With the rise of influencer marketing and with companies producing more content themselves than ever before, proper management of thumbnails can be the difference between a successful campaign and an unsuccessful one.
Thumbnails are the first point of contact between a potential viewer and your content. They can be your greatest asset and your worst enemy, all depending on how you manage them. Be it a Facebook Video, YouTube Video or even an accompanying image to a Tweet – that first impression means everything.
#1 – Colour And Contrast
The first thing people think of when they talk about “good” thumbnails is “standing out”. Take a look at YouTube’s trending topics for Ireland at time of writing:
Christmas is coming up, so there are a lot of blues and whites in the colour palette. This makes The Graham Norton Show stick out immediately on the page. When the trend of the time is to go a certain direction with thumbnails, flying in the face of that can do a lot to make you stick out. In this case, The Graham Norton Show’s pink set happens to contrast well with the colder tones of the other trending videos. Predicting colour trends like this can be difficult, and sometimes you can be constrained by the content of the video or company colours, but it’s worth considering.
#2 Don’t Stand Out Too Much
While this may seem counter-intuitive, a perfect example is the iDubbbzTV video above. Let’s take a closer look:
There is a lot going on here. Multiple toys are visible in the picture, the subject’s head is exaggerated and tilted, his arms are covered in an off-putting green substance and the font is erratic and distracting. Individually, these are attempts to pique interest and intrigue a viewer passively scrolling through their feed. When combined, they create a difficult to parse mess and one that is unlikely to draw in new viewers. The image is too dependent on its detail, and the details are too low-resolution to make out at a glance.
#3 Make It Personal
Including a face, particularly a familiar face, is essential when possible. If sponsoring influencer content, the influencers’ faces should almost always be in the campaign thumbnails. Similarly, any brand ambassadors or “faces of the brand” that become recognisable are important. Recognition is a powerful tool, and leveraging it can turn viewers into repeat viewers. Emotive, well-lit faces are a staple of successful thumbnails.
Tying a face to your brand humanizes it. If you have a brand ambassador who makes content consistently, people will begin to associate with them and come back. Having a bank of reference photos of your ambassador expressing different emotions can also be very useful for thumbnails.
#4 Use Text
Catchy titles are essential, but text in the thumbnail allows you to communicate in a larger format. You also have additional control over font, colour etc.
Legibility is key, so an easy to read font set such as Impact or Future is a good start. Always consider background colours and contrast:
Large text is featured in many of the examples listed above, and it conveys a series name or a keyword from the subject of the video. Text is often under-utilsed in thumbnails, which means its presence is even more effective when used appropriately and carefully. Evocative words, questions and calls to action are all great uses of text in thumbnails.
There are lots of general guidelines for YouTube thumbnails in terms of sizing, format etc available. Examples include networks like Fullscreen, Google Support or the Youtube Creator Academy for a more in depth look.