Viral infographics. Characterized by their incredible length, their naive (mis)use of some vector graphics illustration software, and a clear wish to explain all sorts of seemingly banal phenomena in visual pictograms, they have become a fixed feature in the current online experience.
Despite the surge in popularity, still "meritocracy exists". As a result, some visualization experts claim graphic design to be the main culprit, while graphic designers propose to call these "infoposters" instead of "infographics". One thing is sure: the future if infographics is bright, and they will not go away.
This infographics phenomenon is intriguing. Visualization blogs in particular have no chance to escape them, even when they do not post them (well, except of subtly critiquing them a bit). For instance, while I kept ignoring them, the frequency of the posting requests kept increasing, and a few even asked what the "payment options" were. Being paid to publish a clumsy infographic? Clearly, infographics will be becoming the new, (huge-format size) ad creatives of the future: not as a "paid post", but "... as an inclusion that warrants some form of payment" (now you figure out the difference). So instead of simply ignoring these post suggestions, I shot back a request of my own: would they be willing to answer some questions regarding their business? While most never replied, 2 friendly marketing specialists were willing to reveal the hidden mechanics in viral, online infographics...
Who designs the infographics? What is the business model behind them? What do they interpret as quality: Tufte-ian functionality or Mondrianesque beauty?
Could you introduce yourself? What is your role in the viral infographics business? How did you get originally involved?
Jones: My name is Shane Jones and my role is as an Internet Marketing Specialist for WebpageFX, a leading internet marketing firm that specializes in web development and design as well as various other web services. WebpageFX's aids our clients in producing content for their websites that not only attracts individuals, but also provides a benefit to them. We have developed a passion for building viral infographics, which present visually stimulating images while delivering knowledge to readers. My role in the process of producing these viral infographics is as part of the creative team; brainstorming and choosing the idea behind the infographics that will attract the most attention from readers; and outreach; to develop exposure for our end product.
Tynski: My name is Daniel Tynski, and my company, Voltier Creative, works with a wide variety of clients to create compelling, interesting content. There are many reasons our clients are interested in infographic content, but most often it stems from their desire to create buzz or generate traffic about a concept, idea, product or service. Our team has been doing viral marketing and social media work with clients for the past five years. Over time, we've seen a wide variety of viral mediums gain popularity. The purpose of these mediums has almost always been the same, as they have all sought to generate buzz, traffic & links.
Why, in your opinion, do we see so many infographics (or infographic posters as some want to call them) online lately?
Jones: That's a great question! The attention span of viewers is becoming increasingly shorter, as individuals search for their quick fix of information and media developers adapt from long-winded news articles to a form of information that cuts through the clutter with bright and visually stimulating designs. As a result, infographics are rapidly becoming more popular as readers are constantly looking for the quickest way to obtain information. Not to mention, often time's infographics can communicate complex topics much more efficiently.
Tynski: Infographics have become extremely popular among marketers and publishers alike because they can be an extraordinarily compelling form of media. Not only are publishers eager to utilize infographic content, but they are often quite popular within social media, and very easily shared. Many top publishers who regularly utilize infographics will be the first ones to tell you that infographics are often some of their best performing types of content. Infographics that are well done can convey complex information quickly, and easily in a digestible way. As the average internet user's attention span continues to dwindle, infographic content keeps people captivated.
Who creates these infographics? How do you find and select these people?
Jones: The process of creating the infographics isn't terribly intense. Currently,we have a statistician whose role is to gather and build the data from trusted sources and propose their presentation style to our creative team. Once the initial blueprints for the infographic have been established, we work with a web designer to help build the aesthetic layout for the overall infographic. All the people involved in the creation of our infographics are employees at our company; we don't utilize freelancers for this type of work.
Tynski: At Voltier Creative, we have a team of designers and researchers who create infographics in conjunction with our project managers/art directors -- with additional input from our clients. We've developed our team over time by making great efforts to hire designers who are versatile and can work quickly, accurately and collaboratively.
How do these people design these infographics? For instance, are there discussions with parties such as the client or the publisher? What are the (design) criteria for an online, viral infographic?
Jones: Usually we work with the client to better understand the goals of the corporation. Then we reconvene after the creative team develops a few alternatives to propose our strategies. Otherwise, everything else is done in-house, and requires constant communication between the team assigned to the infographic. Once the graphic is completed we review it with the client to determine how well it matched their expectations. Following that meeting are a few more edits to the graphic until we are ready to publish the content.
Tynski: Depending on the goal of the infographic, the design process can vary. The ideal situation is one where the infographic conveys a specific message or idea that the client cares about, while also holding value for publishers. A huge part of our process is the "ideation" process, which is a collaborative journey. We have an internal rubric we use to determine how popular we think a particular piece may be. Based on our years of creating viral content for social media, we have a pretty firm grasp on what types of content are highly share-worthy, and which types are not.
What are all the parties involved in creating and publishing an infographic online? What are the typical prices involved?
Jones: The parties include our company, our client who requested the infographic, a few freelancers for social media with strong Digg and Reddit accounts, and a list of infographic sites that publish content on their blogs or sites frequently. Prices for getting our some of our work published have typically ranged from a high of $150 dollars to a variety of sites that are happy to be offered quality free content for their site. On most occasions, we stay away from paying to publish our content and focus on free content. However, these decisions depend on the exposure we expect to get from those sites or publishers based on factors like PageRank or Domain Authority. In regards to our social media freelancers, those prices are generally very low and can cost us at the most around $30 dollars for the whole promotion of the infographic.
