The visual transformation of 2012 means a shift in content strategy for 2013

December 19, 2012

GET THE PICTURE: 2013 will be marked
by an increase in visual content strategies

If there is one clear picture that was vividly painted for social media this year, it’s that 2012 was the year of visual storytelling. We’ve seen a meteoric rise in visual content across every social platform. The media have become more visual than ever, and sites focused solely on images are some of the fastest growing social networks in history.

I realize it’s no breakthrough revelation to predict that visual content will play a significant role in the 2013 PR industry. However, putting this large shift into perspective and understanding the changes in audiences’ content consumption will certainly be a high priority for many astute brands in the coming year.

So as we begin to think about the strategic use of visual content in 2013, it is important to first understand its influence in 2012. Here are just a few of the major transformations that took place over the past year:

Facebook transitioned to Timeline. As we discussed in our Facebook Timeline e-book, when Facebook overhauled its platform to the new Timeline format, many of the changes were made specifically with the intention of encouraging a more visual experience. Some of these changes include the introduction of the cover photo, the ability to pin content to the top of your Timeline, the expanded display of visual content as users scroll through the news feed, Timeline and milestone photos, and the ability to highlight photos on your Timeline to make them appear in widescreen format. Clearly, 2012 was the year Facebook went visual.

Rise of Pinterest. Pinterest has taken the social web by storm. Pinterest now refers more traffic than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined. Additionally, it refers more traffic than Twitter, even though it only has one-tenth of the users. Pinterest even outperforms search engines and content hubs such as Yahoo! and Bing. In one year, Pinterest has exploded from 1 million to 30 million registered users.

Rise of Instagram. In less than a year, Instagram grew from 56,360 users to over 12 million users. Instagram now gets 5,000,000 photos uploaded every day that gain 575 new likes and 81 comments every second. In September, around the same time it was being acquired by Facebook, it was also celebrating its 5 billionth share.

Memes. If you’re on Facebook or Tumblr, you’ve seen more than your fair share of memes — the photos with clever captions that appeal to the sarcasm lover in all of us. Businesses that understand the culture of their fans are able to create effective memes that resonate and are shared throughout networks.

Infographics. These have come to play a prominent role in all types of media, including social platforms, news sites, blogs, and live TV. Companies from start-ups to Fortune 500 organizations are creating narratives through visual data and distributing them to audiences for easy consumption.

Facebook buys Instagram. The $1 billion purchase catapulted Instagram’s user base by 1,100% in six months. The premium price and the exponential growth clearly show that Facebook understands the continued emphasis on visual media for the foreseeable future.

Most recently, Twitter launched its own photo editing app, and LinkedIn redesigned user profiles to provide a more visual experience that includes better integration of images and presentations.

Why visual, why now?

With so much content from so many sources competing for so little of your readers’ time, visual content provides a way to quickly engage readers, tell your story, and leave a lasting impression.

Brands once believed that by building a large fan base on their social media platforms they would automatically have a built-in audience to consume their press releases, media hits, blog posts, white papers, and other content. But in 2012 they’ve (hopefully) learned that with a never-ending flow of content from an endless variety of sources, the competition for their audiences’ limited attention is more intense than ever.

Smart marketers have realized that in such a noisy world, their audience must not only hear them, but also see them. They understand that gaining a reader’s attention is now only half of the challenge. Once you have readers’ attention, you must be able to tell your story in the amount of time it takes them to scroll through their feed as they scan your content before coming to the next tweet, update, photo, or blog post. You have only a second in time before the reader decides to click to read further or scrolls on to other content.

Visualizing 2013

In 2013 we will not only see the continued increase of visual content production, we’ll also see strategic creation and distribution of that content. We’ll begin to see existing assets re-purposed visually and new content created specifically with a visual component in mind.

What used to take pages to explain in a white paper, will now be curated into a bite-sized visual that communicates the same core message in a way that is much more easily digestible and will stick with the user longer than an overload of text-only data and figures.

Last year I predicted that brands will begin to customize content that is relevant to their audience in the delivery method readers prefer. That delivery method is now visual.

So this holiday season, you might want to pay special attention to gifts for your designers, graphic artists, and visual storytellers. You’ll need them in 2013. The visual web is here.

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