Recently, ThingLink and Stipple each announced their ability to add interactive images to Twitter. These platforms let users add “tags” to images that, when the user hovers over the tag, open a small modal that displays additional content.
Here’s an example of what an interactive image looks like when someone views it on twitter.com and hovers their pointer over one of the tags:
You can link to anything, really, but some of the most common links are to Facebook and Pinterest profiles, YouTube videos, audio clips, Eventbrite invites and contact forms.
How Interactive Images Work
I’m just going to be honest and tell you that I can’t explain it any better than it’s already been laid out on this Quora thread. If you’ve got a minute to geek out, this is a great read. In short: images are tagged via tools like Stipple and ThingLink, then distributed across the web. Most of the interactive parts require the use of special embed codes, scripts on websites or browser extensions to view/use (which is probably why you haven’t seen them around the web…yet).
Why We’re Just Now Seeing Them On Twitter
With Twitter’s introduction of “cards,” they’ve allowed developers and publishers to attach media to their tweets. You’ve probably seen the these cards if you’ve used twitter.com, the Twitter app or the mobile Twitter site in the past few months. The three card types (summary, photo and player) can be attached to tweets. Here are some examples:
The player cards allow developers to embed media directly in the card and the rollout of that functionality essentially opened the gate to allow all kinds of applications to work directly inside a tweet. Some of the first uses of player card functionality have been viewing YouTube videos, playing audio files and, you guessed it, interactive images.
How It Looks
Let’s look at a live example. The interactive parts work really well if you’re visiting twitter.com from a desktop/laptop (the first image in this post is an example), but the experience gets a little wonky on mobile and worse if you’re using a third-party client like Hootsuite.
Here’s what it looks like in the native Twitter app:
The tags are extremely small (they haven’t scaled with the image size at all) and the pop-up modals are essentially too small to read. You can pinch and zoom to get a closer view, but that’s not an ideal user experience.
On the Hootsuite mobile app, it looks like this:
Hootsuite doesn’t display Twitter cards very well, so you won’t see any indication on the photo that you should click it. IF you click the link, you’re taken to a mobile version of the image on thinglink.com. That image scales a little better, but you’ll still end up scrolling and pinching/zooming to get to each of the tags and view the pop-ups.
The mobile experience needs lots of work, especially since over 55% of Twitter’s traffic comes from mobile devices. If I was giving out letter grades for user experience, I’d give a C- to the Twitter app and an F to the Hootsuite app (I’m sure the developers at both companies are already hard at work trying to make this a better experience and am excited to see what they come up with).
Why Twitter Integration Matters
This is a big deal because Twitter’s card feature makes the use of interactive images accessible to more people and it’s exposing more people to the fact that these images exist. Interactive images have been around for a while, but haven’t been widely adopted (or experienced) because if a website doesn’t have the code to allow the scripts to run, the images won’t display the interactive add-ons. So, the major hurdle for companies like Stipple and ThingLink is adoption (adding the code) by major websites.
What It Means to Marketers
This is definitely going to change the game. Gone are the days of worrying about putting too many links in a tweet or sending out rapid-fire tweets with related links/information. You’ll be able to offer up a set of related content and then fans can choose what to interact with. Online retailers can add e-commerce links to their images without giving an overly-salesy feel. It’s also great news for anyone who is trying to cross-promote content.
Imagine being a telecommunications company on Twitter and you’ve created a really cool infographic on how people are using their mobile phones for holiday shopping. Sure, infographics are great, but what if you could also include links to lead viewers to watch a video scribe that explains how your new LTE network makes everything so much faster AND a link to view which phones you have available AND a link to download a Passbook coupon redeemable for a free month of service when you switch from another carrier? You can add ALL that info via tags in interactive images.
On top of just being able to deliver more info to followers without being overwhelming, the insights you can get from reviewing the image analytics can help drive content strategy (since you’re presenting multiple content options at the same time, it’s a better test of what people want than trying to compare click-throughs on posts made at different times).
There are tons of other uses for interactive images. We’re using Stipple on the Forever 21 blog and we’ve seen some really great success. You could also embed the interactive images in a Facebook app. Stipple actually has a full ad network that’s definitely worth a look if you’re a brand with a lot of visual content (product images, photos of celebrities wearing your items, etc.). If you’re a blogger (or work with bloggers and/or affiliate partners), these tools can provide really powerful options for monetization (far too many to go into in a single blog post — contact us or Stipple if you want to talk more about them).
Predictions on What’s Next
- Ability to purchase from within the app, so the user doesn’t have to click out from the tweet (or leave Twitter) to complete a purchase. This seamless transaction could help Twitter bridge the gap between a tweet and an actual e-commerce transaction.
- This space becomes a race to secure a partnership with Pinterest.
- We won’t see it integrated into Facebook directly (it changes the way users interact with photos too much), but it may pop up as a part of Facebook’s Collections (if and when they reappear).
What do you think? Have you already experimented with interactive images? Is it something you could see your brand using? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!