Betterbridge’s law of headlines states that “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”. So let me start off by concluding that the answer to this headline is an unsatisfactory… yes and no.
The Yes Part
Infographics have long been the darling of the content marketing world. In fact, there was a time in the not too distant past when simply putting [INFOGRAPHIC] in your headline would yield more clicks. But that was back when infographics were a new medium. Even if the content wasn’t interesting, the form was. But those days are over and the shininess of infographics have worn off. I think it’s fair to say that if infographics were put on the Hype Cycle, we would be somewhere in the trough of disillusionment. This is usually where most people hop off, and others ride it to greater opportunity. The interest in infographics has flooded the market with producers and products. You can get them for $5 or even free using automated tools. Like most things though, you do get what you pay for. This is what separates those using infographics as a tactic and those using them as a strategy.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
It’s been clearly shown that visuals increase the retention of information and that they are more likely to be shared than written content, but do infographics still have that X-factor, which makes them useful as a tactic for quick and dirty results? I’d say no. Just like keyword stuffing your landing page will have little effect on your search results, mass producing cheap and topic based infographics won’t move the needle much either. A casual search of the Visually site will yeild that almost every topic you can think of has already been done before. And yet there are still enough home run worthy infographics to fill a book each year. Clearly there is a science and art to this.
The No Part
Should we remove infographics from our toolkit just yet? No, of course not, just like we shouldn’t remove SEO because old tactics no longer work. The Slope of Enlightenment ahead of us is paved with best practices and quality content. And anyone who is great at SEO knows that the shortcuts are few and far between. The key for content marketers is to up our game where infographics are concerned. So does that mean that interactive infographics or webfographics or any other term to describe traditional infographics gussied up with more bells and whistles are the only future? It might, but probably not. Interactive infographics are on their own journey on the Hype Cycle and it’s unclear whether they will reach the point where mass media hype begins. It’s clear that they can be done very well and go extremely viral. I suspect this is more because of the quality of the content from producers like the the New York Times than because it’s the next new thing. The other major data point is that interactives are often an order of magnitude more expensive. From my previous writing on virality, the amount of views that would result in a positive ROI for an interactive is large. This puts a greater emphasis on luck as a key ingredient which is impossible to bank on. So interactives should still be in your toolkit, at least as an experiment to learn from, but to move wholesale from infographics to interactives will greatly reduce the amount of content you can fit into your budget, which in turn reduces the number of times you can step up to the plate looking for a home run. Tactics are still part of the equation, but they have shifted. One technique we use at Visually is to format sections of an infographic into micro-content: small bite-sized portions which can do well on social media and also link back to the original graphic. These singles and doubles can add up if they are done well.
You’re in the Major Leagues Now
The way forward is not a shortcut, but since the shortcutters are hopping off the Hype Cycle, there is an opportunity for those doing it right. This means that the table stakes for infographics will be interesting and engaging content with high quality design. It doesn’t mean an infographic for every topic, but only for those where education and information retention are key components. Infographics for both audiences and producers have matured. It’s the major leagues now and if you aren’t willing to put the effort in to do something right, you might as well not step up to the plate at all. If you need an out-of-house designer, then get one. You can’t just take a swing with a list of facts anymore either. Audiences want stories and narratives, and you might need a journalist to help craft or refine it. At Visually, we’ve streamlined the process of producing quality infographics. Our designers are trained in data visualization and we provide experienced journalists to help you craft the story and find the insights in your data. We also subscribe to a journalistic code of ethics and are committed to accuracy in representing data. Betting on the novelty of any new medium is an unpredictable rat race, but audiences will reward quality content. Not always with virality, but if you can step up to the plate enough times with top notch content, you will hit one into the bleachers. Even Barry Bonds hit a home run only once every 13 at-bats. How many opportunities do you have lined up next quarter? Jess Bachman is a Creative Director at Visually. Follow him on Twitter.