Welcome to the Visual Web
Leigh George

Unless you’ve been unplugged over the last year, you’ve surely seen the explosion in visual content and visually-based social networks on which to share that content. This explosion is called the Visual Web. But where did it come from and how can you use it to blow your business goals out of the water? (Ok, I know there’s something wildly absurd about writing an article about the VisualWeb so you can stop snickering now).When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it revolutionized photography. Before smartphones people would take pictures of life events—babies, weddings, graduations, trips, etc. Remember the “Kodak Moment?” The iPhone, essentially a hand-held computer that can easily be carried anywhere, suddenly allowed you to take pictures of and instantly share even the most mundane details of your life never considered worth documenting before—your conference badge, your dog lying around the house, strangers’ kids playing in a fountain, what you look like at 7 a.m., the equipment at the gym you work out on (all of these came from photos shared by my friends on Facebook—I can’t make this stuff up). With the iPhone and the other smartphones that followed, photography was no longer a keepsake or memento. Photography was constantly being created and shared. It’s become disposable.

The iPhone not only revolutionized the kinds of photos people took, it also revolutionized how people shared those photos. With mobile apps, you’re able to take pictures and instantly share them with your friends, fans and followers and random people you connected with online, but now regret. While networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube existed before the iPhone, visually-based social network apps have exploded over the last several years. There are numerous camera apps, including Hipstamatic and Instagram, which are both photo-sharing networks with digital filters that let you turn the photos you took today into relics from the ‘70s. There’s no bigger sign of the growing importance of these visual networks to online engagement than Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram for one billion dollars. In addition to YouTube, video sharing networks include SocialCam and Viddy, the Twitter of video networks. Tumblr is a blog platform based on images. Pinterest is an image- and video-sharing site based on bulletin board-like collections. Pinterest’s explosive growth made it the fastest site in history to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark according to comScore. It is now the third largest social network in the U.S.

While mobile phones led to the proliferation of visually-based apps, the Visual Web exploded because people are drawn to visual content. On Facebook, the network approaching mass media status, Dan Zarrella has found that photos perform best for likes, comments, and shares as compared to text, video, and links. Pinterest has generated more referral traffic for businesses than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined, says Shareaholic. And videos are just as powerful.  According to MarketingSherpa, viewers spend 100% more time on pages with videos on them. But, why are we so attracted to images? Our brains are naturally hard-wired to process visual information.It turns out that though we’ve spent all this time writing blog posts, composing 140 character tweets and writing thought leadership pieces like this one, we’ve been paddling upstream. People’s brains don’t like words. 3M Corporation and Zabisco found that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text… Think about that the next time you work on your content calendar.

OK, so images are more powerful that words. How can you use that knowledge to create powerful social marketing strategies? Visual content should play a crucial role in any plan to shape the online conversations around the types of products and services you sell. If you can’t resonate with audiences, your message will fall flat. And that’s the beauty of visual content. It’s inherently architected to be consumed and shared. But how do you use it effectively?

One area with tremendous promise is reporting. What do your analytics reports look like? Wait, let me guess. Lots of numbers, maybe some charts. But do they tell clients a story? Do you present information in a way that highlights what is important, what your client needs to know to make business decisions? And I’m not talking about those putting lipstick on a pig infographics that just slap some imagery around numbers. I’m talking about crafting a story about performance and using images to tell that story. Instead of a bar chart representing a particular metric that some arcane blog told you was important to track, use color, size and scale to instantly communicate key information that drives business decisions. For example, an executive summary R2integrated created for a client instantly captures the impact of their paid media campaign and where conversions are happening. So, the next time your team sits down together to plan the next phase of your social strategy, think visually. Think about how your messages can be translated into photos, videos, and infographics. Figure out what visual networks make sense for your company or organization based on your goals and who you’re trying to reach. Explore how you can incorporate visual communication into other aspects of your business like presentations and reporting. The Visual Web is here. Now get your nose out of this thought leadership piece and start figuring out how to leverage it.


Leigh George, PhD., is Director of Digital Strategy for R2integrated.