How to Create Engaging Images for Social Media

Content From: HIV.govPublished: September 19, 20174 min read


Woman creating graphic on computer
Use free image tools, like Pexels, to find compelling images

As social media evolves, so does our understanding of what works when it comes to engagement. As visual websites (Pinterest and Instagram) continue to grow and other social media (Facebook and Twitter) feature them more prominently, images have become a great tool for increasing reach and engagement. According to recent research:

  • Eye-tracking studiesExit Disclaimer show Internet readers pay close attention to “information-carrying images.” In fact, when the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page.
  • Adding a color visualExit Disclaimer [PDF, 2.25KB] increases readership of the material by 80% and creates an impression that is 39% more memorable.

At, we’re continually learning what works when it comes to creating engaging images. We asked Aisha Moore, from the team, for her tips on creating engaging images. Here’s what she had to say:

I use online programs and apps that provide free or low cost templates. Some of these include Canva, Creative Market or Word Swag. The templates make easy to create great graphics quickly and on a small budget. All I have to do is change the text and apply my organization's color scheme. I am able to make images quickly and with a consistent look by having all of my brand fonts, logos, and color codes saved in a file for easy access. People think I have a design background when I have none at all."

While images are only one type of visual contentExit Disclaimer, we often use them to share data, research, and resources. Based on what the team has learned, here are some of our favorite tips.

Take high-quality images
When taking photographsExit Disclaimer intended for use on social media:

  • Clean your lens.
  • Use the flash—but only when you have to.
  • Be thoughtful about framing your photos.
  • Use the highest resolution possible.
  • Avoid unnecessary zooms.
  • Edit with apps (see below for more details).

In addition, when using a smartphone to take pictures, you shouldExit Disclaimer:

  • Crop, don’t zoom.
  • Use an editing tool instead of a standard filterExit Disclaimer.
  • Consider taking pictures from within a photo app.

Search online for images that can be reused
Using images without copyright restrictions is a great way to work within a tight budget. You can search Google imagesExit Disclaimer “labeled for reuse” or try a site that offers free images, such as:

Use tools to edit and add text
There are number of websites or apps that allow you to edit an image, add a filter, overlay text, and upload directly to various social media channels. Some tools to consider:

Select large, legible font
Adding a text overlay conveys highlights important information, such as a call-to-action. Some tipsExit Disclaimer for using a text overlay include:

  • Simple fonts are better than fancy ones.
  • Be consistent — use the same font repeatedly.
  • When adding a second font, go for something really different but equally simple. This tool from Font PairExit Disclaimer helps with selecting complementary fonts.
  • If you’re planning on boosting your post, remember to check each platform’s advertising rules – for example, Facebook's text to image ratio requirements are 20% or less text per image.

Pair every image with a compelling caption
Including a compelling caption below an image can increase the likelihood a user will share or comment on your image. When writing captionsExit Disclaimer:

  • Keep it brief.
  • Use plain language, which is especially important when conveying HIV data, research, or medical information.
  • Place the most important words at the beginning of the caption.
  • Include a call-to-action.
  • Use relevant or trending hashtags in the caption of your post and, if appropriate, consider adding one of them as text overlay.

Be consistent in your brand voice
To ensure your branding is consistent, use similar filters, camera angles, fonts, and hashtags throughout your posts. For more on developing your brand voice, read this post on 5 Ways to Give Your Social Media Messages a Consistent “Voice.”

For tailored advice on creating engaging social media images for your organization, sign-up for a Virtual Office Hours appointment. For more resources, read some of these related posts:

ACTION: To make sure you’re using digital tools effectively, sign up to get relevant articles emailed to you.