In June 1985, National Geographic published a photo of a green-eyed Afghan girl, taken by Steve McCurry. That single photo became a pop culture phenomenon. To this day, it’s one of the most easily recognized pictures in the United States, synonymous with the National Geographic brand.

The impact of a good picture can’t be underestimated. People can connect with pictures in a way they can’t always with text. Users will only read 20 percent of the text on a page, but pictures are highly memorable and truly “worth a thousand words.” A study by ROI Research showed that users are 44 percent more likely to engage with brands and companies if an image is involved.

Today, people share about 500 million images a day—a rate expected to double in the next 12 months. Although most customers won’t write a lengthy review for your site, they will happily share a picture of themselves with your product. Best-in-class digital marketers will leverage images in social marketing campaigns across social networks, .com sites, and mobile.

Nike Knows Integrating Images across Social Networks

Nike has a strong visual brand presence on social networking sites, including Instagram, with more than 3 million brand followers and more than 20 million comments that mention their brand.

How they keep their brand followers engaged and inspired is evident. For example, Nike recently celebrated its 2-year anniversary on Instagram by sharing the 10 best Instagram photos from its followers along with motivational messages and a spotlight on the user who shared the original photo. Their Instagram campaign had great engagement with almost 5,000 comments from people interacting with the brand. In addition to celebrating the community and reinforcing its brand message, the company showcases the users themselves, continuing to build on the relationship with its advocates.

Nike social marketing campaigns span social networks and that drives engagement. For example, Nike uses hashtags on its Instagram photos to start new trends on Twitter, increasing brand awareness.

Lululemon Looks to Users to Boost Its Bottom Line

Enabling and encouraging customers to share photos on your .com site drives conversion rates and community engagement. When users upload their own photos to a brand’s site, people are more likely to interact with the brand. Users who interact with a real person’s photo on a site convert 2 to 3 times higher than average.

This past fall Lululemon, a yoga and active wear apparel company, ran #TheSweatLife campaign. Users were invited to share pictures of themselves wearing Lululemon on Instagram with #TheSweatLife hashtag and have them displayed on The company got 26,000 responses from consumers. This was a great boost for Lululemon, because most companies see an increase of between 5 and 7 percent when they show user-generated content.

Sephora Starts with Image First Campaigns

Sephora, a high-end cosmetics brand, has made mobile a strategic part of its visual campaign and community efforts. The company created an iPhone app called “Beauty Board,” which lets loyalty program members upload or take photos of themselves showing off a makeup look. The mobile app ties into the main site’s “Beauty Bag,” where users can add products and make purchases from their phones. Thanks to their mobile focus, Sephora saw a 300 percent increase in sales this past Black Friday, and about 1/3 of those sales came from mobile and tablet users.

Creating an Impact with Images

Images are evocative and can take your social marketing strategy to the next level to drive engagement and conversion across social networks, .com sites, and mobile. On social networks, encourage customers to share and tag photos of themselves. It is fast, easy, and interesting. On .com sites, increase the prominence of images and user photos to create user experiences optimized for the visual, image-based Web and mobile. In apps, use images to deliver rich immersive content or enable users to tell their story with pictures and build community. Globally, about 25 percent of Internet browsing is now done on mobile devices and the number is expected to increase. Remember, mobile first really means image first.

More than 20 years after it was taken, people still remember the green-eyed Afghan girl. In 2002, National Geographic found Sharbat Gula living in a remote village in Afghanistan and wrote of her life making the trek across the mountains to a refugee camp, her marriage and children, and the subsistence farming that now takes up her days.

How many articles can you remember reading after 20 years?