August 11, 2022

The Psychology Behind Thumbnail Images

person scrolling through images on a phone

Streaming Trends

How do you decide what you’re going to watch next? When you’re scrolling through your streaming app, what makes you stop for a closer look? The title? The genre? Or is it the thumbnail?

Most of us make our daily micro-decisions (what to watch, wear, eat, etc.) based on a gut instinct or emotional tug. This happens almost instantaneously and often subconsciously, but it happens all the same. In a case study on how Netflix optimizes their thumbnails, author Trung T. Phan says typical users spend 90 seconds browsing titles, reserving a mere 1.8 seconds per thumbnail. If something doesn’t catch their attention, they leave.

In addition to testing thumbnails and choosing thumbnails based on a user’s interests, here are a few thumbnail traits, which always perform well:

  • Main characters
  • Villains
  • Two or fewer characters
  • Expressive faces
  • Bright colours

Since at least 2015, optimizing thumbnails has been a priority at Netflix, and as a result, “its personalization algorithms added $1B to the company’s revenue (mostly by reducing churn).”

Why This Matters

While many nonprofits aren’t competing at a Netflix-level, these lessons do cross-apply. A broadcast ministry, for example, will have decades’ worth of assets, but not every product cover or image translates seamlessly onto digital media.

Next Step

Click here to read the full study and then take some time to review best practices for whatever platform you’re trying to establish your organization on. Whether it’s YouTube thumbnails, Reels covers, or website images, the more you optimize for the specific platform, the better your results will be.