So, you’re up and running on social. Good for you.

You’ve landed in the right place to learn about designing for social media engagement. Let’s nerd out and dive into the graphic design nitty-gritty of social media posts (and ads).

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Exceptional visuals are a must

The main reason you need great imagery is that it’s common to get negative ROIs on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn promotions. These networks are happy to take your time and money, but there’s no guarantee that your posts will resonate with their audiences.

This Squarespace ad is super effective because it’s vibrant with tons of contrast and movement. It’s a great example of striking design for social feeds.

To be clear, negative ROIs are the norm for all forms of digital marketing. Most small businesses burn money on marketing due to lack of experience and unproven strategies. Guesswork is expensive.

Social is no different. Running social ads is a lot like gambling. It’s smart to design the most effective posts possible before you experiment with real money. So think twice before you boost, promote a post, or create your ad.

And by all means, keep your target audience in mind. Make sure you’re addressing their real needs with whatever value, product, or service you’re promoting. Your ad should be on-target, regardless of what it looks like. Cats wearing sunglasses and silly faces probably have nothing to do with your offer or audience.

Social user experience design (UX) is a rather special beast

Designing for social media is different than other platforms and channels. It’s a mixture of visual gestalt psychology and strategy purification through testing. Doing it right can bring home substantial rewards (like new business with a lower cost-per-acquisition). Fail to execute and you can lose a boatload of time and money.

Digital Ocean shark advertisement

This image is effective because of the strong contrast between the shark and yellow clusters. Also, the shark eye is a bold circle which draws your attention with geometry.

Luckily, you’re in good hands. Over the past two decades, I’ve designed thousands of ads for small businesses. I know the juicy advertising secrets that carry over from traditional ads into social. And more importantly, I know what doesn’t translate across different media and platforms.

When it comes to visual design, lots of social posts don’t work well (that’s a nice way of putting it). It’s no surprise that some of them bleed money. Running less-than-stellar advertisements is a good way to spend yourself out of business.

To be clear, I don’t put all my faith in design (to rescue underperforming ads). Effective design doesn’t fix bad marketing strategy. Messaging, branding, copywriting, pricing, emotion, audience needs, and psychological persuasion all play vital roles.

But graphic design has its place at the front of the pack. It’s important because nothing influences first impressions, gut reactions, and split-decisions like design. Nothing earns a click like the right image.

Don’t worry if you’re not a good designer

Social imagery is not about “good” design, aesthetics, or interesting visuals. The goals are simpler and more basic. You’re trying to catch the eye, then capture and keep attention with your message.

Pluralsight Stop Forgetting Social Advertisement

This ad is an interesting mix of complexity and simplicity. In general, it’s a simple add. But the brain graphic is clustered and complex. The high polygon complexity and simple layout make for a good juxtaposition of styles.

The user behavior of most social media interaction is called flittering. People aren’t fully engaged and they certainly aren’t reading. They’re jumping around and clicking aimlessly while CNN roars in the background.

You need a particular kind of butterfly net to grab that ADD-level, peripheral attention. If you’ve ever lost an hour to Facebook, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You were flittering, went full-zombie, and completely lost track of time and space.

So these are your challenges:

  • Don’t bleed money.
  • Stay on target with your audience.
  • Design for flittering.
  • Earn meaningful clicks (without resorting to clickbait).

What’s a non-designer to do?

Below are nineteen design strategies to create striking, eye-catching visuals primed for social media flittering (and subconscious decision-making).

OptinMonster Effect Free eBook Social Advertisement

This is a good use of geometry, simplicity, and diagonal movement. Nothing like a clean, flat look with vibrant, saturated colors to grab attention.

You’re NOT trying to use all nineteen at the same. Mixing and matching a few core concepts leads to great-looking, clickable ads. Being influenced by the fundamentals will help your ads stand out in social media feeds.

The first tip is more important than the last one. I did my best to rank them by value. So if you only take one thing with you, it should be the first strategy about simplicity.

The main key is to be strategic and intentional. Try introducing these techniques into your ads and measure their performance over time.

And you simply must test. What works for one brand and audience may or may not work for you. What works on Twitter might not play on LinkedIn.

You’ll be surprised by what resonates. Sometimes real-world numbers are counter-intuitive. Thank goodness that it’s easy to track performance analytics for social media ads.

There’s no long-term guesswork required when you run smart split tests and variations. Immediate feedback is almost worth the price of admission.

If all of this feels like too much, just use pictures of dogs wearing sunglasses in your ads. If you want to destroy your brand, use pictures of cats wearing sunglasses.