Infographics Are Not a Social Media Strategy

By Brian Solis , written on July 23, 2012

From The News Desk

I can't be the only one to notice this... Infographics, "viral" videos, Like and Retweet campaigns, they all seem to be trying a bit too hard lately. For example, most infographics I see today are no more than visual press releases with graphical elements tied to information...and then more information...but wait, then more information.

If this was just about visualizing scrolls of information, then anyone using free infographic generating tools and a list of interesting data points could make interesting graphics. The key is to think less about the packaging and more about the story you want to tell. But even more importantly, it's time to put the social in social media and craft the story you want people to talk about and share.

It's not every day that I focus on social media tactics. However, I'm sharing this post to address a growing concern among social media and digital strategists and those to whom they report as to why their content performs at such lackluster levels. Much of what we see in our news feeds and social streams is adequate but not yet representative of what's possible. However, if creative professionals, and brands overall, do not understand what it takes to make content or campaigns engaging, optimism and support for experimentation fades and, as such, budgets dwindle.

Rebecca Lieb, my colleague at Altimeter Group, tracks digital advertising and media. Along with Jeremiah Owyang, they published a new report on the integration of Paid, Earned, and Owned Media. She shared with me the importance of not only shareability, but also integration into an overall content strategy.

"A common content marketing misapprehension is that it equals social media," said Lieb. "Content production is tactical. Its desired result, good content, must be informed with strategies and goals related to customer experience, journeys, sharability and its correlation and integration with both paid and earned media."

Re-imagining Content as Social Objects

I ask you a simple but important question, whom are you creating for? Are you trying to seek the embrace of your customers and the people who influence them, or are you designing for those who will approve and fund your campaign?

When I wrote "Engage," I called for an end to an era where content was king and explained in detail how for the foreseeable future context would reign supreme. With the glut of uninspired infographics, whiteboard videos and data visualization set to the background of "Right Here, Right Now," the time is now to raise the bar.

The term "social media" implies that it's inherently social. But contrary to popular belief, for media to become social requires that marketers and creative professionals design shareability into content. Without doing so, content is at best consumable. By integrating shareability, content transforms into what my good friend Hugh MacLeod refers to as social objects.

And, that's the point. In what's purported to be an era of social, we need to think about the levers that move passive viewers from a state of consumption to that of curation and creation. Social media is only social when it's shared and when it sparks conversations. Otherwise it's traditional media operating under a guise of social measured only by the lack of interactivity rather than the reverberation of dialogue and corresponding echoes.

We live in times of transition, and there is no one content strategy that reaches everyone equally. One could argue that no one content strategy has ever truly reached "your audience" or its true potential. These are times of context and segmentation based on psychographics not demographics.

Social Producers are the New Storytellers

To thrive in social, mobile and new media in general, we need much more than content producers, we need a new breed of designers that grasp the elements of online sharing and have mastered the ART of social media to trigger desirable (and social) actions, reactions, and transactions. A new genre of social producers are taking aim at developing content strategies that are not only consumable but shareable and actionable, acting as catalysts for relevant conversations.

The difference between Social Producers and traditional content creators is that they begin with the social outcomes they wish to see and reverse engineer content strategies to enliven them. They understand the relationship between cause and effect and they bake-in conversation starters related to an integrated and business-focused strategy and design specific shareable elements as KPIs to measure progress and results.

Social producers think about the overall experience and the effect where a social object is at the center of the dialog and interaction they envision...within each network. The overall story and outcome defines the nature of the social object. And the desired outcomes combined with the social effect they aim to trigger is then evaluated network by network.

Social producers also borrow a page from the book of transmedia producers. They look at the landscape of social media to evaluate relevant channels available for social storytelling. Whether you love or hate the term "transmedia," the point is that an object is only as relevant as its medium and the people who connect with its message and purpose. Multiple objects can tell one story or various facets of the story and they can do so within specific media.

For example, a social producer will ask, "This social object may be culturally relevant and compelling for Twitter and Facebook, but will this work equally in Pinterest or in the blogosphere?" Often, social producers will then repackage the social object to tell the same story but in the context of discrete networks to align with how people discover, share, and interact within each unique culture.

Beyond shareability, the social producers also think about resonance. Conversations on social networks move quickly. What was trending an hour ago gives way to the next social object that captures everyone's attention until that too is replaced by the next shiny object, and so on. Resonance is a technique that allows a social object to enjoy a greater lifespan and continue to swim upstream while other content strategies wash away in real-time.

If social media is about creating and sharing experiences through conversations and content, start first with the experiences and conversations you wish to rouse. As you think about your content strategy for social networks, do so from the perspective of a social producer. While the social effect is certainly a goal, the social effect is also the result of social design. In the end, people are going to talk, so give them something to talk about.