How to Optimize Your Thumbnails to Maximize Video Engagement on Social Media

Dash Hudson
5 min readMar 16, 2021

[Originally published on the Dash Hudson blog]

Effective video content-whether organic or paid will almost always make a bigger impact with your target audience than static content. The challenge? Stopping that audience from scrolling by. Video thumbnails are one of the most important factors for driving engagement. Selecting eye-catching video thumbnails will maximize video engagement on social media and bolster views.

Video usage by brands was already increasing, but 2020 kicked the rise of video into high gear. Brands introduced new styles of videos to bolster community-building efforts and ramp up e-commerce sales more than ever before. And for good reason- paid video generates 48% higher sales than static ads. To make the most out of your investment in video content, a compelling thumbnail that grabs your target audience’s attention is critical to generate video engagement on social media and stand out in 2021.

Capture the Coveted Click

As TikTok’s growth continues to skyrocket and new video features and tools emerge on channels like Instagram and Pinterest, video engagement on social media has quickly become a top priority for marketers. The path to video engagement might require a few more steps than static content-but its impact on brand and audience growth is invaluable. Developing your TikTok marketing strategy is crucial. Your thumbnail is your audience’s first impression of your video, making it crucial that brands make a powerful first impression. The thumbnail is what entices your audience to hit play.

Slicing and dicing your video content to optimize for the formats and user behavior of each social channel is essential. Similarly, each channel has unique features to enable brands to optimize video content with custom thumbnails. The common thread across channels should be your thumbnail selection. Leveraging AI technology to test which thumbnails will resonate with your target audience will differentiate your organic and paid video content from the crowded social space. Not to mention, selecting high-performing video thumbnails will ensure every visual you serve your audience aligns with your brand aesthetic.


Video is an Instagram staple. From IGTV and Reels, to in-feed video, Instagram continues to equip marketers with new tools and features to bolster social strategies. Brands across industries are regularly integrating video into their content mix to add depth to their strategies and create a unique voice in the digital space.

With IGTV and Reels, video thumbnails are more relevant than ever. Users can browse three separate feeds from your page, which means you need to ensure that every video thumbnail you serve your audience tells a story. Show off the finished product in the thumbnail of cooking videos or make-up tutorials or add text to your thumbnail to give context to a virtual interview or discussion.

New Balance uses videos as a powerful tool for storytelling. The brand’s thumbnails are expertly curated to tease the athlete featured in the video enough to entice users without giving too much away. Chipotle finds innovative ways to create thumbnails that capture a subtle branded moment in a lo-fi style video, effectively incorporating community-created content onto its feed without losing the look and feel of its brand.

When uploading videos in any capacity on Instagram, brands can either upload a custom thumbnail or select a thumbnail from the video. With Dash Hudson’s visual technology, brands can test different thumbnails to understand which images will perform with their target audience. Vision eliminates guesswork and equips brands with the tools they need to reach their video engagement goals.


The effectiveness of video is even higher on a channel like Pinterest because the majority of content in the main feed is static. Pinners are purchase-minded, making video the perfect medium to educate consumers about your products and services and move them further down the sales funnel. Oreo leverages video pins to serve up recipes featuring their classic cookies and creates custom thumbnails to highlight the finished product and add their signature logo.

Similar to other social channels, video thumbnails are often lost among a sea of pins, so it is important that brands understand their audience’s preferences and tastes when selecting a thumbnail. This can make or break your video pin performance. The key to creating high-performing video thumbnails is a combination of AI technology and following Pinterest’s video spec guidelines. Dash Hudson’s Pinterest Analytics equips brands with the data they need to select thumbnails that will meet their objectives and illicit action in their target audience on Pinterest.


Videos on Facebook have a 1200% higher chance of being shared than static images. Your video’s thumbnail is key to tapping into Facebook’s powerful shareability. To realize the full potential of your video advertising and organic strategy, Facebook enables businesses to select a thumbnail image. This is what users will see before a video starts and at the end of your video. Similar to Instagram and Pinterest, brands need to select visuals that will capture clicks every time on Facebook. HelloFresh creates custom thumbnails to strategically differentiate video series featuring celebrity partners from other content.

Optimize your advertising click throughs and revenue with AI-driven performance predictions for your video thumbnails. Every video your brand puts in front of consumers isn’t guaranteed engagement, regardless of the influencer featured in the video or the budget you paid, tapping into data and treating your video thumbnails like you treat your static Facebook ads will help your videos reach their fullest engagement potential.

Create a Powerful Preview

Your video engagement potential relies on the thumbnail. While it may be tempting to quickly grab a screenshot from the video before uploading, taking time to apply predictive performance technology to a handful of thumbnail selects will pay off in views and engagement. An innovative video is only as engaging as its thumbnail. AI-backed visuals are the secret to thumbnail creation and video engagement on social media.

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Originally published on March 16, 2021.



Dash Hudson

A modern social marketing software empowering global brands to move at the speed of social.