How Does Your Iconography Affect Your Social Media Marketing?

January 31, 2017 Kyle Harper

Open notebook next to man at tech conference

Social media marketing has become an integral part of most marketing mixes today. But as is the case with every other marketing channel, some brands excel while others fill their feeds with content that goes unnoticed.

Some social media managers find themselves at a new company, ready to tackle the excitement of a fresh position, only to discover that their brand has little to no following. This is true for small businesses everywhere (how many of us follow our local plumbing company?) to massive artifacts of industry who until recently haven’t felt a need to update for the modern marketplace.

But no self-respecting content marketer should take this sitting down. Rather, with some creative thinking and a few dos (and don’ts) from companies who have faced similar branding struggles, social media marketers have an opportunity to lead changes in brand attitude, while also signaling those changes to their audience.

Nike logo on a basketball

The Promise of an Icon

Logos, icons, brandmarks—these simple graphics have some of the most powerful staying power in the minds of consumers. But for all their familiarity, we often forget what a change in iconography can do for a brand. At the same time, we also miss a powerful opportunity for revitalizing social media presence.

Take social media giant Instagram, for instance. Back in May of 2016, the company changed its logo from its original Polaroid-camera-style icon to a cleaner design. It was a simple change, one which evoked similarly branded tech companies like Apple that convey a sense of artistic sensibility and forward thinking through minimalism. The first icon highlighted Instagram’s primary feature (easy image taking and filters), while its updated look suggested new attitude and features.

Since May, users have seen numerous large feature changes to Instagram’s platform. From the launch of its Snapchat competitor, Stories, to its most recent change—allowing users to bookmark content—Instagram has successfully signaled and then followed through on promises that its new icon makes about the brand’s future.

For social media marketing, this serves as a powerful example of how to approach revitalizing a brand in a simple way. By attaching changes in imagery to new features, approaches, or products, marketers can erase some thinking about the past and encourage their audiences to focus on the weeks and months ahead. And this remains true for more than just iconography—updates to types of visual content, or overall aesthetic can also have a similar impact on smaller scales. B2B tech companies such as IBM or Salesforce are great examples of giants who take numerous small opportunities to update their visual appeal to keep audiences excited about their upcoming products and services.

Iconography makes social media marketing meet creative thinking

Other Cases, Good and Bad

When it comes to creative thinking and visual updates, there are a ton of lessons for marketers to tune into every day. Here are just a few happening right now:

  • Indecision and Bad PR Timing: Uber is an app company that is very familiar with the idea of updating imagery with features. The company has redesigned its logo twice in the past year, with the most recent change taking place alongside a major UI overhaul for its app. This rapid pace of changes can signal some indecision on the brand’s part, but it isn’t a death knell for the company. However, with the company’s recent bad political press just two months after the brand update, it’s likely that Uber’s new design may be tarnished by bad consumer sentiment. This forces a hard position for the brand—redesign again and further signal indecision, or try to build new groundswell in spite of current obstacles?

  • New Icon to Embrace a New Present: When Netflix first launched in 1997, the company seemed to fill a tiny niche in a dominated media rental market. After a couple rebrands and some dramatic building of services, Netflix now domimates as a provider of TV and movie content and holds a strong lead on the cable-cutting pack. Now, with a large repertoire of original programming that’s won more than 700 award nominations and 146 wins, the company’s past as a rental service seems a distant memory. For Netflix, a new icon was less about redefining itself for the future, and more about embracing a new self and leaving behind the past. From a full word down to a simple “N,” Netflix, like Instagram, positioned itself as a tech company with an eye toward the future with the momentum to make it happen.

  • Ongoing Evolution as Simplification: Ask the average person today what Google does, and you’re likely to hear near-Orwellian sentiments about the company’s growth and size. People understand that Google is big, but outside of regular search, email, and Drive usage, people aren’t exactly sure exactly how Google is growing. This is due in part to the wide range of interests that Google holds, but also due to clever brand development over a long period of time. In 2015, Google consolidated much of its non-consumer based interests into Alphabet, a holding company with extremely similar iconography to Google that allowed the company to separate its non user-facing developments from its familiar, consumer-oriented brand. Meanwhile, Google’s regular schedule of subtle logo updates keeps users feeling that development is happening, without signaling too many details about exactly what those developments are—a simplification of trust that continues to work, year in and year out.

Updating your brand visuals isn’t just about changing first impressions online. Iconography plays a powerful part in setting chapters in your audience’s memory of your brand’s story. How those changes are received, and the story those changes continue to tell, are largely dependent on marketers ability to position and guide those stories on social media. In this, marketers should certainly be wary of perpetuating the wrong story for their audience over a long period of time. But likewise, marketers should remain constantly aware of the opportunity that visual updates—large and small—offer in terms of progressing your brand’s narrative to the next chapter.

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