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How to Create Amazing Visual Content

Photos and graphics bring your brand story to life and are shared more often in social media. But what if you’re not a graphic designer? Don't worry! The Digital Marketer has a few ideas that will help you create professional-looking visual content. 

By
Diane S. Thieke,

Several years ago I taught a class in public relations. But I quickly noticed that some students were nodding off as I gave the traditional lecture. One evening, I tried a new tack: I explained audience segmentation with an exercise. I asked my students to stand up and divide themselves into groups according to the type of mobile phone they carried.

After some subdividing, they sat down – and they were buzzing. “Professor Thieke,” one student raised his hand. “That was good. I’m a visual learner, and that really helped me understand what segmentation is.”

It was also a big lesson for me.

Throughout their short lives, younger generations have been bombarded by images both still and moving. Their learning environments have included a higher percentage of video and graphics than earlier classrooms. So it’s no wonder that the visual captures their attention and helps them learn.

But the truth is, we’ve all become visual learners. Digital marketers must not take this trend lightly. In fact, there is strong evidence across multiple studies that visual content – images, graphics, and video – have a greater likelihood to be viewed and shared. According to Cisco, “consumer Internet video traffic will be 69 percent of all consumer Internet traffic in 2017.” And visual content is driving the rapid adoption and use of both Pinterest and Instagram.

Digital marketers must create a lot of visual content for their content marketing strategies to be effective. But if you’re not a graphic designer, how do you do this easily?

Many tools and services can help digital marketers tell their brand story visually, as well as many online courses and blogs that provide instruction, tips and tricks.

I'll be the first to admit that creating visual content is a challenge for me. I’m a word person, not a visual one. While I know high-quality visual content when I see it, I have a difficult time creating it. But as the Web has leveled the technical playing field, it also has leveled the visual content playing field.

There are now many tools and services that can help digital marketers tell their brand story visually, as well as many online courses and blogs that provide instruction, tips and tricks. I’ll never be a graphic designer, but I can use many of these tools to help feed the very hungry content machine.

Here are a few tools, guides, and sources of inspiration:

Software

Adobe Photoshop is famous for taking inches from the waistlines of our favorite actresses, but it can also be used to create a variety of images, from inspirational quotes to branded photos. Photoshop Elements 12 costs as little as $80, but there is a somewhat steep learning curve, especially for the less experienced. But, if you're willing to invest the time in mastering this software, you can create some pretty amazing art.

SnagIt enables you to take screen captures of Web sites and products, then annotate, beautify and share in social networks. It’s perfect for explaining how things work, so I use it most often for presentations and tutorials.

Photographs

Unless you’re a professional photographer or have one on staff, you’ll need a few good sources for images. Commercial sources range from the high-priced, but utterly beautiful, Getty Images to stock photo companies like bigstockphotos, which offer reasonably priced subscriptions. 

But there are plenty of sources for free photos as well: Wikimedia Commons and Flickr are the most popular sources. Be sure to use only images with permission, however. PhotoPin makes it easy to find images covered by a Creative Commons license and to get the correct attribution. If you find a photo that doesn’t allow commercial use, you can always contact the photographer directly to obtain the right.

Online Photo Editors

For novices, photo editors such as PicMonkey and Pixlr can take the stress out of image creation. Both make cropping, resizing and adding text simpler than baking pie. Each offers hundreds of filters, effects, overlays and borders, so there are plenty of options for creating playful and original images.

PicMonkey has released several seasonal themes, too. For example, for Halloween, you can turn people into zombies or vampires. You can also use it to create collages and Facebook cover photos.

Quotes

If you’ve found an inspirational quote that you’d like to share, the fastest way to get it into your network is Recite This. Choose a template, type your text, and then post easily to Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Stumbleupon, email to a friend or download it.

Courses

Short courses that teach you how to set up lighting for a video or edit photos like a professional are available online. One of my favorites is Lynda.com, which can help you master everything from design aesthetics to the bells and whistles of Adobe Photoshop.

Halloween image created using PicMonkey.

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