Popular or ‘trending’ imagery on social media doesn’t necessarily equate to high quality imagery. That’s not to imply that high quality imagery isn’t popular, just that it shares attention with the vast majority of content, while the (more) popular content, which represents a minority, gets the majority of the attention. It’s called a power law.

To some degree, one could also assume that popularity has a positive relationship with sharing, or at least, the popularity of sharers. One image might fall into the hands of the right person at the right time, they share it with their followers and it immediately receives attention. Popularity skyrockets if content happens to be shared by someone who has oodles of followers or is particularly influential.

So what about the gems that go unnoticed on social media? I’m talking about the images that get lost in the vast sea of content, with no one paying any particular attention, and the sharing buzz simply not catching on.

They’re certainly out there. An algorithm has been developed to search them out, thanks to the work of the University of Turin in Italy and Yahoo Labs in Barcelona. They started with crowdsourcing human opinion on the aesthetic quality of pictures and developed an algorithm from there, with an ability to recognize beauty among the unnoticed. It has the potential to highlight talented photographers that might otherwise remain anonymous.

Some might have thought that another factor in the sharing and popularity game is the ‘what’ of photos. Are some topics more likely to be shared than others? Perhaps not; a round-up of Flickr’s most popular images from 2014 is diverse (and stunning).

I quite like Jason Fall’s ‘Holy Smokes!’ technique as a way to gauge whether content, your content, might be shared. His message is simple: the content should be “incredible, sad, awesome, beautiful, intelligent, informative or some other declarative response” if you want your audience to consume it and think ‘holy smoke’. And I would also add, feel compelled to share it.

Image attribute/source: Marc Van Norden /

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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