at

The downfall of many brands’ social media strategy

this motivational framework, we found that the vast

(Social Media Sharing: Your invitation to the online

influencers and engagers (Ipsos MORI, Social

is that they either rehash the same content across

majority of sharing takes places within the core

conversation: October 2014).

Influencers study 2016) we found that motivations

platforms or treat each platform as if it were used in

Censydiam motivations of Conviviality, Enjoyment

are similar for sharing both personal and branded

exactly the same way by everyone i.e. using Instagram

and Belonging as opposed to Power and Control.

Interestingly, Convivial sharing, or sharing that makes

content. For example, a piece of branded content is

to share in the moment statuses like you would do

The motivation behind the majority of shares is to

a personal connection, will often take place in

more likely to be shared if it is of personal relevance

with Twitter. Successful brands alter their content,

connect with a particular individual or group, not,

private channels, such as messaging. When posted

to the user or will help them to connect with others.

objectives and tone of voice for each channel, while

as may be expected, to ‘projective share’; shout

publically it will nearly always be specifically directed

However, as you would expect, motivations for

ensuring they retain an overarching personality.



There are many brands that have effectively

With the relatively recent introduction of Instagram’s

This month (August 2016) has seen yet another

platforms and understood the clear role for each, this

harnessed Instagram’s unique traits of creativity,

new algorithm (April 2016), which means users’

update from Instagram, which brands need to take

new feature could bring with it a wealth of creative

expression and inspiration, and Airbnb has to be up

timelines will no longer feature the most recent posts

into consideration: Instagram Stories; a new feature

advertising opportunities for brands. Yes, brands will

there with the best of them. Not only does Airbnb

first; brands and advertisers run the risk of losing out

that allows people to post a collection of photos

need to work even harder to capture and maintain

use the visual platform to curate and create wonder

on organically appearing in users’ feeds. Brands need

and videos in story format, lasting just 24 hours…

audiences’ attention, while remaining consistent with

and awe amongst its followers, they also strive to

to work harder than ever to capture their audiences’

near identical to Snapchat Stories. If you can’t beat

their message, but the fleeting nature of the moments

keep community at the heart of their Instagram

attention by investing in an Instagram strategy to

them, copy them, right?! While Instagram Stories

means that brands won’t have to worry as much

account with a high proportion of user-generated

guarantee their content is seen through ads. Be bold,

may be causing some confusion among people,

about posts publically underperforming or over-

photos. Users of Instagram are searching for visual

creative and unique and true to the brand to stay

who had originally categorised all their social media

posting content.

experiences that excite and delight and Airbnb

on top.

doesn’t disappoint. Airbnb successfully taps into the

Censydiam need state and motivation for consumers

to belong to a community; in spite of having a global

following of 1.1 million, by harnessing the power of

consumers’ photos, the brand manages to feel both

local and culturally relevant.

However, a more cost effective way to increase

engagement and grow a brands community could

be to hand over control of social media channels

to influencers and vloggers as content creators and

brand ambassadors. Nespresso recently launched

their Instagram influencer US marketing campaign

There’s a reason why National Geographic has gained

with great effect; choosing influencers that fit the

nearly 50+ million followers and has established

brands aesthetic, promoting good taste and elegance.

themselves as one of the most engaging Instagram

Influencers bring with them a loyal audience who will

brands in the world; they post beautiful, inspiring

probably be more likely to pay attention to a brand

photos from contributors around the world that evoke

if the content is from a source they know and trust.

emotion. For a brand founded in the 1800s, originally

Instagram’s new algorithm will ultimately prioritise

known for its print magazines, National Geographic

quality of posts and engagement, so partnering

has adapted to keep up with marketing while still

with influencers could help brands reach their target

retaining its consistent brand image and experience.

audience without solely relying on ads.




1. Tailor content to fit the platform: remember, the

3. Tone of voice can differ by platform, but brand

4. Avoid getting lost in a sea of algorithms


use of social media is constantly evolving and each

values and personality must remain consistent

by investing in a social media strategy and


platform fulfils different needs for consumers. Think

platform and need state first to ensure content

is always relevant and cuts through the noise of

and authentic: as mentioned previously, Instagram

is not Facebook or Twitter, and a brands’ tone of

voice must reflect how consumers are using the

partnering with Influencers: capturing audiences’

attention is only going to become increasingly

difficult across platforms. The first step is to take




platform. However, consumers do need to be able

social seriously within your business, dedicating

2. Harness social media platforms in creative visual

ways to effectively communicate with consumers:

tap into the ever increasing visual vocabulary trend

by ensuring images are powerful, inspiring, current

and consistent in look and feel. Think both globally

and locally when creating content, in order to

to glance at a brand and recognise its personality

immediately in order for it to stay top of mind.

resources to build a strong, and future-facing

social media strategy. Then, if budget allows, don’t’

forgot to harness the power of the Influencers who

impact the zeitgeist of social media usage, but be

sure to allow them the creative freedom to push

the boundaries for your brand.

remain culturally relevant.

To find out more contact an Ipsos NZ Research Director: (Managing Director)


Ipsos Connect are experts in brand, media, content and communications research. We help

brands and media owners to reach and engage audiences in today’s hyper-competitive

media environment.

Our services include:

• Brand & Campaign Performance: Evaluation and optimisation of in-market activities

to drive communications effectiveness and brand growth.

• Content and Communications Development: Communications, content and creative

development from early stage idea development through to quantitative pre-testing

alongside media & touchpoint planning.

• Media Measurement: Audience measurement and understanding.

Ipsos Connect are specialists in people-based insight, employing qualitative and quantitative

techniques including surveys, neuro, observation, social media and other data sources. Our

philosophy and framework centre on building successful businesses through understanding

brands, media, content and communications at the point of impact with people.

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