Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Photo Strip: Facebook’s Most Underused Free Ad

Many brands trick out their Facebook pages with flashy apps while ignoring some of the most valuable (and free!) tools available. Case in point: the often-neglected photo strip that came as part of the new Facebook Pages format rolled out in March. When done wrong, the photo strip makes an otherwise impressive page fall flat. When done right, the photo strip creates a stunning page design. A little bit of creativity and upkeep can transform the photo strip into a powerful branding tool.

How it Works

By default, the most recent five photos uploaded to a page – either as wall photos or in a photo album – are displayed in the photo strip. Although only 5 images will show at one time, an unlimited number of photos can be set to appear in the photo strip. New images uploaded to the wall or photo albums can be hidden from appearing in the photo strip by clicking on the X in the top right corner of the image. Hiding all but a select 5 photos enables page administrators to control which photos appear in the photo strip.

Clicking the X in the corner of an image hides it from the photo strip.

Unlike with personal profiles, the images on a page’s photo strip appear in random order. Every time the page is refreshed, the photo order is shuffled. Presumably, Facebook did this to keep brands from using this as static advertising space. Many pages get around this challenge by embracing the randomness and using images that work regardless of order.

The Tropical Northern Queensland tourism board's photo strip has Nemo move each time the page is refreshed.

Here’s where it gets tricky: the image that appears in the photo strip is actually a thumbnail cropped from a section of the uploaded image. Even more tricky: the cropped area used in the thumbnail cannot be chosen (unlike with a profile picture). Instead, Facebook automatically crops an off-center part of the image as the thumbnail. Figuring out exactly which part of the photo is cropped is difficult, but properly formatting images is crucial since some photos appear unrecognizable when resized as thumbnails.

Dairy Queen's Photo Strip: When Bad Cropping Happens to Good Pages


Alternatively, making making photos the same dimensions as the thumbnail (98 x 68 pixels) prevents them from being cropped. The downside to this method is the image appears very tiny in the photo viewer.

Kool-Aid uses images already sized as thumbnails to prevent cropping


After much weeding through Facebook pages, I’ve found some brilliant ways brands are using the photo strip.

1. Incorporate the Profile Picture

It takes a great concept and well-designed photos to pull this off, but the results are awesome.

Secret’s creative use of inner tubes melds the profile picture into the photo strip in this celebration of reaching a million fans.

Lysol’s banner tying in the profile picture is on-point with their “Mission for Health” initiative that promotes weaving healthy habits into communities.

2. Product Placement

This one’s obvious: feature products in the photo strip! Another no-brainer: including a description and link to the product in the photo caption. However, making the product photos too promotional may turn off fans. Focus should be on adding aesthetic value to the page and clarifying what the brand is about.

A white background and consistently sized images make Nikon’s cameras pop across the top of their page.

Chevrolet uses the same color cars and labels each model in these attractive, brand-focused photos.

3. Show Gratitude

When reaching a milestone, such as X number of fans or overwhelming participation in a contest, the photo strip space can be used as a thank you.

Dove said thank you in different languages when they reached a million fans. This is also an example of selecting more than 5 photos to use in the strip, since this design can be used to spell out “thank you” in many languages.

Nutella also used the space as a thank you when they reached 10 million fans.

4. Highlight New Stuff

Placing upcoming products or services in the photo strip builds buzz and awareness around a new product launch.

Chicken McNuggets swimming in sauce isn’t the most appetizing visual, but these colorful, consistent images are still a nice plug for McDonald’s new dipping sauces.

In a more indirect approach, Panda Express advertised their new extended hours with a night sky.

5. Be Useful

Since this is the first thing fans notice on the wall, why not make it a quick reference tool?

Redbox’s photo strip allows fans to check the page each week for new releases.

Dole Bananas features photos of recipes made with bananas. The photos’ captions are links to the recipe on Dole’s site.

6. Say it with Words

Using words instead of pictures can effectively showcase brand messaging, services and products, or compel fans to take action.

Involver uses compelling words to promote their Social Markup Language.

These simple words entice to fans looking for discounts and coupons.

7. Play with Color

Creatively using colors can really make the photo strip pop.

UNICEF USA uses splashes of their signature cyan color to pull together these photos of children from around the world.

Crystal Light’s same photo in different colors has a powerful effect.

8. Sequential Randomness

In contrast to playing up randomness, using images that belong in sequential order is a playful way to get fans refreshing the page continuously to put the photos in the correct order.

Seattle’s Best Coffee is not only nicely using product placement, but their numbered levels of coffee make for a great out-of-order set of pictures. I may have spent a few minutes trying to put these in order (unsuccessfully).

9. Do It All

Why use the photo strip to promote one thing when you can promote everything?

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese uses the photo strip as a cross-promotional tool for their site’s recipes, new products, other social profiles, and a Facebook app. This manages to not feel overly promotional since it is so well-designed and subtle.

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