Over the last few years, the Internet has developed an insatiable appetite for visualized data. Good design and interesting topics have fueled the population’s hunger for infographics and you can be sure that marketers are doing their best to capitalize. As a result, the market has become flooded with data visualization (and plenty of bad infographics) so creators must work harder or smarter (or both) in order to break through the noise and connect with an interested audience. In order to help you have a real shot at going viral, this article concentrates on helping you work smarter by equipping you with insider knowledge and expert advice. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll better understand why infographics appeal to the human psyche, how to effectively promote your creation, how to ensure your infographic is not only cool but useful, the role data quality plays in creating an impact, the right way to commission an infographic (for non-designers) and finally whether or not this whole infographic thing is a fad (and therefore worth your time).
I’ll let Charlene Manuel of Visualizing.org kick things off with a nice summary of the infographic boom and who’s participating: “Since Visualizing launched in October 2010, we’ve seen an explosion of interest in data-driven design. Today, a multitude of opportunities and resources exist for creators to communicate the wealth of data being collected and shared. Through our challenges and Visualizing Marathons, we’ve seen the field grow to include individuals of backgrounds in architecture, product design, fine arts and IT. People are really seizing the chance to take part in data visualization because it’s an opportunity to discover insight, communicate about a particular topic and educate a larger audience on a complex issue.”
Lee Sherman from Visual.ly explains why brands are jumping on board the infographics train: “Infographics are the perfect communications medium for the age of big data. They’ve spread like wildfire in recent years because they are both entertaining and informative, as well as being easy to share. In addition, many brands are finding that they are a good way to achieve thought leadership within an industry.”
Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., explains the fascinating psychology behind why infographics appeal to us in the first place: “People are visual creatures so we notice visual information more than text or listening to someone just talk. The visual cortex (the part of the brain that processes visual information) is especially drawn toward bright colors and varying shapes. Speaking of shapes, research actually shows that people like objects with curves, so including circles or curvy lines is a good way to increase the appeal of an infographic. Research also shows that people like things to be predictable, BUT, the brain is sparked by things that are just a little bit different because the human brain actually craves (small) surprises. Our brains also like to pick out patterns which infographics are good at helping us do.” Susan also shared some insight into what makes people want to share infographics in the first place: “Since people like to be seen as smart they will share an infographic they think is interesting or clever because it is a way of showing that they are interesting and clever as well.”
A viral infographic must be two things in my opinion: cool and useful (hmm, that sounds familiar for some reason…). Sébastien Pierre, the founder of Montréal-based data-visualization studio FFunction, warns against the dangers of focusing only on looks: “Do not forget the info in infographics: it’s about information, not entertainment. Infographics work well at communicating complex (or otherwise boring) information because they stimulate both hemispheres of the brain at the same time. Your right brain is stimulated by the forms, colors, illustration and layout, while your left brain is stimulated by the data, facts and numbers that are represented as text and graphs. If you lose the information part of the infographic, then you are just entertaining, if not distracting, without leaving valuable information and your infographic should be just called advertising.”
When I asked the founder and CEO of DataMarket, Hjalmar Gislason, whether or not the quality of data used could affect the chances of an infographic going viral he said, “Unfortunately, the quality of the data used in an infographic may not affect the initial virality of it as much as nice looking visuals or a captivating story. However, it is likely to affect the impact of the attention it creates as people start poking at it and realize that the data is questionable. So, even if your causes, intentions and assumptions are good, make sure your data and methodologies are too. It will make the point of your story easy to defend and your effort more effective in the long run.”
No infographic stands a chance of going viral without a promotional push. It’s got to get in front of as many (influential) eyeballs as possible. “An effective promotional campaign for an infographic starts from the ground up. We all want to be on the New York Times, Huffington Post, Tech Crunch and Mashable, and it is worth submitting your graphics to those sites because you never know what angle they want to take. But it is more important to focus on a grassroots effort. Find that niche blogger or Twitter influencer that speaks to the same audience your graphic is for,” says John T. Meyer, CEO of Lemon.ly.
Tiago Veloso from Visual Loop also has a few ideas that could help your infographic rise to the top:
- Offer to send it to the major infographic sites and blogs before you publish it on your site as an exclusive release (refer to next paragraph for some related thoughts).
- Make available, in text, the key insights and findings of the infographic so they can be tweeted individually.
- Consider the creation of versions of the infographic in other languages in order to maximize the exposure in foreign communities.
When promoting your infographic to the blogosphere, “Don’t blindly send your infographics around asking for people to post them, especially where data visualizations are being discussed on a professional level. Editors (myself included) simply ignore those types of requests. What I think will work much better is sharing a little story to go with your infographic. You could include background on why it looks as it does, what the client liked about it and what feedback you got from the end-users. What it boils down to is this: have something worth exposing before trying to get coverage. It may be more work on your part but I think the storytelling will be worth it,” says Gert Nielsen, the editor of Visualjournalism.com.
One final promotional idea comes from Sean Work, Director of Marketing at KISSmetrics, “The most obvious thing to do is to reach out to your sources and let them know that you’re going to create an infographic based on their research. This should be done far in advance. When it’s time to launch the infographic they can cross promote it as well.”
For non-designers considering commissioning the creation of an infographic, Benjamin Wiederkehr, Designer and Managing Director at Interactive Things, has a few helpful guidelines to start you off in the right direction. He states, “As for any project, it’s important to start with a well constructed brief that includes the objectives and requirements. First, giving context about you and your company, like the mission and vision, helps the designer understand your values and communication strategy. Second, outline the goals of the project at hand with a clear indication of how success is defined and how it will be measured. This should include the core message you’d like to communicate or the key question you’d like to answer. Third, describe the target audience in terms of who they are, what they care about and what do you want them to think and feel when experiencing the final result. Fourth, give an indication about the format and size of the data that drives the visualization. Last but not least, sharing a realistic assessment about time line and budget helps align the expectations and the scope of the project appropriately.”
As much as I love infographics I can’t help but wonder whether they are just a passing fad. Infographics expert Parker Boyack, CEO of Prime Infographics, weighed in with his opinion stating, “Honestly, I used to think so and I still somewhat believe they are going to scale back a little. One thing I have come to realize, however, is that data visualization is powerful. Taking something that’s inherently hard to understand, like the results of a recent survey, and crafting an effective explanation is, and always has been, a difficult task for any business. Because infographics help tell the story in a beautiful and effective manner I believe they are here to stay and are only going to get better.”