We are sharing and consuming more visual digital media than ever before. A 2021 survey of nonprofit organizations asked which marketing tactics the organizations would increase focus on executing, with 63% focusing on creating more visual content, 68% on video, and 58% on developing more infographics. (Read more from the NTEN 2021 Digital Outlook Report.) Images are signal through noise, and organizations are them to stand out.

If you work in digital media, then you are probably as excited as I am to learn of visual listening.

I first came across the term in a Venture Beat blog post from 2021. Venture Beat framed the need nicely: “On the whole, today’s social media listening and measurement platforms are built for a textual world, with limited abilities to fully register the nuances of visuals. This means there’s an enormous chunk of visual Web content that is not being fully ‘heard.’” Visual listening is the practice of monitoring and tracking specific images online. No more need to rely on hashtags to track everything: say “hello” to the future of monitoring images with visual listening tools.

Emojis, untagged Instagram posts, pins, Twitter images, photo-sharing sites, and Facebook photos. All of these contain mountains of information about where people are, what they like, what they are passionate about, and who they are with. If there were a tool that could scan social media images, then that would be a huge leap for social media monitoring. A new social media monitoring tool called Ditto, a product of Ditto Labs, claims to do just that. I’m cautiously excited and incredibly curious.

I haven’t received a formal demo, but from what I understand, Ditto currently recognizes logos in photos, and will soon roll out object and scene recognition software for specific scenes and images. I could imagine the National Wildlife Federation using a visual listening tool like Ditto to scan for images of hawks, birds, or foxes posted to social media, then reaching out to those folks. Or Ronald MacDonald House scanning for photos of people wearing their red and white socks during their red-and-white socks campaign (you just know someone forgot to tag their photo!) And what about all those teens (and parents) who proudly wear t-shirts with the name of a beloved youth organization on it? Now there’s an opportunity to find new supporters!

We’re in the early stages of visual listening. In all likelihood, custom visual listening tools will be beyond the budget of most nonprofit organizations for a while. I believe that it is only a matter of time before mid-sized and enterprise social media monitoring platforms incorporate visual scanning into their monitoring platforms.

Are we beyond hashtags? No way. Here’s to the future, though.

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