In this Age of Information, where competing facts and figures, opinions and appeals bombard us from all directions, one form of storytelling helps cut through the noise. An eye-catching mix of data visualisations and text, infographics can help focus the mind on what is essential about a given message. The best examples convey complicated information in relatively simple, easy-to-digest images. They also help raise awareness about brands, causes and current events, while also - naturally - spreading the word about the infographics’ creators.
Little wonder, then, that their use has been so popular in public relations: livelier than a press release, they are a form of content that time-and resource-pressed journalists would be grateful for while also representing a concentrated form of storytelling.
But the popularity of this form of instant communication belies the extent to which they so often go wrong, miss the mark or otherwise fall flat. “One of the most common mistakes for businesses and brands is the so-called ‘Curse of Knowledge’”, explains Nika Aleksejeva of Infogram, a service based in Riga and San Francisco that helps organisations, educators, media and brands to visualise data. “Sometimes messages are communicated too complicatedly. There is too much information for a person who doesn’t know anything about a matter or an issue. The right value proposition and the right unique selling point is another issue.”
Your data tells a story, and turning it into an infographic can be an unparalleled way of ensuring that the story is remembered by your audience.
In Cool Infographics, Randy Krum sums up the art of storytelling through infographics in three stages: the introduction; what Krum calls “A-Ha! The main event”; and a conclusion. The introduction is usually some combination of the title and a short paragraph of text, an opportunity to make sure the reader understands that this infographic is of great interest to them. The main section is the dominant visual portion, and should, says Krum, contain some new, previously unknown piece of information. It’s in this section that the so-called “picture superiority effect” – which holds that concepts are more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures rather than words – comes into play. Finally, the conclusion wraps up the message, preferably with a call-to-action encouraging readers to visit a website, purchase a product, sign a petition, change their eating habits, and so on.
One organisation already familiar with the rules of creating strong infographics is IP52.org, a movement started by CropLife International that aims to raise awareness about the role of intellectual property (IP) in our lives. Infographics play a major part of this process: along with movie trailer formats and white board videos, IP52 disseminates them online to highlight just how important IP is for both inventors and consumers alike. According to Deb Carstoiu, director of communications for plant biotechnology at IP52, “IP is often discussed in abstract terms or academic theories by professors and researchers in the field. This prevents the wider public from realising how IP fits into their daily lives. Few people know that without intellectual property we would not have the technologies we rely upon everyday – from our car to our iPhone to our food. Our infographics set out to change that by showcasing the intellectual property all around us.” The choice of this particular format was a deliberate move away from the pre-existing material on the subject, which IP52 found to be too off-putting, as Deb explains: “Before we began IP52, we reviewed existing materials which explained the basics of intellectual property... What we found was often dry, difficult to understand, and uninteresting to readers who are unfamiliar with IP.”
And so IP52 turned to infographics as a means of engaging viewers and conveying the importance and potential interest inherent in this subject. “We needed to be sure our materials could grab a viewer’s attention and entice them to click, watch and learn more,” says Deb. “Only then could we begin to educate viewers on the importance and value of intellectual property to our world.”
Anyone facing the same challenge as IP52 can turn to Infogram for a set of free templates in order to create one’s own infographic, or more elaborate services for a monthly fee. Before opting for either selection, Nika Aleksejava recommends that users ask themselves two simple questions: “Say what? and who cares?” She explains: “When you have the answers, use them to construct your message in one Tweet. Once it’s done, imagine that you are the reader in as detailed a way as possible. Imagine your mom would desire your product or learn about the issue. How would you put it for her? Is your message clear?” The next step is to choose the right tool for your infographic: according to Nika, “people usually struggle to find the right chart type for their data” which is why Infogram offer webinars and data storytelling workshops to teach it. As a handy way of memorising the ingredients of a successful infographic, Nika recommends a formula developed by Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick – SUCCESS (Simple: find the core of any idea; Unexpected: grab people‘s attention by surprising them; Concrete: make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later; Credible: give an idea believability; Emotional: help people see the importance of an idea; Stories: empower people to use an idea through narrative).
An example of IP52's infogaphics (image: IP52.org)
Choosing what information to leave in and what to exclude is half the battle. For IP52, it’s a question of focussing on the goal they want to achieve with the infographic, and determining the content based on that. As Deb Carstoiu says, “We focus on providing as many real world examples as possible in our infographics. We want to show to viewers that intellectual property is not just an abstract theory.”
The next challenge is spreading the word: the most carefully-crafted infographic is useless if no one gets to see it. Infographics help increase traffic and links to the company website, and the laws of search engine optimisation dictate that the more appealing the infographic, the more people will post it on their own sites with links back to originating website, as well as sharing it with friends and their own networks. As Nika Aleksejava, explains, “we‘ve seen that a blog post or an article with an embedded infographic can generate up to 60 per cent more site views.”
When sharing its infographics, IP52 makes use of CropLife International’s 91-country strong network of plant science associations, which, says Deb Carsoiu, “gives us an incredible global reach through both traditional avenues and digital media.” They also keep an eye on adapting the infographics to local needs: “We produce all our materials in formats that are easily translatable and can be localised to address regional interests and better appeal to various in-country audiences. This has enabled us to achieve not just steady website traffic over the past year, but also educate audiences in many different countries.” Proving that, even with the daunting competition for attention in online communications, there are many ways to make sure that your package of text and image can be seen, shared and savoured by audiences around the world.
Main photo: www.infogr.am