The Photo that Was Worth 25,000 Shares | Beth's Blog

The Photo that Was Worth 25,000 Shares

Digital Strategy

Note from Beth: Earlier this month,  I posted shared an article mentioning a warning from Facebook to Page Admins:  Your organic reach will decline.    I asked fans if they thought paid reach will become a standard part of their strategy.  The post prompted lots of comments and complaints, especially from smaller nonprofits without the resources to purchase ads on Facebook.     Shaun Dakin shared this petition from asking Facebook to set up an advertising grant program.   John Haydon shared an update on “big news” that Facebook is adding a “donate” feature so people can donate to nonprofits through the newsfeed (assuming the posts get into people’s newsfeeds without paid advertising.) Stephanie Clegg  was inspired to write this excellent piece in response with some tips for getting better reach without paying. Very useful for small nonprofits with a very limited budget.    Ironically, these posts and a few others last week upped my reach by 274% but more importantly supported my goal of generating ideas for blog content!

As Stephanie mentions in her tips,   “Create Awesome Content” is at the top of the list. Here’s a case study from Taryn Degnan is the interactive marketing manager at Common Sense Media about their recipe for successful content.

The Photo that Was Worth 25,000 Shares by Taryn Degnan

There’s a running joke within our marketing team about “going viral.” Every marketing professional has heard the words, “Let’s create a viral video!” or “How do we make our story go viral?” but the expectation is often unreasonable given budget, resources, and fan base. Never mind that you don’t create viral content; you create content, and, if it resonates with enough people, consider yourself lucky — and keep doing more of that!

In October, I was tasked with creating a campaign to promote Common Sense Media’s message supporting National Bullying Prevention Month. As an organization that believes in the tremendous power of technology to effect change, our approach to preventing bullying throughout the month was centered on teaching empathy and kindness at a young age using apps and games.

With no marketing budget and a finite amount of time to think big, I came up with a plan. The goal was to break through the noise and strike an emotional chord using images that were directly linked to content on our site. I sent six short pieces of content to our in-house designer and asked her to create simple, text-based images for Facebook that I could sprinkle on our page throughout the month.

As I watched the shares of each image climb from 10 to 50 to nearly 200 in one day, I thought I could give myself a pat on the back and call the campaign a success. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined what would happen next., the popular site that curates “important stuff” and makes it go viral, got ahold of our image. Within hours it had 60,000 likes, 25,000 shares, and more than 1,000 comments.

This powerful message about teaching kids empathy reached far beyond our own audience — and that’s exactly what I’d hoped for.

Here’s what I learned from the experience:

Take risks. Break away from stock photos, use bold colors that might not be part of your organization’s style, and go out on a limb with provocative content. Social media allows us the flexibility and platforms to have a little fun and act on our crazy ideas.

You have all the tools you need to “go viral.” No design chops? No problem. Here are a few free tools to get you started:

  • Sites like Sumopaint and Online Image Editor let you edit, add text to, and resize graphics for free right in your browser. You can start with a blank slate for text-based images, too.
  • Apps like Afterlight, Over, and PhotoStudio let you edit photos already on your device and save or share them in seconds.
  • Don’t forget the basics like PowerPoint and Google Drawings, which have more capabilities than you’ll ever need to create basic visual content.

Learn from others. Start today by following a few new organizations that do it — whatever you think it is — well. Edutopia does a tremendous job of engaging their Facebook followers with striking visual content. They have a tiny design team and some very hands-on social media staffers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and create!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help “going viral.” Curators at often tweet requests for great content. Share your images and videos with sites like theirs if you think they’re a good fit. It worked for me just last week!

Brand your content. I never expected to see our photo on, so I’m sure glad I had that link and logo in there for Common Sense Media to receive the credit for the image! It’s already driven a few hundred visits directly to our site, garnered more than 700 new Facebook fans, and created a brand awareness we never thought possible from one photo.

There’s so much more to visual content creation and viral content. I hope this post encourages you to try new things, get creative, and be resourceful with what’s right around you. Tell us in the comments about your plans to start experimenting with it all! If you’ve had success, tell us about that, too.

Taryn Degnan is the interactive marketing manager at Common Sense Media. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, who spends way less time on social media than she does. Contact Taryn or follow her on Twitter.


9 Responses

  1. Allison says:

    What a great story! I’ve been making more attention to what goes viral and why. Upworthy has said that content goes viral not because people click, but because people share.

    So what makes people share? I’ve found Jonah Berger’s STEPPS framework to be incredibly insightful — in this case, the image is emotional and public. One thing not in his model that is in the Common Sense example is actually pinging people who have the potential to bring your content to a wider, highly engaged audience.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Beth says:

    Hi Allison,

    Thanks for sharing your insights on the post! I love Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious. He wrote a guest post a while back:

    I like the graphic he has about that explains his STEPPS framework:

    Allison, how have you applied this to your work?

  3. Taryn says:

    Hi Allison,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You’re right — pinging people actually works (I am living proof – haha!)More often than not, people are willing to help out when the message is meaningful and compelling. And as nonprofits with limited resources, we get to reap the benefits 🙂

  4. Allison says:

    @Beth: The biggest change has been in my thinking! Instead of saying that it’s random/impossible to go viral, I’m trying to think more strategically about how our content can get in front of more people who could benefit from it. Of course, you can’t plan for virality, but being deliberate about creating stuff that people want to share and monitoring data that indicates our efforts are working has been important.

    And thanks for sharing Amy’s insights on the book! I love seeing examples of how STEPPS is working/pushing people in this space.

    @Taryn: Yes! The success of simply asking reminds me of a phrase I heard growing up: A closed mouth wont get fed. Want something? Ask!

  5. John Taylor says:

    @Beth, I am reading your blog for the first time, and I am loving it so far. This s the 3rd post I am reading on your blog! and i can’t resist my self to comment here. I loved all three posts so far, they are full of encouragement, including this one.

    I love it when you said “break away from stock photos” this is exactly what I have started implementing for my company. We have recently hired a creative designer to design our own images for social media campaigns we do, and I am too getting better response than what we were doing earlier, using stock photos!

    Thank You for sharing some free image creation and editing tools!

    All together a great post! and Awesome blog with very useful posts.


  6. I enjoy your post also Beth as usual they are very informative and colorful.

    I’m looking forward to do some research on marketing and getting more exposure and using technology a little more strategically. Thanks for all your insight and willing to go a step further to make sure we have it or understand it.

    Thanks Beth

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  8. Joleen Ong says:

    This is a great post, Beth. Really helpful tips!

    I think it goes to show that, at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily about the quality of the graphics, it’s about the quality and power of the message. (Spreading the word about empathy is a very worthy cause as well)

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