The Best Way to PROMOTE your Photos on Twitter

Bob Leggitt | Monday, 25 November 2013 |

One of the most annoying (if inevitable) things about the social networking giants, and many other powerful websites, is the way they adopt ownership of your content, then cut you out of the information loop, then monetise your work with their ads. You’re not provided with any meaningful stats, so you don’t really know how many people are looking at your work, or who they are. Follower counts are meaningless when it comes to measuring interest – it’s all theoretical. I don’t generally view the tweets of anyone I’m following on Twitter. So my Following list says nothing other than that I’m following back a lot of people who’ve followed me – out of politeness.

My standard timeline is by default unmonitored. If I want to actually read or view what specific people are tweeting, I put them on a Private List, or include them in a Search Widget. That way, my private business remains my private business, and the world at large can’t psychologically profile me by sifting through the accounts I’m following. For this reason, visible stats regarding my Twitter use are completely back to front. I’m not reading the people I’m following, and I’m not following the people I’m reading. Shows just what an idiotic system of privacy and motivation Twitter has, but that’s another post…

A number of third party utilities claim to be able to monitor ‘stats’ for your Twitter use, but they don’t have access to Twitter’s analytics, so once again, it’s all theoretical. There’s one commercial site offering paid analytical services, which advises you that the most important stat on Twitter is your “reach” (which, conveniently, is just about the only thing they can measure beyond the info Twitter itself provides directly to users). But “reach” is a completely theoretical figure, which assumes that everyone reads the tweets of the accounts they’re following. Clearly this is far from the case, so telling people that they have a “reach” of two hundred thousand users or whatever, is ridiculous. The chances of all two hundred thousand people paying attention (or even being actual people) are literally nil, and the real terms reach could be as low as fifty. No one but Twitter knows. The figure is meaningless.

But one experiment I’ve tried which does give a very good indication of uptake on image content, and which turned out in addition to have impressive promotional potential, is to Tweet a thumbnail, then link to the full sized image off site. You can then monitor the number of hits your photo gets using Google Analytics, and, importantly, you can potentially monetise your work (subject to the terms of the advertising programme you use). In other words, you can use the power of Twitter to put your work in front of influential people, without handing over all the statistical data, copyright ‘share’ and monetary potential to Twitter.

If you post the full sized images on a free blog such as Blogger or Tumblr, you can add Google Analytics to gain a proper overview of your real stats, and some highly specific info about what sort of people are interested in your work – including their locations. You can also provide links on the blog to more of your content, to maximise each expression of interest from a visitor. Better still, if you can create your blog posts in keeping with the terms of an advertising programme, you can monetise them, and that’s a hell of a lot better than giving up all your intellectual property to Twitter, so they can net all the proceeds from what could be a very significant piece of work.

The thumbnail you post on Twitter has to be big enough to entice interest, and big enough to display as an image rather than merely a link, but not so big that people who are interested in the image can download it straight from Twitter and bypass your monitoring/compensation system. This rules out the standard use of third party image hosts like Twitpic or Flickr, which do have stat counters built in, but which have a number of problems: namely…
  • Either Twitter appropriates the image at sufficiently large size for users to bypass the stat counter and view or download directly from Twitter (meaning your stats are inaccurate), or only a link is shown in the Tweet (meaning your actual photo gets insufficient promotion).
  • These image hosts don’t give you any insight into who your audience is.
  • Image hosts will monetise your content for their own gain, and leave you without a share of the financial compensation.
To get round the problems, you need to make your own image thumbnail, and post it directly to Twitter, and then, in the same Tweet, link to a blog or website page, which is set up in accordance with your preferences. But Twitter aren’t stupid. Like pretty much every free promotional site, they’ve set up the software so that if they don’t get your full image content (i.e. at a large enough size for users to consume as the actual creative work), they won’t promote your image. This is kind of self-defeating for the user, because there’s no point in promoting something you’ve already given away, but of course, Twitter is a business – it’ll take whatever you allow it to take.

