Images, including photos, videos, and emojis, are swiftly cropping into everyday communications, allowing individuals to communicate ideas more quickly by replacing text. Mintel’s 2016 North American Consumer Trend prediction Eye Get It discusses the rise of quick and easy forms of communication thanks in part to shorter attention spans and the expectation of immediate gratification. As Millennials, in particular, communicate increasingly through emojis, photos, gifs, or brief videos, it’s no surprise that Instagram and Snapchat are among the leading social media apps among 18-34 year olds, according to analytics firm comScore. While consumers are finding ways to communicate more efficiently, they are also looking to make more personal and relaxed connections with brands, and social media often provides a conduit for these relationships. Mintel’s Social Networking US 2014 report shows that 79% of US social media users interact with brands on social media at least monthly, including 37% of consumers who use social media to research a brand or its products. Brands are embracing these social media connections with their customers and are finding new ways to foster that interaction so it’s positive both for the customer and the brand. Brands find success with image sharing sweepstakes Social media sweepstakes that encourage customers to share personal photos in which they use specific services, or otherwise participate in branding, have become a reliable way to increase engagement, drive greater brand visibility and reinforce key marketing messages. Recent social media campaigns from AT&T, Rogers and Sprint have used this strategy to engage with the 82% of consumers who use social media and spread awareness about their services. 82% of US internet users age 18+ use social media and 49% visit social media sites daily According to Mintel research, 49% of consumers visit social media sites daily. Rogers targeted this audience in late 2014 when it launched its Roam Like Home package, a $5/day service that enables customers on its Share Everything wireless plans to use text, voice and data when traveling in the US. The carrier then launched a Twitter sweepstakes, encouraging customers to share selfies and other photos from their travel adventures, using the hashtag #RoamOn. Participants were entered to win daily prizes, such as a $1,000 Air Canada gift card or a $30 Uber ride. Additionally, Rogers teamed up with popular Canadian sports teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays and the Vancouver Canucks, to offer tickets when customers shared selfies at related sporting events. Ultimately, the #RoamOn campaign generated hundreds of customer photos and positive commentary about the Roam Like Home service. Currently, Sprint is looking to social media to help spread awareness of its Direct 2 You personal appointment service. Through Direct 2 You, Sprint customers can schedule an appointment to have their new phone delivered to their home or office by a Sprint employee who will activate and set up the new device. Over the course of 2015, Sprint has gradually expanded the service to more markets, and is looking to its customer base to help spread the word. So, Sprint is encouraging those customers who participate in Direct 2 You to snap a picture with the Sprint employee who delivers the service, and share it on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #Direct2You and #Sweepstakes. One winner will win $250,000 at the end of 2015. Unlike the Roam Like Home or Direct 2 You campaigns, which target consumers, AT&T used a social media contest to engage small businesses during National Cyber Security Awareness Month last month. The campaign, called Guard Pets, put a playful spin on the serious topic of cyber security by featuring small business “guard pets” that are, unfortunately, helpless in protecting against cybercrime. In addition to TV commercials and various digital marketing efforts, AT&T encouraged customers to share photos of their loyal guard pets, using hashtags #GuardPets and #Sweepstakes on Twitter, Instagram, or the AT&T Business Circle website. Each day of the month-long contest, participants could win prizes such as a three-month subscription to Barkbox or meowbox and a one-year subscription to the AT&T small business security solution of the winner’s choice. Additionally, AT&T donated $5 to K9s for Warriors for every valid entry up to $20,000. AT&T’s strategy stands out for several reasons. First and foremost, it targets a business audience in a playful way. Often times B2B marketing adopts a more serious tone, particularly when featuring services that address serious topics, such as cyber security. Guard Pets stands out from other B2B campaigns, thanks to its unusual tone. Second, AT&T offers something to every participant (well, the first 4,000, anyway) — the opportunity to give back with a donation to K9s for Warriors. Social media sweepstakes typically offer some sort of daily prize or grand prize to incentivize consumers to participate. These sweepstakes less frequently offer a donation to reward participation, unless the campaign is purely a CSR effort. Finally, businesses could choose where they wanted to participate, including the existing AT&T-hosted community for small businesses, Business Circle. Images are an excellent tool for awareness. Twitter found that photos average a 35% boost in retweets — a greater boost than including videos, quotes or hashtags in tweets. Through retweets or other shares, the brand visibility initiated by the original sharer has the potential to extend much further when sharing an image. Images, regardless of the platform on which they are shared, are more readily recalled than printed words, so they may help consumers keep the brand or services in mind. By incentivizing consumers and businesses to share personal photos, brands can expand awareness of marketing initiatives or services while also creating new touchpoints with their customers. Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She provides omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to wireless, TV, internet, over-the-top, and home security service providers across the U.S. and Canada. You might also be interested in: Mobility providers beef up device protection options DIRECTV NOW’s Success: Will it come down to marketing?