The Power of Visual Storytelling
The way we tell stories is changing drastically with the rise of digital technologies. And social media has been a major driving force behind the evolution of storytelling. Making those stories relatable and visually engaging is more relevant today than ever.
We spoke on this topic at Florida Social Con, using the hashtag #PictureThePower to drive the conversation. Our talk discussed how to effectively communicate with imagery, offered successful examples, and provided awesome tools to tell your story. This post details the content from that presentation and holds a visual storytelling toolkit at the end.
The Importance of Visuals
Many of us correlate speech and audio to storytelling. We think of someone verbally telling us something. But the introduction of visuals has proven to impact the way we understand stories. Let’s get scientific for a moment. Did you know that the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text? That puts into question the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In fact, it may be worth 60,000 words.
Another fact to consider is that humans remember 80% of what they see. That’s a huge gap compared to the 20% of what we read and 10% of what we hear. Hopefully, you’ll remember more than 20% of what’s written in this post! No worries, we’ve included some visuals just to make it more memorable.
Types of Visuals
When we talk about visuals, we’re referring to more than just still photography. Technology has created some amazing types of imagery over the years, including graphics, videos, GIFs, and more. Each one serves it’s purpose and helps get a message across in a unique way.
Combining these types can be a recipe for awesomeness, if used correctly. A mixed media approach has more flexibility and creative power to fuel your stories. The challenge is making it all come together in a way that flows and stays true to your message.
Photos and Graphics
We start with the most common visual seen in social media today: images. The rise of Instagram is a testament to pictures being a focal point in our social media consumption. Seriously, how many pictures have you seen on social media in the past 24 hours? The amount can be mind-boggling.
With so many images out there, is it possible to stand out? Of course. But don’t you need high-end equipment and professional software? Not quite. We’d like to share a personal example. We created the following image (right) for one of our clients. The objective was to promote mango season. Since one of their products contains mango, it was a natural move to highlight the fruit. What many people don’t know is that the photo was taken with an iPhone 6 in a backyard.
In fact, all of the photos shown below were taken using an iPhone in the same backyard and edited using free apps. None of these were imported to Photoshop. What we’re trying to say is that the tools used to make these images are accessible to most people. It’s not some exclusive set of software and equipment.
Here are some of the tools that we recommend using for photo editing and graphic design.
Photo Editing Tools
- Snapseed – Versatile image editing app that has a ton of features and options
- VSCO Cam – This app offers a unique set of filters to give your photos a specific mood
- Word Swag – Allows you to add stylized text over images on the go
- Over – Another easy-to-use app that applies text to photos
- Photofy – Offers filters, editing tools, and text/graphic overlays
- Square Ready – Fits wide or tall images into a square without cropping (i.e. for Instagram)
Graphic Design Tools
- Adobe Creative Cloud – Monthly subscription options for programs like Photoshop and Illustrator
- PIXLR – Alternative to Photoshop with plenty of similar editing options (kinda looks like Photoshop too!)
- Canva – Offers customizable templates and visual elements to design for social media
- Pablo by Buffer – Primarily for Twitter, helps create images with text over them in 30 seconds or less.
GIFs (pronounced like the peanut butter brand)
Let’s set aside the debate on how it’s actually pronounced and focus on the innovative ways to use GIFs. We’ve seen this format creep into social media through platforms like Tumblr, Twitter, and now Facebook. It fits right between not being an image and not quite being a video either. In many occasions, GIFs get a point across better than text, emojis, and images. And now they’re becoming easier to share and more widespread.
One brand that’s doing a great job of using GIFs is Trolli. The quirky creators of gummy worms came up with a Tumblr site that celebrates their weirdness, appropriately called WeirdlyAwesome.com. By nature, GIFs showcase motion – fitting right into the energetic vibe Trolli exudes.
The good news is that you don’t need fancy programs to create GIFs. There are lots of free, user-friendly tools available to create and curate GIFs. If you’d like to add GIFs to your visual content arsenal, here are some useful tools:
- Gifit – Allows you to create GIFs manually or by clipping parts of existing video
- GifLab – Another GIF-maker with similar features to Gifit
- Giphy – Database of existing GIFs from all over the web with a search option
- PHHHOTO – Takes three simultaneous images to create a GIF (stop-action style)
Compared to all other media type, video is the elephant in the room. It’s massive in all senses of the word, to the point that over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute. And now Facebook is pushing its video platform to compete with YouTube. One key factor to consider is that videos that are directly uploaded to Facebook get the most organic reach compared to text, images, and links. Hence, why it should be a part of everyone’s social strategy.
