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The Power of Visual Storytelling in Your Online Community

Written by Lauren Wolfe | on August 10, 2016 at 8:30 AM

We’ve all been part of the ‘content is king/queen/ruler of the marketing world’ conversation and, if you’re like me, you’re on board…and have been for a long time. (I’m not saying for how exactly long because then I’ll feel old.)

Online communities are also on board because they’re serious content aggregators and incubators. This got me
thinking. Is there a way we can capitalize on all of this valuable content? Essentially, how can we get more attention and action out of our content?

(Lightbulb) I have an idea.

Current marketing trends and statistical data confirm that content is vastly more effective when visuals are added. The rise of powerhouse visual online communities like Pinterest and Instagram are applicable proof. In fact, content with relevant images boasts 94% more views than content without relevant images and content views can jump up to 48% if they contain both pictures and videos. (Source: HubSpot blog)

What can we learn? 1) Our substantive content should be paired with strong visual elements; and 2) Visual storytelling is a tactic we can use to increase engagement.

Did I say increase engagement?

Yes, that’s what I said! If you’re currently “over this buzz word”, please hang in there and keeping reading. At the end of the day no matter what you call it, we all want the same thing. We want our members/users/people to connect to our content/messaging and take action. Powerful visuals will evoke emotions, make an impact and result in actions such as a share, like, retweet or comment. When our members/users/people are interacting with our content, the value of our community rises.

If we look back in time, people have always used visuals to communicate and share information. This is very understandable because visuals help us tell our stories quickly. When the visual is a powerful one, be it an image or video, the effect is magnified. Renowned poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said it best when she said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Six Types of Visual Content Used for Storytelling:

1. GIFs

Bring life to an image by capturing comical moments in a quick animation. Essentially, GIFs combine photo and video into a bit-sized, shareable story.

2. Infographics

There are two things people love: statistics and graphics. Why not combine both of them for an incredibly effective storytelling medium? (3x more than any other visual). Plus, they’re versatile and can be designed for any topic.

3. Memes

Are images often shared because of their relevance, humorous design and cultural information. Memes can be jokes, phrases and concepts that are extremely shareable. Organizations could use them for awareness and social proof.

4. Photo Collages

Photo collections and collages are super trendy right now. Collages offer an opportunity to highlight different attributes of organization or event and portray a strong visual representation of your story. In some cases, they tell a complete story. Check out Lonely Plant’s Instragram for inspiration.
(Example: Travel to Brazil for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics)

Lonely Planet Travel to Rio Olympics Example

5. Photography

Any moment can turn into a photo opportunity. Authentic photographs attract the most attention. Photographs do not need to be professional, just real. Current mobile apps support this – take a look at charity: water’s Instragram. They do an excellent job of offering complete transparency and telling the story of the communities who are benefiting from cleaner water through photographs.

6. Videos

The most powerful visual communication channel with real engagement power. YouTube, Vine and Instagram offer video production for any user. From a visual storytelling point of view, no platform is as powerful as YouTube. If you want a good look at what effective storytelling looks like on YouTube, check out GoPro’s YouTube Channel.

Two Visual Storytelling Examples I Love for Community

  • Stories from the Airbnb Community. You could create a page like this in your online community. You already have the people and I know they already have the stories. Each story contains an interview, photographs and video content – essentially a mix of the visual content in the list above. How do you feel after browsing a few of the stories? It’s incredibly real and fun right? This is the feeling you want to create when your members/users/people are logging into your community. Imagine the power in cross-content promotion.
  • Extra Gum: The Story of Sarah & Juan. Their #GiveExtraGetExtra campaign generated millions of views in the first week alone. What made this content so viral? You can read more about the campaign on their website, but through a rather simple style of storytelling and a catchy tune, consumers clearly connected to the “We’re Celebrating Life’s Little Moments” challenge. People who watched the video were inspired by Sarah and Juan’s story, to submit their own story. Could you use emotional storytelling to connect with your community? I think the key here is to ask them to take an action as result of experiencing your visual content – oh, and keep it simple.

So now what?

I think everyone should embrace visual storytelling, not just graphic designers and marketers.

Why? It’s simple. People like visual stories and people belong to communities. If you’re looking for new ways to increase engagement (or activity for you buzz word haters), try incorporating visual storytelling into your content strategy and plan. Let’s give them what they like! Successful visual stories are authentic, inclusive, culturally relevant and reflect sensory experiences. Remember to be human. If you’re going to invest in visual storytelling and maximize its potential, you need to know what you’re doing. Finding the right visuals will take energy, creativity, and a solid time investment.

One more thing, speaking of visual stories I think you’ll like because it’s timely  – did you know British best-selling novelist J.K. Rowling says she drew Harry Potter’s Hogwarts before she wrote it? (Source: The Power of Visual Storytelling, 2015)

Harry Potter world drawn by JK Rowling


Topics: Online Community Management, Online Community

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