The viral marketing campaign is one of the most coveted – and most elusive – marketing achievements today. And that's why infographics have become a must-have for any online marketer: they have the potential to generate conversations and they're infinitely shareable – as long as they're done right. But many marketers think that just having any infographic is enough. It's not. Quality infographics are the most likely to spread, whereas poor-quality infographics either are largely ignored, or may even earn you some bad press. The problem, of course, is that some marketers are spending more time trying to mass produce visual content than selectively producing quality content. The result is a lot of wasted time, an angry audience and little ROI.
With thousands of infographics released online everyday, just creating one for the sake of joining the trend isn't enough. Today, an infographic has to stand out from the crowd to get any kind of pick up and make your investment worth it. Make sure your infographic meets all of these criteria before releasing it to the world.
Do Your Research
And I don't just mean cite the first five links that show up in a Google search. Make sure you're citing respectable, reliable sources, since there are a lot of groundless stats floating out in the virtual ether. This will ensure that others find your infographic reliable enough to share – and will avoid the embarrassment that ensues when you can't back up your claims.
Remember, an infographic is only as compelling as its data. So an infographic like this one, with all text and no stats at all, leaves most audiences unconvinced. On the other hand, it's easy to overwhelm your audiences with too much data. This beautifully illustrated infographic has several paragraph-sized blocks of text – it's not only intimidating to the average reader, but it's exactly the opposite of what an infographic is supposed to do.
Tell an Engaging Story
No matter what the topic of your infographic is, telling a story that engages readers from start to finish is essential. If you're laying out an argument in favor of a piece of legislation, don't just let the stats fall where they may; start with a timeline of events leading up to the legislation, or break down the different pros and cons. Careful organization prevents your reader from getting overwhelmed – and losing interest.
Infographics that use fun or relatable metaphors to tell your story are a great way to engage audiences – and ideal for dressing up dry data. Check out this infographic that made the rounds a few years ago about Steve Buscemi's many roles. It's an intriguing title (The Steve Buscemi Creep-o-meter), and the imagery is so hilarious you've just got to find out what's going on. The data visualization could use a facelift, but we'll discuss that later. And don't forget: a good hook always helps. Who can resist reading an infographic with this title?
Take Every Opportunity to Visualize Data
People have a lot of trouble visualizing big numbers. (Try to actually visualize 7 billion people. Pretty hard, right?) That means that significant data, such as proportions or percentages of large groups, can go unnoticed. Data visualization enables us to see significant data almost immediately – which means that an infographic that misses opportunities to visualize data, misses the point.
To understand how these missed opportunities fall flat, check out this infographic on the cost of college. A lot of significant comparisons – such as how long it would take you to pay off your debt at $200 a month – are left in the form of numbers. The sheer magnitude of $826 billion dollars of credit card debt is lost inside too many digits. And that $47,673 stat should be visualized alongside the info about monthly loan payments, to show just how unmanageable these payments can be. All in all, the message is hidden and the impact is lost.
What do you want most from a good infographic? Impact. And impact is attained through visual cues that can almost tell your story without any words at all.
Don't Skimp on Illustration
An infographic goes viral because it's new: it presents an argument in a particularly compelling way, or includes surprising data, or simply looks different than any other infographic on the web. How do you make your infographic stand out from the crowd?
For starters, if you must use stock imagery, use it wisely. For instance, stock photos mix well with pictograms and icons, but don't mix well with detailed illustrations. If you plan to use stock illustrations, choose them wisely because these weren't created specifically for your infographic, so they may not tell your story to its utmost potential.
That said, while stock imagery is cost effective it's also available to everyone else. If you really want your infographic to stand out from the crowd, custom illustration is the answer. It not only has the potential to visualize your data in new, surprising ways – one awesome illustration can make them laugh, make them cry, or change their minds. Imagine if this lovely infographic had used a stock photo of a snail, a nightingale, or even a placenta. The lack of visual continuity would make the sensitive subject matter all the more jarring – and fewer people might feel motivated to share it with their friends.
A picture is worth a thousand words so make that picture as unique as possible.
Forget the Sales Pitch
I get it. The majority of online marketers want to use infographics for, well, marketing. But no one's going to share an advertisement on their Facebook page.
So instead, share some information people can actually use, and limit the sales pitch to a CTA at the bottom. Take this infographic as an example: It only relates to 888casino players, and it's clear from the start that it was made by 888casino. The only people who are going to share it are already customers – but customers who post it to their Twitter will have the nagging feeling they're advertising rather than tweeting.
Quality infographics are the best way to spark compelling dialogue and viral sharing in a world of dwindling attention spans and data overload. Mediocre infographics won't launch a meme any more than they'll launch your marketing campaign – not a flattering meme, anyway.
Author's Note: Killer Infographics owns SubmitInfographics.com. It's a user generated infographic gallery that receives roughly 25 daily submissions. The above suggestions are based on both the submissions that come into my inbox every day as well as the thousands of infographic designs I have managed while running Killer Infographics. The above examples that I link to were not designed by my company and are instead simply submissions that were sent to us for review.
Amy Balliett is the co-Founder of Killer Infographics, a globally leading infographic design agency located in Seattle, Washington. Killer Infographics has produced thousands of viral infographics, motion graphics and interactive infographics for a global clientele including Microsoft, Starbucks, the BBC, Adobe, and more.