GoPro is killing it on social media with its video content. While they obviously have access to quality video cameras, much of their content is crowd-sourced from their own customers. It’s a unique situation where using customers’ stories actually tells GoPro’s brand story.
Whether you have a GoPro or a smartphone, quality video cameras are more accessible than ever. It’s up to you to find the best ways to leverage video content. Can you tap into your customers for video? How about curating existing video from relevant sources? Weigh your options and execute.
If you choose to create your own video content, here are some tools to help out:
- iMovie – Comes with all Macs and available on iOS devices
- Nutshell – Snap three pictures. Add captions. Choose graphics. Create a cinematic story
- Videoshop – Easy video editor with fast editing tools, filters for personalizing your videos
- PicPlayPost – Create a collage of videos and photos in one single piece of media
- Hyperlapse – Shoot timelapse videos up to 12x faster
Social Video Apps
- Periscope – App that allows users to live stream from their smartphones
- Snapchat – Snap photos and videos to share with friends that disappear after a few seconds.
- Fyuse – A ‘spatial photography’ app which lets users capture and share interactive footage
- Vine – Create 6-second videos that loop
- Flixel – Create and share cinemagraphs (part image, part video).
Infographics bring to life what is commonly considered a boring topic: Data. By visualizing data, infographics showcase facts and figures in creative yet informative ways. Piggy backing off the shift to image-heavy media consumption, infographics have become very popular in recent years – helping people tell stories in an easy-to-digest and shareable manner.
One media company using infographics effectively is Vox. They’ve done a great job of crafting visual data to supplement their news stories. For instance, the infographic featured here does a better job of getting their point across than a plain text could do.
ProPublica also offers an amazing example of using interactive media to tell a story. Rather than listing how much state’s offer in worker’s compensation per body part, they created this to show it. Definitely a more impactful and engaging way to present their findings.
Data can be powerful. Make sure you harness that power by showcasing it with impactful imagery. There are several ways to go about creating infographics. Here are a few tools and resources:
- Piktochart – Easy infographic design app that produces beautiful, high quality graphics
- Infoactive – Let’s you create and share interactive, visual stories
- Venngage – Another infographic-maker to try out
- Infogram – Yup, one more tool to create infographics (just to give you options)
- Visually – Access existing infographics from a variety of categories and industries
- Statista – Database of infographics, charts, and other visual data
- Curator by Twitter – Enables media publishers to discover, curate and display the best Twitter content
- Google News Lab – Offers reporting tools and interactive lessons for journalists
Emerging Visual Media & Technology
We’ve only begun to scratch the surface with visuals on social media. There are so many exciting technologies that will soon become integrated with our social activity. And as these visual formats emerge, they will inevitably affect storytelling.
For instance, Augmented Reality and 3D Video could become widely adapted in the near future. These will bring new interactive experiences to the forefront. Companies like Magic Leap are already causing waves with demos like the one below.
Wearables are also affecting the digital experience. From smart watches to smart glasses, these devices can provide a unique visual experiences. Not to mention, the interconnected nature of all this tech (i.e. Internet of Things) is something that can’t be ignored.
C.A.S.T. Your Story
On a final note, we’d like to provide some simple takeaways that can easily be described by the acronym, C.A.S.T.
Create with consistency – Make sure that your branding is visually represented in a consistent manner across all digital channels. This helps build and maintain brand recognition among your audience.
Ask “How does this fit into my story?” – Don’t just do things because it’s the latest fad. Always look at how it fits your brand’s goals and mission. Also, make sure it’s a viable means to reach your target audience.
Seek inspiration (don’t wait for it) – We have visual inspiration all around us, you just need to look for it sometimes. Inspiration won’t fall into your lap. Be an active participant in the process.
Test different perspectives – Don’t be afraid to experiment. Test new angles and different styles with your visuals. Never let fear restrict your creative potential.
Get the Visual Storytelling Toolkit