Do Twitter images really increase engagement?

With more than 9,000 messages being sent every second, Twitter can be a noisy place, so it’s always important to distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Luckily, Twitter has a few features that can help, including Twitter Cards, promoted tweets and images. 

Over on Facebook, posts that include optimised images receive around 120% more engagement. Research suggests that the same is true on Twitter, so I decided to test this out.

Here at Econsultancy we post a lot of tweets. Last month we published a whopping 153 articles on the blog alone, and that doesn’t take into account tweets about events, training, reports or random conversations about Ben twerking with Google Glass.

We don’t want to flood or annoy our followers, so we spend a lot of time working out which content you want to see, optimising our headlines and subject matter, and hopefully mixing depth of content with the odd link-bait headline. 

We also want new followers to join the conversation, and ultimately, we’d like followers to visit the site and engage with the content here.

In order to compare effectiveness I added an image to our regular weekly ’10 interesting digital marketing statistics we’ve seen this week’ tweet, then benchmarked it against the posts from previous weeks.

Let’s take a look at the stats for the last five posts:

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/7160/twitter_stats_posts-blog-full.png

The tweet at the top included an image and… well, doesn’t do much really.

It’s not the lowest performing, but neither is it the highest. Granted the other posts have had a little longer to get out and about, but I don’t expect the figures to rocket upwards. 

The post that was most popular did include this factoid: 

52% of agencies now offer a ‘full range of digital marketing services’.

And as we’ve learned from experience, if you talk about agencies, then agencies tend to talk about you, and themselves (no offence agencies, that’s your job after all) and the comments on the post reflect that this was the conversation starter.

With no measurable effects, I took the question to Twitter to see what our followers had to say:

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0003/7166/Tweet_1.PNG

We received an interesting array of answers. Most respondants said that they would be more likely to open a tweet with an image attached, but many added provisos:

When adding images, consider the viewing experience

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0003/7167/Tweet_2.PNG

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/7168/tweet_3-blog-full.png

It’s fair to assume that @Econsultancy has a larger-than-average proportion of pro tweeters following, who are more likely to be utilising apps like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite.

When they are readily displayed, the images certainly stand out more: 

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/7161/tweetdeck_screen-blog-full.png

 Over on Twitter for desktop or mobile however, images are hidden:

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/7162/hamtweet-blog-full.png

Context, context, context:

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/7169/tweet_4-blog-full.png

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/7170/tweet_5-blog-full.png

Even if they’re in the right ‘browser’, the tweet itself matters. People won’t click on a link if they don’t know what it is, so making sure you have framing and context is hugely important.

 “Check this chart out: Just 20% of businesses tie data collection to business objectives http://mypicture”.

is better than:

 “Just 20% of businesses tie data collection to business objectives http://mypicture”. 

Even if you’re a trusted source, hacks do happen, so your followers still want to make sure that link won’t whisk them away to visit the Nigerian Prince’s Bank Account.

With that said, there’s something to be said for piquing peoples’ curiosity:

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/7171/tweet_6-blog-full.png

But again, context rules. For Twitter accounts dealing with a broader audience, this could be the winner, as it works well with more playful or conversational content:

http://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0003/7174/Tweet_7.PNG

The call to action requires only that the user look at the image, not that they visit an extra external page, so use images to encourage conversation and awareness within Twitter.

Adding extra links to push people to other parts of the web will look messy. Try something like “Guess who we saw outside Econsultancy towers earlier? LINK“.

(For those of you who clicked that link, I am deeply sorry to admit that we didn’t actually see a time-travelling 1970s Grandmaster Flash outside earlier. I promise that’s the only untruth in this post).

In other words, we’re back to our old friend User Experience

Good UX should go everywhere

Even if you’re utilising someone else’s platform, you need to make the process as painless and straightforward as possible.

We’ve written before about the art of optimising tweets, and this is no exception. It’s also worth remembering that being able to include images this way is still fairly new, so there’s a certain novelty value (and if you want to keep it that way, best not to go overboard on images, and do consider alternative types of media such as Vine and video in general) which may initially increase engagement. 

Overall it appears that images in tweets can increase actions on Twitter, but only if used in a specific way that may well be separate from your usual Twitter actions.

If you’ve been using images or other media regularly then do please let me know what effect it has had in the comments.

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Do Twitter images really increase engagement?

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