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Infographics II: hard stuff made easy

In my opening post in this series on infographics, I explained about how they had become a victim of their own success.  Businesses from any sector and of any size were jumping on the hard-data-made-easy bandwagon to create huge volumes of infographics.

But it was this very success that has seen the real value of infographics become diluted.  Their core essence is to turn something otherwise complex into easily digestible and understandable visual representations.

The current situation

What we’re seeing now are hundreds of them being created and shared across social networks every day.  The intended target audiences are becoming immune to them and, quite simply, they have way too many to consume and are far less inclined now to check them out.  They just don’t know which ones will teach them something useful and so don’t bother wasting their time.

Infographic blog post 2They used to be a cost-effective and quick way to make a brand stand out in a sea of written content.  And brands didn’t need to conduct exhaustive research to create them.  Publications and blogs also used to love receiving them and posting them on their sites as a quick and easy way to help jazz up their own content, while driving traffic and improving stickability as well as shares across social networks.  The term “infographic” is viral – just look at how many times it is used every minute on Twitter alone.  And a quick search on Google uncovered more than 16 million results for the query “infographic”.  Says it all really.

But individual infographics are no longer going viral themselves.  Simply put: there are just too many “me too” infographics out there.

Before we look at how you can make your infographics stand out, we must stress the essence of what infographics are for.

 At Comms Axis, we believe that they are a case of “hard datastuff made easy

You’ll notice that we crossed through “data’ and replaced it with “stuff” instead.  This is because infographics are flexible enough to be used beyond just numbers.  They should be used to visualise data OR ideas OR concepts…“stuff” as we like to call it!  Although in this age of “Big Data” that we now live, they’re ideal for translating these vast numbers into something meaningful.

So, let’s discuss how you should approach them.

Reader first, content second

This first point is, for me, the most vital.  You must make the reader, not the “stuff” itself, central to your thinking and also to your design.

If you become a slave to the numbers then you will easily make the most common of mistakes: trying to cram too many trends and too many statistics into the infographic.

Take a step back and put yourself in the shoes of your audience.  What would make you want to check your infographic out?  What would make it easy for you to understand?

Effortless expertise

And consider them as an output – a delivery mechanism – of your content marketing strategy.  Businesses are striving to demonstrate their subject matter expertise, and infographics are an ideal way of doing this.

So remember that you are educating your audience on complex information, and that you need to do it in a way that not only catches their eye and stands out, but teaches them something new.

So don’t just provide numbers or trends.  Explain what they mean – providing clear insight will strengthen your reputation for being a go-to source of expertise on a particular subject.

Ultimately, it needs to cause the reader to go: “Wow, that was interesting…I learned something today…I’m going to share it with my networks.”

Less is moreLess is more

The temptation is to cram as much as possible into your infographics.  But remember that they need to be visual feasts, not confusing patterns, colours and percentages.

Aim for as little clutter on your page as possible – you don’t want different elements of the same infographic to be competing with or cannibalising the impact of each other.

Try to work to the ‘rule of three’ – your insights will be remembered more easily than several different trends and explanations.

Highlight three prominent trends or data sets; each one should then have a maximum of three short bullet points to succinctly deliver the insight (i.e. what each one actually means); conclude in no more than three short sentences.  The less text you use, the more inviting your infographic will be to convert the “glancers” into “perusers”, and “perusers” into “digesters”.  😀

Tell a story

You have your data.  You’ve worked out your stand-out trends.  You analysed them and have your insights ready.  Don’t now just dump them in an infographic and assume it will go viral.

Start with your big take-away – this is important to draw the reader in – and then break it down in much the same way you would write an article or blog post.

Art & science combined

Make sure that it flows coherently from graphic to graphic, and isn’t just a mish-mash of unrelated subjects.  This approach will help ensure that the infographic is easily scanned and viewed.  Keep in mind that this is art and science combined.

Other must-haves

Some of these may seem a bit obvious, but they should be part of your standard checklist for every infographic you want to create:

1. Don’t forget your brand!  Embed your logo and URL to enhance brand awareness.   You don’t want the reader to like your infographic only to wonder “who created that one?!”

2. Consider some free tools so that you can do it yourself without having to rely on a time-pressured in-house designer or outsourcing it to a third party who would need briefing, managing…and paying!  Lilach Bullock reviewed some ideal infographic tools in this post – check them out.

3. Don’t just rely on your twitter profile or blog post to promote your creation.  There are lots of infographic-hungry sites out there that you can submit yours too.  Again, have a read of Lilach’s post on 10 ways to promote an infographic for some inspiration.

4. Think of an appropriate hashtag for your infographic and make it prominent in your design.  It will help spark conversations and debate amongst like-minded individuals across different social media networks. And be sure to include the chosen hashtag not only within the tweets and other social networks that you promote it on, but also via the auto-share buttons wherever you host the infographic on your site.

