Social Media Trends: All About the Visual

Posted by Anna Keagy on February 18, 2016


It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in our digitally saturated world, this rings more true than ever. Today’s consumers are increasingly sharing images, whether photos, videos or emojis.

According to Mintel, 66 percent of American adults are using digital images to communicate with others. Of this group, 43 percent have used emoticons, 40 percent have used emojis, and 33 percent have taken or shared a selfie. Images can convey tone, save time, or even express something that is difficult to put into words. They also add a fun element to communication.

In fact, the face_with_tears_of_joy.pngemoji ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ was named Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2015. This is certainly indicative of how much images have become a part of our culture. Excitement is already building for new emojis set to come out in mid-2016. While the final selection has yet to be announced, the pool has been narrowed down to 74 potential candidates, including bacon, avocado, clinking glasses, a gorilla and a pregnant woman.

Given this trend, it is likely that a social platform’s ability to adapt and expand to meet the demand for visual content will play a big role in the success – or decline – of the platform.

With this in mind, let’s take a brief look at some of the top, visually-based social platforms to see how they are performing and innovating, as well as who is using them. Unless otherwise noted, statistics are from a December 2015 report by Mintel, “Communicating through Imagery.”


facebook_like_logo.pngFacebookFacebook continues to adapt and change its design and functions to include an increasing variety of visual options. Its recent addition of the “Doodle” option on the iOS and Android apps is similar to editing options in Snapchat – one way that Facebook is seeking to win over the younger crowd. Facebook also just opened up its livestreaming feature to all users with an iPhone, which should increase engagement time on Facebook, as well as compete with livestreaming upstarts like Periscope. Facebook is still the top social platform, but it’s less popular among Gen Z. There was an 80 percent growth in the 55+ membership from 2011-2014, but a 25 percent drop in users aged 13-17 during this same time.

Instagraminstagram_logo.png Instagram is all about the visual, with users collectively sharing 600 million photos daily. Demographics are split evenly between male and female, and users are more likely to email, text and shop online than average. In 2015, Instagram added a “Shop Now” button on sponsored posts (or other calls to action, such as “Install Now” or “Learn More”), allowing users to click straight through to an advertised product. In particular, this feature benefits brands that are driven by visuals (i.e., fashion, travel). An eMarketer report predicts that the number of companies using Instagram for marketing will increase tremendously, with 70.7 percent of U.S. companies with 100 employees or more using Instagram for marketing by 2017 (compared to 32.3 percent in 2015 and a predicted 48.8 percent in 2016).

snapchat_logo-2.pngSnapchat – Snapchat users are more likely to take or share selfies than users of any other platform, and they over index in the use of emojis.  Snapchat is definitely a favorite among the younger crowd, with 42 percent of Snapchat users aged 18-24. According to AdWeek, Snapchat reported more than 6 billion videos daily. An increasing number of brands are leveraging the platform, and the Democratic presidential candidates have even turned to Snapchat to get the attention of younger voters. However, a recent Snapchat code leak revealed that the platform may soon roll out new features such as audio and video calling, as well as stickers within the chat interface. This could help Snapchat appeal to a broader audience and could make the app more competitive with apps like Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts.

YouTubeyoutube_icon.png – A hub for user-generated content, this platform has also evolved into a place for brands to share video content about their products and services. Regular YouTube users are more likely to be male than female, and many fall in the 18-34 age range. YouTube users are also more likely than not to have children under 18 in the household. YouTube’s most recent innovation is an ad-free version of the site, called YouTube Red, available for a $9.99 monthly subscription fee. Besides getting rid of ads, there are other benefits, such as offline viewing. Starting in early 2016, YouTube Red subscribers can access members-only original shows and movies from top YouTubers.

pinterest_logo.pngPinterest – This visual bookmarking tool is particularly popular among women under the age of 45. The format makes it easy to browse thumbnail images on everything from recipes to clothing to DIY projects. In 2015, Pinterest added a “buy” button to its iPhone, iPad and Android applications, which allows users to easily purchase the items they are saving on their pin boards. This move makes a lot of sense, considering that 96 percent of Pinterest users go to the site to research products before purchasing.

Vinevine_logo.png – This platform was founded in 2012 and has seen rapid growth, but it still makes up only a small portion of the social media landscape. The majority of users are under the age of 45, and many are involved in creating and sharing GIFs and memes. However, there is a lot of competition in the video-sharing space. While the short-form content of Vine makes it easy to browse, it puts limitations on the types of videos users can create, which may hurt Vine in the long run.

tumblr_logo.pngTumblr – After Snapchat, Tumblr attracts the youngest users. It has a more narrow audience than some of the other social platforms, but users appear to be digitally savvy consumers. Users of Tumblr are much more likely to be male and are much more likely than the average social media user to create and share Vine videos and use emojis to communicate with companies.  Tumblr currently hosts 261 million blogs and 122.9 billion posts.


2016 promises to be a year full of exciting new innovations in the social space. Look for many of these innovations to relate to visual content as users are increasingly drawn to visual-based communication. Only time will tell which of these platforms will rise or fall – or what new platforms will take their place – in this fast-moving social media landscape.

Anna Keagy is an Insights Analyst at Mitchell. For more trendspotting and consumer insights from Anna, click here.


Topics: Digital, Content Strategy, trends