Why Infographics Work for Business
It is evident from the preceding section that our brains are “wired” for visual communication. But how does the scientific rationale for using infographics translate to the world of business?
There is no doubt that our attention spans are becoming more compressed as technology and digital media become more prevalent in our personal and professional lives. In the age of information overload, data crashes over us like a tidal wave (see Figure 1.4). There are a number of dynamics at play that help make a business case for the use of infographics in your marketing, content strategy, or communication mix.
Figure 1.4 Information tidal wave.
In an era of data overload, infographics offer your audience information in a format that is easy to consume and share.
Easy to Digest
Your audiences are consuming more and more of their information online, so it’s important to understand how the process of interacting with digital data differs from that of print.
In general, we tend to read much slower off a screen than we do from more tactile media such as books and magazines. The reality is we have become scanners and skimmers of content.
Over the last two decades, renowned web usability expert Jakob Nielsen has been researching how users interact with the web. One thing he discovered is just how little we actually like to read online, establishing that the average person will read about 20% of the words on a regular web page.9
The information age has also sparked a change in how your audience processes information and navigates the web. One behavior pattern that has developed is Continuous Partial Attention,10 in which web users are simultaneously connected to multiple digital channels in order to maximize their access to information. The end result is increased exposure to content but at a more superficial level, creating slivers of attention (see Figure 1.5).
Figure 1.5 Slivers of attention.
As we continue to gain access to vast volumes of information, our attention spans are becoming more fractured. Because the brain seeks out and notices things that are different, it can be easier to attract more slivers of your audience’s attention by communicating your information visually.
One of the by-products of this new online reality is the “attention economy,” the idea that a consumer’s attention to information has become a form of currency. A user becomes aware of your content, invests an amount of mental energy consuming that information, and then decides whether to engage further.11
Social media strategy consultant, speaker, and author Jay Baer believes that technology is shaping the evolution of communication in this era of fractured attention spans.
“To a large degree, technology dictates how we communicate,” says Baer. “Time wasn’t an issue in the days when we used scrolls and long-form writing to share information.”
Baer goes on to say that infographics fit very well into the “140-character” world: “As we become more pressed for time, concise, crystallized communication has become more important.”
In an era where time is at a premium and attention is becoming a precious commodity, your audience is looking for nuggets of information. Infographics serve that need by presenting knowledge in an easy-to-digest format.
Another important online communication dynamic is “word of mouse”—the ability of your information to spread digitally from person to person.
You don’t need to be a programmer to embed sharing functionality on digital channels. Sharing toolbars and widgets are very accessible to content creators and are becoming commonplace on websites, blogs, and social networks.
When it comes to sharing content, the challenge is less technological than it is behavioral.
Many people are not comfortable sharing a link to an article, blog post, or web page unless they’ve had the chance to read it. A lot of content is shared across business networks, and many professionals want to make sure that information is relevant to their audience and congruent with their opinions and beliefs before they share it. Being pressed for time, many people don’t necessarily have the luxury of reading lengthy amounts of text. As a result, they are less likely to share certain types of content.
Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer LLC, thinks that infographics have an inherently low barrier when it comes to sharing. “With infographics, you’re not asking people to spend ten minutes reading eight hundred words of text,” says Falls. “If you’ve got the key point of your message summed up in an attractive infographic, your audience can glance at it and get it...that’s faster.” He goes on to say that infographics are shared because “they are easy to comprehend and don’t take up much of people’s time. If infographics communicate something useful, there is a strong likelihood that people will share them with their networks.”
Falls also feels that there is a reluctance to share long-form content. “These days, I think people are more hesitant when it comes to sharing lengthy blog posts or videos,” he says. “If you’ve got an infographic that literally takes 20 seconds or so to scroll and scan, it becomes quick and easy to study and makes it much more shareable.”12
A well-placed, self-contained infographic addresses our need to be confident about the content we’re sharing. Infographics relay the gist of your information quickly, increasing the chance for it to be shared and fueling its spread across a wide variety of digital channels.
The “Cool” Factor
Aesthetics are another reason that well-designed infographics are an effective communication tool. Simply put, infographics are different—and cool to look at, as in Figure 1.6!
Figure 1.6 The Cool Factor.
Infographics serve practical business communication goals, but also work because they are cool and aesthetically pleasing. This fun infographic, created by Column Five for MySpace, shows the quirky inner-workings of the mind of a film buff. (Source: Column Five for MySpace. You can view the full version of this infographic at http://bitly.com/yHhoN9)
Competition for your audience’s attention is fierce. The average person is exposed to the equivalent of 174 newspapers full of information every day.13 As a result, the person your brand is trying to connect with probably spends only a few seconds on your content before deciding whether to move on to the next post, site, or network. Differentiating your organization, brand, or ideas is critical.
That fact that infographics are unique allows organizations an opportunity to make the content they are publishing stand out and get noticed.