Why online’s future is image-led

Posted on March 6, 2012


I tried to pin this very good, detailed article about copyright and the new social network Pinterest to that same site but – unsurprisingly – it wouldn’t let me. I got the message: “Sorry, we can’t see any big images or videos on this page”. (Serves me right for trying to be clever.)

Pinterest - all about the visual?

That got me thinking about what drives large amount of traffic online. Enders Analysis lead Claire Enders last year spoke about photos driving the mass of clicks on Facebook. She actually went on to define it even more precisely (a blog for another time) saying: “What people care about the most on Facebook is their photographs of themselves…”

Surely the meteoric rise of Pinterest also shows how many people prefer the visual.

And everyone knows the old chestnut about YouTube being the world’s second-biggest search engine.

For someone whose career – bar a busy half decade or so in front of a studio camera – has been mainly about the written word this raises some questions.

In a previous post I even commented on the rise and rise of PowerPoint for short-form communication. (How much do you hate PowerPoint?) The most generous take on that might be that presenting information visually, rather than in text-heavy memo style, might suit increasing numbers of people.

Perhaps we’re even programmed as a species, as any cave dweller might have grunted at you, to think image-first. (Friends with degrees in related subjects please step forward now and put me out of my ignorance.)

I think this means two things in terms of where we are online.

For getting into a subject deeply – and yes, I know a picture can tell a thousand words™ – we have to find a way to preserve long-form text content. In fact many content providers, websites, apps etc. are trying just that. (Some others feel they are swimming against a tide.)

But for mass market comms, whether we’re consuming the stuff or working in media, looking for high levels of traffic, image-first is increasingly important.

Video online will come to dominate much of our public life just as that thing called TV did in the twentieth century. (Remember that?)

But it’s arguably the photographer, the illustrator, the graphic designer, maybe even the infographic creator who will hold the key to much of what lies ahead.

And unlike video, which is usually made up of images and audio, images alone work well across language and often across cultures.

Posted in: Social media, Work