Long considered the realm of words, links and hashtags, Twitter is now home to a new but familiar feature: the in-stream photo. In late October, the micro-blogging service debuted image and video previews that give web and mobile users a peek at the media embedded in their Twitter streams. For consumers, these provide a break in the monotony of a text-heavy stream, while marketers applaud the feature as an effective means of attracting attention.

Though regular Twitter users seem to enjoy consuming images in this way, it’s marketers who are really jumping on the sharing potential. Brands the world over are realizing the potential for everything from branding to sharing news to simply attracting eyeballs. As with any new marketing tactics, however, there are right and wrong ways to approach image previews in tweets.

To dig in deeper to the reasons Twitter’s new visual integrations are useful to brands and how they can be best utilized, we chatted with a number of industry experts. Jeromy Ko is a strategist at the aptly-named The Social Firm in Columbus, Ohio, where he manages the Twitter accounts of several regional clients. Sarah Maloy is the social media manager for image distribution site Shutterstock. Finally, Mark Quest is the founder of Los Angeles-based strategic marketing firm Forte- The Collective. Here’s what they had to say.

First, Get the Specs

Before implementing image previews as a facet of your social media marketing strategy, it’s important to know the basic rules surrounding them. “We were really excited when Twitter images came out,” Maloy says, “knowing that everyone loves images and that this can only help the effectiveness of our tweets.” Already, she’s seen at least twice as much engagement with tweets featuring images versus those without.

But it’s not simply about attaching an image to your tweet and calling it a day, Maloy says. Over the past two months, she’s examined the specific features that result in a successful image tweet. For starters, you must know that the preview window measures a 2:1 width-to-length ratio. Your images must be at least 440 pixels wide and 220 pixels tall, though Twitter prefers you to use images that are 1024 by 512 pixels to reward those who click with a larger image.

If you can’t get a horizontal shot, make sure the most important visual aspect is in the center, which is what will display in the preview. Finally, use photos with a single visual focal point, such as the one pictured above (which happens to have been featured in one of Shutterstock’s most popular image tweets to date.)

Maloy also offered a bonus tip: When it comes to images previewed in tweets, colors can make a difference. She’s found that red is a particularly powerful hue, resulting in higher engagement than images that focus on another shade.

Clarify Your Social Marketing Objectives

The most obvious use for images in tweets is as an additional branding opportunity. Ko says rich media can help followers associate logos, images or even colors with an entity. For example, when a client switched to a new color palette recently, Ko responded by putting a border in that specific shade of red on each image tweeted by the brand. This helped followers connect the two without being explicitly told about the change.

In fact, these images provide an opportunity to advertise your brand without explicitly doing so. Ko recommends sharing behind-the-scenes images, which can create an aura of intimacy or even exclusivity. Consider a professional sports team that shared images from the locker room — not only would followers be intrigued by the visuals, they would also feel like part of the club.

Whatever your specific objectives may be, however, it is important to limit your advertising content. Ko mentions placing image-laden promoted tweets a couple of times a month, but knows too much of this would turn off followers. Quest agrees, saying, “Constantly feeding ads, people don’t want that.” Instead, he encourages marketers to share the unique details that define their brands.

Mix Things Up

The one thing Maloy, Ko and Quest firmly agreed on was that too much is a bad thing. Rather than appending an image to every tweet, consider those which would have the most impact. Perhaps you are showcasing a new product, promoting a blog post or offering a peek behind the scenes — the types of “news” that might require additional attention. By mixing in image tweets along with regular ones, you avoid cluttering the stream and losing followers.

Mixing things up also refers to the content of your images. “Users get so much content now that you have to switch it up and understand that people, especially on Twitter, they want quick images that they can thumb through and be on to the next,” Quest says. Social media managers should never push the same image repeatedly. Rather, consider sharing pictures that exemplify your brand or that are relevant to your subject area, even if they come from another source.

As you prepare to integrate image tweets into your daily schedule, it is also important to adhere to social media’s number one rule: think before you speak (or, in this case, tweet). Consider not only the quality of your photos, but how their content will resonate with followers.

[Image credits: Maryland Gov Pics, Shutterstock, Mark Hunter, Arthur Caranta]