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A Picture is Worth… Well, You Know

It really is no surprise that research studies show visual communication is more effective than just text.  Words accompanied with pictures are a better way to convey information and the audience is more likely to retain that data.  The quick rise of Pinterest in the social networking world as well as the vast popularity of services such as Instagram, are further proof that people like pictures.  The web in general is becoming a more visual place.[1]

Simply Measured,[2] a social media analytics company, reports that the introduction of Timeline for Facebook increased user engagement for brands by 46%.  The chart below shows the impact per post type for brands of the Timeline transition on Facebook.  It is pretty clear that Timeline does a better job of showcasing visual postings and people are responding.

Okay, so it is obvious that visual is the way to go – bring on the PowerPoint slides!  Not so fast.  Clipart and stock photos don’t quite do the trick.  The idea is to represent your brand or your information in a visual way, not just stick a bean person posing in a semi-related fashion next to your bulleted list.  To get the impact, you need to use your own pictures, not just stock photos.  Take out the boring bulleted lists and replace them with an infographic.

The terms data visualization and infographic can be used interchangeably, however they really are unique from one another.  Data visualization, in its simplest form, is essentially a chart or graph (see the Simply Measured graph above) that enables the user to see patterns in the data.  Infographics on the other hand are a way to make small bits of information, like a bulleted list, into an easily digestible and compelling image.  See the infographic below, created with Piktochart, which shows the highlights from the following comparison of six infographic creation services.

How can you start creating your own compelling visuals?  There are many different products and services available, here’s a review of six available web services to get you started.

Creatley – Essentially an online version of Visio, this service is great for easily bringing your information to life.  Users can create everything from org charts to wireframes and mind maps, and there are plenty.  There are not, however, any native graphing capabilities. Registration is not required to try the services, but in order to save your project and use other features like comment and share you need to register.  Users can create accounts by logging in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Google apps.  Accounts are free with limitations and paid accounts are available from $5-$75 per month.  Publish your image to Facebook and Twitter, or embed it directly in your webpage.

PiktoChart – The best choice for producing a true infographic that includes graphs.  This service has templates to get you started, but allows almost total customization if you are willing to put in the time.  Registration is required to use the service and users can create accounts by logging in with Facebook or Twitter.  Accounts are free with limitations and Pro accounts run $14.99 per month.  Pro accounts give users expanded graphing capabilities, additional templates and the option to remove the PiktoChart logo from their images.  Completed images can be downloaded.

Many Eyes – An experiment by IBM Research and the IBM Cognos software group, this free service doesn’t require user registration to try out.  However, registration is necessary to upload your own data set.  Be aware that all data sets and completed images are publicly available with this service.  ManyEyes has a lot of graphing options, but customization is pretty limited.  Completed images can be published via Facebook and Twitter, embedded in your website, emailed, or downloaded.

Infogr.am – This free service is currently in Beta and requires user registration; your Facebook or Twitter login will work.  Infogr.am offers limited designs but the designs feature very sophisticated interactive charts and diagrams that can be created from your own data. Finished images can be published to a wide variety of social sites or embedded on your website.

Hohli – No registration is required to use this free service, however your image is optionally ad-supported.  Hohli offers nearly as many chart types as ManyEyes however the user interface is not really intuitive.  The other shortcoming of this service is that data has to be input manually and there doesn’t seem to be a way to input complex data sets.  Your final product can be published to a variety of social networks, printed, emailed or embedded on your site.

Visual.ly – While the output of this service is very compelling, Visual.ly is primarily a way to sample the work of their professional infographic services department. Registration is required to use this free service that provides a choice of about 6 templates that pull data from Facebook or Twitter to give you stats on your accounts.  The resulting infographic of the social network information is nifty, but this service can’t be used to output images that use your own custom data set.  Completed images can be published to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or emailed, embedded on your site or download.

Further Reading:

Optimizing Facebook Engagement – Text, Links, Photos or Videos? – Social Media Today
The Community Manager’s Toolbox: Managing Visual Content – CMS Wire

Infographics vs. Data Visualization: Top 5 Tools for Creating Infographics – CMS Wire
Infographic vs. Data Visualization (Who Cares?) – Mindjet


[1] The Evocative Visual Approach to Social Media Marketing

[2] The Impact of the Facebook Timeline for Brands

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