Tynski: This depends heavily on the client's needs. For creating the infographic, we work first on ideation which is a collaborative process between the client and our team, and often possible publishing partners. Next, our art directors work with our design team to create the graphic, taking input at various checkpoints from the client along the way. Our promotions team then works with publishers to find placement for the content. Lastly, we submit the content to popular social media websites -- which often results in great traction independently of content partner pickups.
How do you measure the performance of an online infographic?
Jones: The success of an infographic is actually to measure in definite terms. Rather we resort to metrics that insinuate strong traffic generation of an infographic by their link and social equity. For instance, infographics that accumulate around 15-20 links are usually pretty successful. Also, we aim for a lot of online social occurrences in which the online community may "tweet," "share," or "stumble" about our infographic. Typically we look for 500 or so of these online instances on social media powerhouses like Digg, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and Stumbleupon. Over time we utilize Google Analytics to study the growth in traffic to our site (or our client's site) to determine overall success. Ideal traffic growth cannot be determined with a straight figure, instead it fluctuates depending on the original site.
Tynski: We mainly look at traffic generated, links to the content from other websites, interactions in social media, and big pickups from known content partners.
Do you have examples of particularly good and badly performing infographics? Could you explain the reasons behind their performance?
Jones: This is a bad example: The infographic linked on the left by ZM Graphics is particularly unsettling. It attempts to explain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The purpose of an infographic is to gather the attention of viewers under the specific criteria that viewers want information that carries substance but is still easy to read. At first look, this infographic simply appears overwhelming. While it has great content, I am very impressed with the information on it, it's just too crammed with data. Immediately I'm deterred from reading it. Therefore, ZM Graphics actually alienated me from taking in the content, therefore prohibiting the graphic from ever going viral! This is a good example: This infographic is what I would consider a top quality infographic. It has laid out a particularly interesting topic that a lot of individuals like to speculate upon, either in politics or personal discussion. Therefore, it has one of the most essential factors to a successful infographic... the likelihood that it could go viral by relating to the public's interests. In addition, the layout is very simple to understand, and if that wasn't enough, the image utilized is even metaphorical. Furthermore, it is easy to compare each company's bankruptcy at an initial glance. My only complaint that keeps this infographic from the categorization of great is its use of the time-line isn't too visually pleasing.
Does publishing online infographics make economic sense for a company? How do these pay themselves 'back'?
Jones: Yes! It makes an immense difference for companies. The cost of producing or having another company like WebpageFX do the work amounts to maybe a couple hundred dollars total. However, because a successful infographic attracts so much online buzz and attention, it is a great way to publish content about your company, while gathering a strong amount of traffic to your site. As most companies know, more traffic generally leads to more revenue, and usually this traffic comes in the form of new customers, which can often be the most difficult to obtain.That being said, the exposure is priceless for nearly every company. Not to mention, if you don't get a lot of traffic, you may still receive a few links which will always help you in terms of the Google's searching algorithm.
Tynski: Absolutely. Infographics can generate buzz, traffic & create links extremely effectively. Depending on the client's goals, one or all of these metrics may be tracked to predict or calculate ROI. Great content is the hallmark of high performing websites. Additionally, as we know, websites that provide content of value are rewarded by the search engines. Infographics often become a major source of referral traffic for our clients. We've had clients who have received more traffic, links and social interaction from a single infographic in one month than all other published content, combined.
How do you see the future of online infographics in the next 5 years?
Jones: I think the future of infographics looks pretty optimistic. I don't imagine people changing their preferences for simplified data presented in a visually satisfying sense; rather, I think the problem will become the challenge of creating graphics that compete with other infographics. Right now, infographics get a lot of buzz just because they are a welcomed change from boring news articles, or long packets of text about the economic stimulus. But in five years, if everything becomes an infographic, then it will be much harder to create the viral buzz over thousands of similar data visualizations. So just like in any industry, it's important to always stay ahead of the competition, but anything can change, and it is important to adapt with those alterations.
Tynski: Just as we've seen with other types of media, from a viral marketing perspective, the infographic industry will continue to evolve. As more content comes into the market, content creators will need to innovate in order to see the same traction. Our team is working on creating some of the most compelling and beautiful infographic content available, while also expanding into additional forms of infographic media. Types of content we see on the horizon and which we will be offering include: interactive infographics, motion graphics, and kinetic typography especially.
What counts more: functionality (in terms of communicating valuable knowledge and people discovering insights through the infographic) or beauty (in terms of attracting people, engaging them in the content).
Jones: Honestly, I think it's more about creating the perfect mix. Both play a major role in attracting viewers, and everyone responds to things differently. Usually the visual is more of a supporting factor for an infographic. It determines the success of how well the data or information is passed on to the viewer. On the other hand, the content usually reflects the purpose of the infographic, for both the maker to convey information they desire, as well as provide a benefit for readers, to come out with knowledge they did not have prior to reading.
Tynski: It's difficult to make a declarative statement about "what matters most" in creating a compelling and successful infographic. An ugly infographic typically won't do well, so it's important that the design is of high caliber, and looks professional Infographics that reveal information in a truely new way, or that are especially successful at illuminating a complex topic, tend to be the types of graphics that have longevity and see the most success.