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Published May 23rd 2017

Why Are Picture List Posts Perfect For Viral Content Formula?

When we looked at 100m Facebook posts we found, not surprisingly, that posts with images got the twice the number of interactions as posts without. So yes, images work but you knew that already. We have also found that list posts gain more shares on average. Again you knew that already. But did you know that one of the most shared forms of content was the picture list post?

The picture list post contains the promise of a list post, the value of curation and the speed of images.

It is like rolling three of your favorite superheros into one. They’re the ultimate in efficient, emotionally engaging content – snackable content, enriched with curation and structure.

In this post we take an updated look at why they work and how you can make them work for you.

What is a picture list post?

A picture list post is a series of curated images that can:

  1. Help tell a story
  2. Show the passing of time
  3. Show comparisons
  4. Explain a concept
  5. Demonstrate a process
  6. Form a curated list

Why do they work?

People like to share content that is valuable. A New York Times and Latitude research study found five main motivations when it comes to sharing. The number one motivation for sharing was to bring valuable and entertaining content to others. 94% of the respondents said they carefully considered how the information they share will be useful to others.

Picture list posts work because they provide value through a combination of curation, lists and images. It’s a perfect content formula.

Let’s start with curation.

Good curators help us by doing the heavy lifting. They research and filter content to provide the reader with just the relevant content though they will often include links for further reading. A good curator also adds value through commentary and context. Curated content is increasingly popular in a busy world, where we are overloaded with content.

Now let’s add images.

The brain processes images much faster than text, studies have shown visuals are processed as much as 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. According to the Visual Teaching Alliance the brain can see images that last for just 13 millisecond and our eyes can register 36,000 visual messages per hour. Try reading that many tweets in the next 60 minutes and see how many you recall. This means we can get the sense of a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second. This explains why a series of images works so well and why they are used in areas such as learning materials. They work faster than words.

Images have been found to improve learning by up to 400 percent. Stanford University’s Robert E. Horn, argues this is because “visual language has the potential for increasing ‘human bandwidth’—the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information.”

Finally, let’s structure as a list.

We know that people like list posts, particularly one which is well structured and instantly scannable. In creating a list post such as 7 steps to design a landing page the author adds value by breaking down a task into a series of clear steps. List posts are also tell the reader what to expect for example 5 pictures or 10 tips. There is an expectation that you will gain some valuable nuggets of information rather than a long form essay. This makes them an attractive form of content for the time pressed consumer.

The picture list post contains the promise of a list post, the value of curation and the speed of images.


Pictures that tell a Story

The New York Times ran a picture list post on the Women’s March on Washington (January 2017) to highlight the hundreds of marches that also took place across the world.

This picture list post was shared 430,000 times across all the social networks.

Another example is fathers caring for their children on the refuge trail. This picture list was published by the Huffington Post and received over 90,000 shares.

Stories and the Passing of Time

This picture post shows the photographs that a photographer recreated of his home town some forty years after he took the original photographs. This article received over 450,000 shares and each picture comparison suggests a human story to be explored.

This next post also looked back over 40 years. This New York Times post ‘40 Portraits in 40 Years‘ shows how four sisters took a picture of themselves every year over the last 40 years. This picture post was shared over 660,000 times.

Photographs by Nicholas Nixon

Picture Curations

Picture curations can take many forms and Pinterest boards are an obvious example. They also work well as viral posts, the curations can be of amazing images, cute images or amusing images.

The National Geographic are well known for the quality of their pictures and produce many viral picture list posts. Here is an example of cute pictures of rescued baby sloths. These posts appeal to the emotions and was shared over 600,000 times.

A similar post was National Geographic’s ‘10 Most Stunning Wildlife Pictures of the Year‘ which received over 50,000 shares.

A very different form of curation was this picture list post of Overpopulation and Consumption on The Guardian. It is a series of curated images about the impact of overpopulation and was shared over 700,000 times.

Photos by Zak Noyle and Daniel Dancer

A similar picture post is this ‘10 pictures that show what pollution has done to Delhi‘ which was shared over 120,000 times.


Pictures can be used to show many different forms of comparison. Here are some examples.

This article by Bright Side uses NASA images to show how the world is changing over time.

This picture post was shared over 750,000 times on Facebook.

This next picture list compares school meals across the world. It was shared over 540,000 times.

Photos Sweetgreen

Tutorials and ‘How To’ Posts

A series of images is often key to a tutorial or a ‘how to’ post in order to take a learner through a process step by step. Here are some examples:

How to paint watercolours – this series of image tutorials was shared over 160,000 times.

How to dry nail polish quickly – This series of images was shared over 600,000 times.

Photos WikiHow

Another variation on a tutorial post is this post ‘10 Must Take pictures on Baby’s First Day‘. This post received over 38,000 shares.

Most of the above are business to consumer examples (B2C) but tutorial picture list posts can work equally well in business to business posts. Here is an example from Social Media Examiner on ‘Four Steps To Get Your Business on Snapchat‘.

How Can You Use Picture List Posts?

Believer? Great. So now what? Picture list posts are a key content format which have the potential to go viral. Here are some initial questions to help you think about where they may work best in your content strategy.

  1. What types of images currently work best in your industry? Are they product pictures, emotional images or process pictures?
  2. What images can you use to tell a story? For example, how would one of your successful projects or case studies look like as a series of images?
  3. If you make something, can you show where the raw materials come from, how it gets made, who makes it? Brands like Guinness are increasingly using imagery to tell the story of their product and process.
  4. Can you introduce some humour? Product ideas you’ve rejected?
  5. What comparisons can you make with images? For example, how have products in your area changed over time?
  6. Can you associate your brand positively with different uses / settings through time or around the world?
  7. What ‘before and after’ images might work in your industry?
  8. What concepts can you explain through a series of images?
  9. If you have You Tube videos showing how to use your products or services, could you turn them into picture list how to posts?
  10. What ‘how to’ picture posts might work in your area? Processes and structured steps can often work well as a series of screenshots.
  11. Could you show a different angle or viewpoint through a series of pictures? What it looks like from your CEO’s desk, from your CMO’s desk, from the front window?
  12. How could you surprise people with a series of images?
  13. Could you encourage your audience to help curate the images for you? Have a look at 3 UK, Mobile phone company’s HolidaySpam campaign, which gets their customer base showing and sharing what you can do with free data when you travel. Ok, so it’s more of a picture massacre than a list, but still, top marks for getting customers to create content.



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