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Cloudinary’s 2020 State of Visual Media Report Reveals Untapped Opportunity to Profit From ‘Dark Social’ Peer Referrals

Report finds adding images and videos to link previews in messaging apps like iMessage, Slack and WhatsApp significantly improve audience engagement and conversion

Cloudinary, the media management platform for many of the world’s top brands,  announced its second annual State of Visual Media report. This year’s data reveals an online universe rapidly expanding by geography, device, browser type and other factors. Crucially, with the continued rise of messaging apps like Slack, WhatsApp and WeChat comes growth in indirect web traffic, providing a huge opportunity for brands to use visual media to profit from the power of ‘dark social’ peer referrals within microbrowsers — those private communications via mobile devices. View the interactive report and download the full PDF at:

This microbrowser traffic can lead to mis-attribution of your marketing campaign analytics. For example, when a person finds and shares a link from a Facebook promotion with her friends, that link still has the Facebook promotion campaign tags. This means that when her friends click on the link they will show up in your analytics as coming from that same Facebook promotion, even if they don’t have Facebook. In examining one popular apparel brand’s social campaign, Cloudinary found that nearly 64% of the links shared within microbrowsers had their campaign IDs intact, and while this is great in many respects, it’s not an accurate view of campaign engagement because it includes the amplification that’s happening through peer referrals in private conversations. And because these peer referrals have higher click-through rates, brands should ensure that these link shares offer a compelling visual experience.

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Further key insights from the report include:

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  • The rise of micro-video. The power of video evolves with micro-video content taking a lead role for its ability to boost engagement and conversions in just seconds. Brands should not overlook these small but mighty opportunities to tell big brand stories or reveal product details, but in order for a video to be responsive, the video should always expand to fill the width of its screen while maintaining its original aspect ratio.
  • Maximizing the browser long tail. Going global means thinking beyond Chrome, Safari and other popular browsers to tap into the otherwise missed opportunities hidden within the growing long tail, providing engagement opportunities with millions of users. For example, Nokia Symbian smartphones are still popular in India, and Nintendo DS devices share more than 35,000 images per day.
  • The next big image format. Next-gen image formats like High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF), and the upcoming JPEG XL co-created by Cloudinary’s Senior Image Researcher Dr. Jon Sneyers and the Google compression team, enable richer and more efficient experiences and hopefully become a no-brainer when it comes to elevating visual storytelling.

“Brands understand the power that strong visual experiences deliver when it comes to user engagement, loyalty creation and revenue growth,” said Sanjay Sarathy, VP of Marketing, Cloudinary. “The challenge is in delivering visual experiences quickly and consistently across all channels, locations, devices — and at scale. It’s our hope that by examining and sharing the engagement patterns that occur across our massive data set, others can learn from what our global customers are doing — and not yet doing — to tell better visual stories and turn engagement opportunities into long-term loyalty.”

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Join us for two virtual sessions on the 2020 Report and “The Power of Microbrowsers” at Cloudinary’s ImageCon Digital Experience, to be held July 27-29, 2020, a free digital version of the company’s annual user conference. The event will host more than 15 thought leadership and case study sessions, including a customer panel discussion with Bleacher Report and Finalsite on “The Role Video Is Playing in the Next Generation of Visual Experiences.” Learn more and register here.


The data analyzed for this report comprises engagement patterns during the fourth quarter of 2019 through April of 2020 across more than 700 Cloudinary customers, spanning more than a dozen vertical industries and a representative sampling of over 200 billion transactions per month.

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