The power of a great photo

A sunset over the ocean. A baby farm animal. A tasty sandwich on a plate. A close-up of the crystalline structure of a snowflake. A shark eating another shark.

Visual storytelling through powerful photographs is an essential part of any social media strategy.

On July 21, 2013 the University of Delaware’s ORB Lab posted a photo on its Facebook page taken by UD grad student, Danielle Haulsee. 

The photo—taken on a scientific research cruise to recapture tagged sharks in a migration study—was of a large female sand tiger shark that had swallowed a smaller smooth dogfish that had taken the original menhaden bait.

The original post received considerable engagement and numerous national media outlets and individual accounts shared it on a variety of social media platforms. The social media buzz helped ORB Lab promote its research, and Danielle got some great experience with media relations, responding to requests from Fox News, NBC’s national and local outlets, the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, and more. 

The photo still continues to grab digital attention, and has been named to several photo-of-the-year lists for 2013, including the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

And let me just say that as a public relations pro, there’s no way anyone can prepare you for the things that social media might toss your way—like when searching for the phrases “sharkducken” and “turducken of the sea” becomes part of your job.

Putting it into Practice

Here are a few things to keep in mind for your photos:

  1. Size matters: If a group shot gets cropped by the platform and you’re looking at midsections and not faces, it might be a bit unfortunate.
  2. Be a kind creditor: Tag your sources. Thank your contributors. It will help to not only build your brand, but to build trust with other outlets.
  3.  Know your audience: If your followers engage with you because of your passion for environmental advocacy, then they might give you a big “unfollow” if you post photos of your lunch.
  4. Quality counts: Smart phone photos can be just as effective as those taken with an expensive camera, but quality and composition are key.

Photo options on social media platforms are changing the way that we as brands and individuals engage with our followers.  Ekaterina Walter, a blogger with Social Media Examiner says that their new mantra is “Pictures or it didn’t happen.” She continues, “And, these days, images aren’t just something you look at—they’re the center of most of our engagements online as people share, comment and engage with image creators.”

By Katy O’Connell (@kvoDE)

Katy O’Connell is the Director of Environmental Public Education for the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, and the Delaware Sea Grant College Program.  With a background in agriculture, environmental science, and education, Katy has a passion for science communication. 

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