The Power of Infographics

Originally posted on Social Media Explorer

A picture is worth a thousand words. In the digital age, the saying has never been more relevant. To cope with the daily onslaught of information we’ve become content grazers, skimming headlines and post descriptions for the promise of bite-sized nuggets of information.

As brevity becomes more important, infographics present brand journalists with a great opportunity to deliver knowledge, ideas, solutions, etc., in a manner that can be quickly consumed, understood and remembered.

Robin Richards, Information Design Director at the creative firm JESS3, says this about infographics:

“The public’s collapsing attention span has given rise to a relatively new content format: the infographic. Infographics – a visual representation of complex data – have emerged as one of the most popular and shareable forms of social content.”

In doing some research for a recent presentation I delivered during Social Media Week in Vancouver, I came across a staggering statistic regarding the growth of infographics on the Web.

A Google image search for the term “infographics” returned 978k results. Four months ago the same search mentioned in Jeremiah Owyang’s blog post about the need for infographics to evolve returned 570k infographic images. I don’t profess to be an SEO expert or pretend to understand the complexity of the Google search algorithm, but there has to be something going on when 40% more infographics show up on the web in such a short period of time.

Popularity

There are a few factors that might explain why infographics are so popular:

Easy to digest – There is less friction when it comes to consuming information that is (well) presented visually. It requires less time to read, absorb and get the gist of information.

Infographics are easy to share – Even if you’re not a visual thinking geek like me, you’d likely agree that this content format can be a pretty cool way to present information. Their uniqueness and compact nature can prompt people to readily share them.

Learning styleThe Visual Teaching Alliance states that approximately 65% of people are visual learners and that the human brain processes visual information about 60,000 times faster than text.

R.O.I.

Infographics are popular amongst web users for all the reasons stated above, but they are also in vogue with organizations because they can add business value. Some examples:

  • Brand AwarenessThe Content Grid, created by JESS3 on behalf of Eloqua, has been one of the more popular infographics published in the last year. Here are some awareness metrics published by Eloqua regarding this infographic: 1168 tweets, 722 inbound links, 58 blog articles mentioning the infographic and 3003 offsite views.
  • Signals – Infographics are one way to create signals in a sea of internet noise. Signals result in conversations … and the right conversation lead to business opoortunities. I’m personal proof that it works – the infographics that I’ve published have helped fuel conversations that have lead to a contributor gig here at SME, sitting on a panel with Jay Baer for the Vancouver NOW Revolution book tour stop, guest lecturing at the University of Toronto and a few consulting projects. If I can do it, anyone can! :)
  • Improved Results – Visual thinking impresario Dave Gray shares a great example of the power of visualization and how it adds tangible business value. During this interview he talks about how a large hotel chain used visual tools across different business phases to added incremental revenue by cutting 5 months off the time required to launch a new property.

5 Types and Uses

For many people the thought of infographics is synonymous with data visualization. For others it represents a form of idea art. Whatever your perspective, infographics come in many different shapes and sizes and can be used by organizations to manage knowledge/information presented to both internal and external audiences.

  1. Statistics – One of the most popular infographic types is data visualization. Nothing is more difficult to consume and absord than reems of statisctical data – If your organization is presenting company information and/or industry research consider using infographics to present findings or highlight insights.
  2. Concepts – My favorite infographics are metaphors for ideas. These are great for use in illustrating though leadership or organizational philosophy. These conceptual visuals can also be very effective in teaching/training situations.
  3. Models – These type of information visuals help describe process. Organizations can use these to explain complex business procedures, workflows, distribution channels, service offerings, information flow, etc.
  4. Cartoons – Purists might not agree, but I feel humorous illustration, particularly in a business context, classify as information graphics. Cartoons are an effective way for organizations to transfer information about ideas, scenarios and culture to their target audiences.
  5. Information Resources – These infographics effectively aggregate useful and relevant information into a format that adds value. Organizations can use infographics to create industry resources, specifications guides, “cheat sheets,” product comparisons, etc.

Getting Started

You don’t have to be a graphic designer to start creating effective infographics. Here are few tips to get you started:

  1. Explore new ways to inform – always be thinking of your audiences information needs and better ways to help them learn. Think about all the content your organization has – what are some ways to restructure it and present it visually?
  2. Record your thoughts – Use a journal, smart phone, sticky notes, etc. to keep track of ideas for infographics. I get a lot of inspirartion from the blogs I read and find it helpful to use a bookmarking tool like Delicious to keep track of concepts for future exploration.
  3. Process and refine ideas – Invest some “thinking time” to give those rough ideas a chance to morph into more polished thoughts and designs.
  4. Create and publish – Execution can be the toughest part of any project, infographics are no different. Don’t get to attached to perfection – if you do you may never end up publishing anything. Put stuff out there and let it evolve.

If you’re not into the DIY model think about these other ways to get your infographics created and published:

  • Use an existing resource – If your organization has an in-house designer or preferred vendor you use for other projects, consider collaborating with them to create infographic content as well.
  • Outsource to a pro – If you have the budget consider hiring a design firm that specializes in creating infographics.
  • Partner with an art student – develop a mutually beneficial relationship with your local art school. You get infographics at a fair price, the students get real work for their portfolios.

A few things to remember…

Keep it simple – Some infographics are becoming just as hard to consume as text content. If you have a really complex idea, concept or process it might make more sense to break it up into a series of infographics.

Try to tell a story – Think about the objective of infographic. What one thing do you want your audience to gleen from your visual? Keep this “tagline” in mind when your presenting data or an idea.

Make sharing easy – I highly recommend not gating your infographic content. Use a Creative Commons license to make it easy for people to share infographics on their blogs and websites.

Ideas rule – It’s not about your skill level as an artist or the software you use. The important thing is being able to convey information relevant to your audience in a way that’s easy to consume and remember.

Just do it – Again, invest more time making sure your idea makes sense and less energy obsessing about creating the perfect piece of infographic art.

What are your thoughts about the business of infographics? Has your organization used infographics to share information or knowledge? What were the results? The comments are yours.

Be Sociable, Share!
About Mark Smiciklas

Digital Strategist + Visual Thinker. I use a practical approach to teach organizations how to achieve business objectives using the dynamics of Web 2.0 Please drop by with a blog comment or feel free to connect with me on Google+.