ADOTAS — Almost every brand uses a social media monitoring (SMM) tool of some kind to measure the impact of its marketing programs across Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more recently, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. But while marketers are now adept at tracking posts, tweets, and comments related to their brands, they are beginning to realize there’s a huge hole in their social media monitoring strategy: images.
Today, the social web is all about images. People upload more than 300 million photos to Facebook alone every day, and 50% of all Facebook posts are now photos – prompting the social network to recently revamp its newsfeed to highlight images over text posts. Overall, 45% of Internet users create and share images, while only 18% share videos, according to October 2012 research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and more and more people are snapping and sharing photos with their smartphones. Some 22% of social network users now upload photos from their smartphones on a regular basis.
Social networks are filled with billions and billions of photos – many of which contain photos of brand products and logos. Many times, when consumers upload brand images or logos, they don’t add text tags referencing the brand. Therein lies a big problem. Most SMM tools – including leaders such as Radian6, Lithium Technologies, HubSpot, Sysomos, Buzzstream, and Meltwater – still rely on text-based monitoring. They track keywords, tags and URLs, and then apply advanced analytics to spot sharing patterns and brand sentiment. Even the new Pinterest analytics companies, such as Pinalyzer, Piqora, and Octopin, use text-based monitoring to track photo URLs and tags – instead of using image recognition to scan the images themselves. That worked fine when most social network posts were text, but falls far short in today’s photo-centric world.
Using text-based SMM tools, marketers can’t find out if people are posting their product images or logos in either a positive or a negative light; they can’t track altered or “hacked” brand images; and they can’t locate images of counterfeit versions of their products. When marketers can’t find, monitor, and protect their visual assets online, they also lose out on powerful opportunities to promote their brands. Some 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and images are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text – making images one of the best ways for brands to connect with consumers.
Clearly, most SMM technology companies don’t have the resources to develop image recognition in house. It takes years and years of R&D to create image recognition technology that can scan, detect, and recognize similar images based on color, tone, shape, and other features. Some SMM companies are buying or partnering with established players to integrate image recognition into their text-based analytics platforms. Meltwater recently acquired Occulasai for this very reason, and surely more acquisitions and partnerships will follow.
Clearly, marketers can’t afford to wait around much longer for image-based social media monitoring. The social web is becoming more and more image-centric, and brands want to leverage their visual assets to build brand reach and influence sales.
For example, imagine if Adidas could scan the millions of personal marathon photos posted on Facebook to find images of runners sporting Adidas shoes? The company could even use advanced image recognition to find only photos of Adidas wearers with happy smiles on their faces, or only photos of runners crossing the finish line. With image recognition married to SMM technology, Adidas could not just identify those photos, but track how many times the photos are shared and with whom, and find out if the photos have an impact on sales. At some point, marketers like Adidas will surely be able to pay to “promote” posted photos that highlight their brand or products – much like they do now for text-based posts using Facebook’s Promoted Posts.
The bottom line: Social media analytics is about to get image religion. In the next 6-12 months, more and more SMM companies will partner with, or acquire, image recognition technology companies. And, of course, Facebook won’t stop working on its own image recognition technology; it already uses facial recognition technology to suggest tags of your friends, so why not extend that technology to scan for brand images?
For brands wanting to take control of their visual footprint on the social web, image-based SMM can’t come too soon.