Even though the “visual web” might seem like an overnight sensation, it’s really the culmination of long term trends in technology, fashion, and communication. Because social image sharing and publishing happen alongside mass media, brand managers now find themselves managing two types of conversations.

In addition to traditional interactions with journalists and tastemakers, marketing professionals now have to think in terms of visuals. Even for brands that already rely on photos, the visual web poses challenges around authenticity, inventiveness, and speed. The growth of the visual web hinges on five key trends.

1. Social proof has gone visual.

Savvy audiences have learned to tell the difference between a touched-up photo shoot and an authentic experience. While both kinds of visuals still have a place in your branding strategy, pinned images of your products in the wild reinforce your status as a real brand with real customers. Nielsen statistics indicate that nearly two thirds of us make purchasing decisions based on recommendations from other consumers. Pinterest boards and Instagram “likes” have become firehoses for real-time product endorsements.

2. Visuals speak to the artist in all of us.

Although anyone can launch a blog these days, few of us do. That’s because writing still feels like a chore to most people. Instagram rode a wave of popularity among iPhone users because it transforms even the most mundane camera phone pictures into tiny works of art. The process of applying filters and framing subjects into the signature square image feels like fun to most of us. Images translate instantly across cultures, eliminating the language barrier for brand fans to share experiences.

3. Resistance has dropped.

The visual web is no longer the domain of high-end smartphone users. While the iPhone continues its steady climb as one of the most widely-adopted electronic devices in history, Android and Windows mobile devices have enjoyed their own surges of popularity with each OS release. Industry observers suggest that Mark Zuckerberg initiated Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram when that service’s long-awaited launch on Android helped triple its number of daily active users.

4. We’re always keeping up with the Joneses.

Researchers at SimplyMeasured found that 40 percent of Instabrand top 100 global brands have launched visual social media channels. Luxury goods manufacturers dominate the visual web, as young consumers eagerly share how they use their status symbol products in everyday situations. We may poke fun at the “Rich Kids of Instagram” for living a little too ostentatiously. However, the visual web has become a channel through which we all celebrate our lives and the products that enrich them.

5. Consumers have become customizers.

In a marketplace that puts “mass class” within reach, consumers use brands as building blocks to express their own style. It’s no longer about getting that dress, those shoes, or that car: it’s about how you make them your own. The visual web helps us convert commodities back into status symbols, capturing our experiences and our desires as images that inspire, entertain, and maybe make our peers a little bit jealous. Contact us today, so we can show you how to keep tabs on how your customers like to display your products online.