Twitter Engagement Study: Photo vs. Text Tweets

Today,  Adweek posted a research article using SHIFT’s data to highlight the effect images have on Tweet engagement. To provide further context, below is additional background about the approach that was used – as well as critical points that should be considered before launching a Twitter campaign.

In late October of 2013 Twitter announced an update to their timelines that would make them more visual and engaging. With this update, previews of Twitter photos, and Vine videos would be shown in-stream with a click-option to see more. This was a significant change from the traditional Twitter timeline that consisted of 140 character text-only tweets. Any photos or videos could only be seen by clicking on a link, which was counted as part of the character limit – below is an example of the same tweet before and after the change.

Before the update: A link to a photo would be included, but would not display as a photo preview directly in the tweet 

After the update: A photo preview displays directly as part of the tweet

There was very little doubt that this would improve user engagement – that was part of Twitter’s promise after all! How much it would improve engagement and across which metrics had yet to be seen. While these measurements will invariably differ based on advertiser, campaign goals, creative, and a host of other variables, we did our own comparative study of photo versus text-only tweets.


SHIFT worked with a CPG client to plan and execute a six-week promoted tweets campaign using SHIFT Media Manager, the leading social advertising app. In an effort to minimize any result biases, the decision was made to alternate between photo tweets and text-only tweets. To make all controllable parameters identical, budgets were evenly distributed and targeting criteria were kept the same. Tweets were then promoted one at a time, once per week, for a 24-hour period until all tweets had run. The schedule was as follows:


Over the course of the campaign, our team used SHIFT Media Manager to closely tracked the weekly results and it immediately became apparent that tweets with photos drive substantially higher engagement across all metrics. Users engaged (i.e. clicks on tweet, photo, links, and additional Twitter actions) at a rate 5X higher when a photo was included versus text-only. When looking specifically at individual actions, users retweeted and replied 2X more when images were included. While the difference in these rates was impressive, perhaps the most surprising result was that photo tweets delivered these engagements at a cost-per-engagement less than half that of text-only tweets. See the breakdown here:

Results of tweets with photos vs. text-only


After looking at these comparative results there is no question that tweets with photos generates a greater number of engagements than text-only tweets. It now becomes a question of how to apply learnings from this study to your own campaign. Here are several critical points that we think are important to consider:

  • Before launching a campaign, clearly define the campaign objective, e.g. brand awareness (impressions), engagements (clicks), etc. As an example, because tweets with photos deliver such efficient engagement rates, they typically require a lower impression count. Clear goals will help ensure that the appropriate creative is used to deliver against campaign objectives.

  • If using photos as part of a promoted tweet campaign, verify that photos are uploaded directly to Twitter – will display as a ‘pic.twitter’ URL – otherwise there will be no image preview displayed within the timeline.

  • Tweet content and images should be relevant to one another in order to enhance the effectiveness of messaging/call-to-actions (CTA).

  • Focus users’ attention on photos and CTAs by limiting the use of ancillary click options, e.g. @usernames, #hashtags, multiple links, etc.

  • At the end of the day, every brand campaign is unique and has to be treated as such. While photos will, in most cases, increase engagement rates, brands need to analyze delivery on an ongoing basis. Doing so will allow trends to emerge and present opportunities to test and optimize in order to see what delivers the best results for a particular campaign.


On a platform that keeps content concise at 140 characters, it has never been truer and in this case never more important, that a picture is worth a thousand words. Do you have your own tips that aren’t included? Share them in the comments section below or tweet us @SHIFTplatform. And if you have questions or want to learn more about best practices on Twitter, please reach out to our team at SHIFT — we’re happy to help!