The Rise of The Image In Online Conversation

You might say we’ve regressed to caveman era communications in some ways. After all, the first social media was the cavewall. That’s where we drew images to share with others where the best grub was and how good we were at hunting and other stories. Then there’s the tried and true saying of “a picture is worth a thousand words”, perhaps even more so today. We also forecast 3 years ago the rise of the image in importance for communications. So we wanted to test our forecast. We were right. Here’s how we did that and what we found. And if you’re going to produce more content for marketing or public communications, images (still and moving) best be on top of the list.

What & How to Measure to Image Value In Social Media Communications?
We a lot of thinking around this; after all, we needed something we could measure. We have very good text analytics software we’ve developed around sentiment and context. We’re also good at measuring the volume of sharing and reach of text and image content. Since much of our work is in public and digital diplomacy on civil society issues with social media we decided to focus on the area of civil activity – activists such as grass roots political groups, uprisings, environmental groups etc. Not from a negative or positive perspective, simply from a content perspective – text vs image. We also settled on civil activity because we did an initial scan of corporations and government and found they tend to be very text heavy.

First Lesson Learned
Corporations and governments are very text heavy in their communications. The larger the more text used. There is nothing at all wrong with this and it’s necessary in many cases (such as public policy materials) but they could use more imagery. Note to marketers and public policy practitioners – get your designer mojo going. non-profit organisations and social groups leverage imagery much more often and much more effectively.

Images Get Shared & Ranked The Most
Using a baseline of 2,500 corporations and governments as a comparative to similar group of activist groups, non-profits and similar organisations we compared over a 3 month period, what was shared the most (text or images) and what received more “likes”, “+1′s” or thumbs up or down across Facebook, Google+, Blogs, Twitter, Identi.ca, Plurk, Pinterest, YouTube, DailyMotion, Break.com and several other channels – we ONLY accessed/analysed publicly available data. We found that an image is likely to be shared, ranked, tagged or commented on 52 times more often than text content. Images that are “emotional” in nature (one could argue all images are emotional) are shared 72 times more often. Still photo’s are shared 27 times more than videos or video links.

Summary
As you’re planning your communications materials for cyberspace this year, think imagery. Find a good photographer, illustrator, artist and graphic designer and engage them. Imagery is playing an increasingly vital role in social media and cyberspace as a whole. We’ve already seen the average blog post decrease from an average of 800 words in 2008 to 200 words or less in 2012. With the pervasiveness of cameras in mobile devices (phones & tablets) and digital camera prices decreasing constantly, taking and sharing videos and photo’s is only going to increase. Add in services like Yfrog and Instagram and the ability to edit an image or video on the mobile device, well, you see where it is and where it’s going. Sites like Pinterest and GentleMint are very image focused and they’re gaining in popularity, just further evidence of the rise of imagery in modern social communications and SOCMINT.