If you’ve tried posting a thumbnail to Twitter before, you’ll already be aware of the above issue. Basically, if your thumbnail is less than 435 pixels wide (which is considerably more than a thumbnail), Twitter won’t show it as an image in your followers’ timelines – it only appears as a link. So how d’you tweet a small thumbnail, but make it abundantly visible in your followers’ timelines? Easy: you cheat. Using Faststone Photo Resizer you can shrink your photos down to thumbnail size, but then increase the canvas size to 435px in width. You can then make the thumbnail stand out even more by using Faststone to add branding and/or a text message. You can see how it looks in your timeline in the screen shot near the top of this post. [UPDATE: Twitter changed its interface and standard display sizes on 3rd February 2014. The image display width is now 506 pixels.]

Pretty impactive, isn’t it? So, how’s it done?… Well, you start by taking the image you want to Tweet, and loading it into Faststone for processing. Once you’re set up you can bulk-process many photos at a time if you need to.

Start by clicking the Advanced Options button towards the bottom right of the main interface, and then selecting the Resize tab, at the top left. Make sure the Resize box is ticked, then additionally tick the Resize based on one side box. Now set the width of your thumbnail, in pixels. I’ve chosen a width of 150 pixels, as you can see below…

Now move along to the Canvas tab, tick the Change Canvas Size box, and set the dimensions to a width of 435 pixels, and a height of 220 pixels. [UPDATE: Twitter changed its interface and standard display sizes on 3rd February 2014. The image display width is now 506 pixels, and the height is 253 pixels. Please substitute these new values for the old ones and ignore what it says in the image below.]

These are the exact dimensions of Twitter’s unexpanded display for images in a timeline. You don’t have to set the Background Color to white. I think white looks more professional in the Twitter interface (almost like it's an official, endorsed Twitter display), but you might argue that, say, bright red would grab more attention. It’s totally up to you...

Now it’s time to add your text message, so move along to the Text tab, and make sure the Add Text box is ticked. Bear in mind here that the message needs to fit within the relatively small space you have. I’ve put white text on a blue background, and added a shadow for a more impressive look. You type the text in the window at the top left, incidentally. I’ve also left a couple of spaces at each end of the text line, to improve the way it sits on the background. My font and text size settings are evident next to the text window, and by copying my exact positioning settings in the top right of the dialogue, you’ll be locating your text just as I have...

Lastly, I’ve added a custom banner, which I made in a separate image editor. I developed it on a white background so it integrates seamlessly with the canvas, and made it exactly 435 pixels wide. The banner’s height is 55 pixels, which is shallow enough not to intrude on most thumbnails in ‘landscape’ format. If you have a banner, you can add it via Faststone’s Watermark tab, ticking the Add Watermark box, and setting everything else as I’ve done below...

Once you’ve done all that, click OK, and then click on Convert in the main dialogue, to make your final image for upload to Twitter. I saved my thumbnail-on-a-canvas in .png format. Faststone should retain your settings until you change them, but it’s best to save the settings to disk so they’re always easy to reload should you need them restored. Remember, now that you've got your settings, you can bang in twenty, thirty, fifty photos at a time and makes lots of thumbnails at once. Also remember, though, to set Faststone to rename all images you process. This prevents you from overwriting the original photos.

Now all you do is post the original, full sized photo on your blog, site or whatever, then put a link to that photo post into a Tweet, upload the thumbnail-on-a-canvas you just made to the same Tweet, and then add a message and tags in your remaining Tweet-space. It’s the perfect, highly visible promo for your photos, and Twitter is left with nothing but a very small thumbnail on an ad. No longer can people take your images straight off Twitter and post them to forums and the like, claiming you’ve given up the copyright. If they want the photo, they have to go to your blog or site, and if you’re really tech aware, you can even use encryption and other scripts to protect your photos against mass downloads. Both Blogger and Tumblr will take scripts of that type, but won’t.

Don't forget that when people retweet your thumbnail promos, it's not Twitter content they're passing on - it's a link to your blog or site. This is not you selling your soul to the devil in return for exposure. This is real promotion.

Planet Botch is contactable only via Twitter.