Social Enterprise

Social media cover photos: 4 tips for making the most of your space

Here's how you can take advantage of social media's most high-profile real estate.

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The eyes have it.

One by one, social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter to (most recently) LinkedIn have launched redesigns giving users increased visual real estate, partly in the form of cover photos.

"From a psychological standpoint, images allow us to more quickly and easily understand a complex story and process information," said Gartner analyst Jennifer Polk.

It would seem that the social networks are out to want to capitalize on that.

"A cover photo is a big, beautiful piece of web real estate, and it's front and center," said Marketo content marketing specialist Maggie Jones. "It's completely customizable, and - last but not least - it's free."

It's also a good way to attract new followers. As Adri Cowan, social media manager at Marvel Entertainment pointed out: "Most people, once they follow you, won't see much of that cover image unless they click through to your profile, so make sure to appeal to new followers with it."

Before you slap an image up on your social media pages, check out these tips for getting the most out of that valuable visual territory.

1. Use emotion

"I hate to cite the 'a picture is worth a thousand words' cliché, but it's true," Jones said. Because people respond on an emotional level to images of other people, including employees or a mix of employees and customers in a photo can end up being a powerful thing, she said.

Jones also cited how Toyota has used a Facebook cover image of dog with its head sticking out the window of a car to elicit a feeling.

"They chose a picture that evokes the open road, freedom, and enjoying life - all things Toyota wants associated with their brand," she said.

2. Create something specifically for social

"What works in print might not necessarily work in social," Polk said. While it's more than okay to stick with a certain color palette or aesthetic, don't just copy from one platform to another.

Also don't assume that your audience on one platform is the same on another- it's not.

"Know your audience for each page and appeal to them with you cover photo," Cowan said.

Part of deciding what to post where comes from looking at the specific strategy behind each platform your brand uses. If your Twitter has a more customer service bent, your cover photo might reflect that through the inclusion of additional customer service-related info.

Along those lines, if your brand is having a Facebook contest and is promoting it via a cover photo, using that same cover photo on Google+ or LinkedIn will not make much sense, Polk said.

There are also other specifics to take into consideration depending on the platform. On Facebook, the profile picture will overlap with the cover photo. Marketo advises aligning to the right side of the page.

3. Refresh your images

Just because you've settled on some images for your cover photos, doesn't mean you're finished. Change them out periodically. It doesn't have to be weekly, or even monthly. Find times that make sense with your brand and your industry. For example, Jeep's cover photo at the moment is geared toward the summer season.

Also, a fashion brand will have a different frequency from a media brand, which have a an image tailored more toward an evergreen idea, like a logo or introduction to the staff, versus a sale.

"It's great if you can connect your cover photo with your current marketing campaign," Polk said.

At Marketo, Jones said they're using their Facebook cover photo to promote an event taking place this summer.

4. Layouts change

"Be aware of changes when they're coming down the pipeline," Polk said. For example, when the new Twitter profile was announced, it would have been wise to start thinking about what you would need as a brand to quickly transition to the new design once it was rolled out - that means planning out the creative elements in advance and checking for how they will work across different devices, browsers, etc.

It also means figuring out where these assets will come from and who will modify them, as many brands with work agencies or have different departments that have a stake in creative materials.

Polk also advised staying on top of any new restrictions or rules a platform might implement. At one point, Facebook had rules about promotional text in cover images. As a brand, you don't want disruption in the middle of a campaign in a way that "might nullify the creative [assets] you plan to use," she said.

Restrictions also applies to size. Trying to use one unmodified image can lead to stretching, which is a big "don't," according to Cowan.

Most importantly, Jones said there's one chief goof to avoid.

"The biggest mistake a brand can make with a cover image is to be off brand," she said. "Nike, for example, could go any number of ways with its Facebook cover image but instead chooses to keep it simple with a black and white image of the iconic Nike swoosh and its 'Just Do It' tagline. That says it all."

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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