5. Provide an embed code for each of your infographics.  Easy for you to do, and therefore easy for your work to be embedded on other sites and linked back to your site.   This is a very simple yet effective traffic driver and brand awareness enhancer.

6. The headline is key – as with any kind of content, a lot of people will only ever see the headline in a tweet and a shortened URL.  If you’re lucky, they’ll also see a thumbnail of the infographic.   Thumbnails won’t do your piece of art justice, and there is a lot of click-bait out there so be sure to grab attention but to deliver in the infographic what the headline claims.  Using a popular hashtag within the title can also help.

7. Reference all sources and link to them in the footer.  We all hate it when our work gets plagiarised without an acknowledgement.  It seems the days when people actually asked permission or at least let the owner of some content know when, where and how they were going to be using it are long gone!  Simply listing the sources of where your data or trends came from, or what resources you leaned on to help come up with your content, reflects extremely well on your brand and therefore your reputation.  And you could well get a reciprocal ‘wave’ back from them too!

We hope you learned from this post or found it useful…you never know, we may well create our own infographic based on this series of posts to see if that helps to tell the story better!  😉

Please leave a comment on what you think about static infographics – do they still work for you?  What challenges and successes have you had?  We’d love to know!

Dan Purvis
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Dan Purvis

Head of Integrated Marketing Communications at Fintrax Group Holdings
Dan Purvis is Head of Integrated Marketing Communications at Fintrax Group Holdings, and is also a Media Champion for the Alzheimer's Society, helping spread awareness and understanding of this cruel disease.

Previously, he was Director at Comms Axis, a full service marketing agency specialising in content, social media & website services for businesses of all sizes.

Dan Purvis writes for a number of leading business, social media and marketing sites, including Smart Insights, MarketingProfs, Marketo, MarTech Advisor, Marketing Tech News, MarTech Today, MarTech Exec, and more.

Dan was also ranked by Brand Republic as one of the Top 50 UK Marketing & Social Media influencers.
Dan Purvis
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  1. I think you are right – The trouble with infographics is that to make really great ones you really need to be a graphic designer with access to good data. The message went out that inforgraphics were great traffic drivers so everyone started creating them using cheap programs and no data. This means the quality gets buried so none really wants to pay out a lot of money to create good ones.

    • Dan Purvis Says:

      Completely agree, Ola – it seems people/brands keep looking to cut corners and assume results can happen quickly…but all it does is dumb down potentially great content vehicles. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  2. Phillip Dews Says:

    Hey Dan,

    great writeup dude, I have always said to make it about them; your audience | readers. I am a great believer of providing MASSIVE VALUE to people without expecting anything in return.

    I have never actually made one before but until I do I will be checking out this post again. My problem for me is trying to think about what subject I can use in an infographic. At the mo though i am happy with just writing posts and building websites, themes and some soon to come plugins.

    Have a great rest of week Dan.
    – PD

    • Dan Purvis Says:

      Thanks Phil – really good of you to say so, sir! It should be all about value for the audience/customer/prospect. I’m sure you can put a very cool infographic together around the ideal website ecosystem, or what is a plugin, or how to build a website…in theory anyway!
      And you – all the best!

  3. Emma Says:

    Great advice, really useful, thanks. As a lecturer, I really agree with keeping the audience in mind- it’s got to be accessible to your market.

    • Dan Purvis Says:

      Thanks Emma – think you’ve hit the nail on the head there for all content (whether that is verbal, written or visual): “it’s got to be accessible to your market”
      Come back for part 3 of the infographics series in 2 weeks! 🙂

  4. Prashad Says:

    Good article – seen too many infographics that just show lots and lots of numbers without telling a story.

    ps. if you are inclined to make one – check out smashingmagazine.com – it has loads of cool free icons that you can use.

    • Dan Purvis Says:

      Thanks Prashad! Yeah brands just think they can shove a load of numbers in and they’re automatically subject matter experts!! 😀 Will definitely be checking that out cheers 🙂 Our designer is currently doing an infographic for us on…yep, you guessed it, infographics – trends from July. No pressure for making it clean, ensuring it tells a story, and stands out…

  5. Hello, My name is Martina Ivanova and I would like to add some comment to your mentioning of infographics and the tendency to overdo them. I work at a small visual content agency located in Eastern Europe, where we have been creating infographics for the last six months. I would say there is a lot more to wish for in terms of tight communication, as we really tend to include more than it is neceassary. Each time we try to skip facts, but every time the final result looks overwhelming. The truth is a small number of facts, supported by the right visuals make the best infographics. Simple is beautiful is the motto we work under, but sometimes it takes a lot of attempts to get there.

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