When Pinterest came onto the scene it instantly became more than a playground for scrapbooking fans. Business owners quickly learned the benefits of adding a visual component to their social media strategies. As a result, Pinterest has experienced astoundingly rapid growth, already passing Tumblr and Flickr.

Facebook's recent purchase of Instagram, is another great indicator that it's time to expand your social media content by adding photos, graphic images, and videos. Why? There is plenty of research indicating that messages depicted by pictures penetrate the brain more quickly and with greater impact. It's no accident that fast food chains have added food images to their menus; the growth associated with this strategy has been exponential. If you want someone to buy, don't simply tell them about your product or service--show them.

David Lee King, author of face2face: Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections (CyberAge Books)helps entrepreneurs understand what it takes to make their company "human" and approachable via social networks. "Connecting with people, both customers and potential customers, doesn't always come easy," King says. "And this can be even harder to accomplish online. However, as customers begin to heavily rely on social media tools to learn about products and companies, business owners must learn how to transpose their traditional marketing tactics to resonate in the virtual world." Adding visuals to your social media updates is one way to achieve this.

King offers these five tips to help you get started in creating great visual-based content. They key is to keep it simple, and to post with your customer in mind.

1.  Show off your stuff.

If you are a small business selling a product, this part is easy. Simply take some photos of your products, and post them on the social networks that most of your customers use. Don't think of these images as some sort of extended product catalogue. Instead, share images of new products that you're excited about. Post the photo, and write a paragraph about the product, too. Sharing your enthusiasm helps get your customers excited too--especially if they can see the thing you are excited about.

Not a product-based business? That's ok--images work here, too. Service-based businesses can use lifestyle shots to connect their audience to the essence of what they do. You can purchase stock photography on sites like Shutterstock, iStock, and other royalty-free sites.

2.  Show off your staff.

Take some pictures of your staff and post them to your social networks. Somewhere in your business plan is the idea of creating ongoing relationships with repeat customers, right? One way to do that is to help your customers connect with your business. When someone "likes" your coffee shop page, for instance, they want to be reminded of Jenny, who's really nice and makes that amazing soy latte for them every Tuesday. They want to know more about your culture and stay connected to the aspects of your business that they enjoy. Photos are the best way to achieve this.

See the idea here? Show your customers the friendly faces behind your business. That helps customers connect with your staff, and therefore, your business. One caveat here--no posed "suit and tie" photos! Also, no "t-shirt and beer" photos either (well, unless you own a sports bar).

3.  Get close.

Here's an important tip. You don't need to use fancy-schmansy cameras--your iPhone will work fine. But please, do get up close to your subject! Make sure to fill the frame with the image. In many cases, images uploaded to social media sites will be viewed in a small, thumbnail-sized box first. So the subject of your photograph needs to be clearly visible, even at a small size.

4.  Great lighting is key.

You don't have to buy expensive studio lighting systems to achieve better lighting (though it certainly doesn't hurt). To get better "natural" lighting, try these simple tips:

  • Turn on the overhead lights before you take a photo, even if the room you're in seems brightly lit.
  • Make sure the light is behind you when you take a photo. If you are outside, make sure you hold the camera with your back to the sun. This way, your subject will be well-lit. If you are inside, put your back to a brightly-lit window.
  • Move a floor lamp closer to the subject.

5.  Make your photos helpful to customers.

Sharing photographs of products, services, and staff can be helpful because when customers come visit your business, they will already know who to ask for, and what they're looking for. You have created a connection with them and that makes their job as a consumer much easier.

Share a photograph of a new sales rep; if your building has had a recent addition, make sure to share that as well. Some companies share photos of how their product works, or how to fix a problem.

Finally, make sure to associate relevant text with your images; don't give them generic names like, ixo987.jpg. Make names and descriptions key word rich. Also make sure that you are honoring property rights and protecting your intellectual property. Seek legal advice if necessary.

It's time to dust off that iPhone lens and start sharing visually with your customers. If you have tips or success stories please share them here!