Everybody loves a good story. It’s the reason soap operas have been successful for so long. People get attached to the narrative and to the characters and want or NEED to follow along.
Even better than a good story is a great story with pictures. Even kids know this. Without the art, Where the Wild Things Are is just a story about a boy with an active imagination. Add in those pictures, and the reader is transported to a different place, whether he or she is age 7, 17, or 70.
Technology has only made it easier for us to tell a story with visual components, and we’ve evolved. From blogs to social media, visual storytelling has come a long way.
Blogs started as pages of manually updated HTML that people used to share their thoughts and favorite links with people they knew. It wasn’t exactly an easy process. But over time, sites like Xanga and LiveJournal sprouted up and became the first blogging platforms.
Early users couldn’t change much about the look and feel of their sites (color schemes and font choices, maybe), but these platforms made it much easier for non-coders to write and publish pieces without the hassle of learning how to edit HTML.
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Blogs were the first taste of having an individual, non-filtered gateway to communicating with the world. They offered everyone with a connection the opportunity to have their own little piece of the internet.
Before long, online diaries and journals gave way to a more prominent platform: news outlets. Newspapers and networks began using blogs as a way to get the news out faster. WordPress launched in 2003, and the platform allowed large editorial teams to manage and publish content quickly and easily.
What Early Blogging Means Today
The early days of blogging taught us a couple of lessons that we can apply to our content creation processes today.
First, your content has to be authentic. Whether it’s a blog post, an infographic, or a presentation, your creations need to be your own. There’s plenty of content on the internet that gets lost in the shuffle because it doesn’t ring true. Don’t let yours meet the same fate. When blogs were just for people sharing photos and ideas with friends and family, folks has a direct line to their audience. Remember that.
Similarly, your content needs to stand out and be unique. Even if it’s genuine, it shouldn’t look like everything else. Between 2014 and 2016, the internet will have quadrupled in size. That means you have to try at least 4 times harder than the designer sitting next to you at your local coffee shop just to be noticed. Infographics and engaging visuals are a great place to start.
Visual storytelling took another big step in 2010 with the launch of Instagram. Social media had been a part of popular culture since the early 2000s, but Instagram changed the way people posted images in real time.
Prior to Instagram, photo sharing services like Flickr or other social platforms like Facebook had made posting and sharing photos more of a chore. Sure, it was easier than attaching and emailing them, but they still had to be uploaded and categorized into albums or attached to a separate post. These were the best and quickest way to get your pictures in front of a larger audience.
Instagram made it easier and more popular to post single photos to share snapshots of a moment or potential memory. Unlike Flickr, Instagram was made to be used in real time. Users could take a quick picture, apply a filter, and post the image to multiple social networks in a fraction of the time.
Shorter posts and real-time content lead to a huge boost in engagement. It’s easier to scroll through a feed of images and “tap tap” to like something than it is to read, process, and comment on a longer text-based post.
Lessons from the Growth of Instagram
Like early blogging, the growth and popularity of Instagram has some interesting takeaways as well.
First, there are times when shorter is better. Using visuals, you can convey more information in less time. By using less text and more data, infographics can rely on condensed content to be visually appealing. They usually get straight to the point with facts, statistics, and numbers by using as few words and phrases as possible.
Your content should also be engaging. In marketing, we call this a “call to action”. Ask your audience to interact with your content or to reach out to you with their thoughts and opinions. By asking them to take that next step, you can transform your audience into a community of followers that appreciate being involved in your content creation process.
One of the more recent tools that has captured the essence of visual storytelling is Snapchat. Originally written off by adults as another social network that was strictly for teens, Snapchat has released features in the recent past that let people (and brands) tell their “story” though a collection of pictures and short videos that retain the ephemeral quality for which Snapchat is known.
Telling a story, at least one that was storyboarded and planned, has been an ordeal for many years. You’ve had to have a means of production, a way to publish it, and a way to help people find it. Snapchat has either simplified all of that or done away with it entirely.
Launched in 2013, Snapchat’s My Story feature allows users to post a sequence of still images and short video clips for 24 hours. After that, they disappear. With Stories, Snapchat became a self-contained tool for public, visual storytelling. Snapchat provides everything you need to create and tell a story including in-app recording, illustrating, and asset-stitching, as well as the interactive platform to view it all in.
Stories (the feature) is effective because it takes the work out of telling a story. If you’ve ever sat staring at a blank page or a blinking cursor, you know what that “work” is. Snapchat’s ephemeral nature adds a level of informality that keeps you from spending too much time worrying whether or not everything is perfect. Snap, post, done.
What Snapchat Has Taught Us
Snapchat is still new, so the lessons we’re learning from the platform are coming quickly.
One of the reasons visual stories work on Snapchat is because they’re memorable. As quick as posting a photo on Instagram has become, Snapchat takes “in the moment” a step further. Content that is unforgettable is going to make the biggest impact because on Snapchat, visuals are here one minute and gone the next.
That ephemerality also gives the creator more license to be carefree. The time and effort that’s typically reserved for blog posts and videos can be cast aside on Snapchat. Snaps and Stories are quick and easy, and the effort invested can reflect that. That doesn’t mean you can throw all caution to the wind, but the resources don’t have to be as involved.
Live Video: The Future of Visual Storytelling
If the past few months are any indication, live video is likely going to be the future of visual storytelling. Between Meerkat, Periscope, and the recent launch of Facebook Live, many large social platforms are investing in streaming video.
Most people think that live video means only unedited, spur-of-the-moment streams, but that doesn’t have to be the case. It should be strategic and play a role in furthering the story you’re trying to tell.
For instance, Tastemade has gone all-in on live video. Their ambitious plan is to air 100 live shows a month on the Facebook Live platform. Shows will include things like cooking programs with on-camera talent and recipe tutorials, and some of the content will be repackaged for other social platforms including YouTube and Snapchat. This all serves to increase Tastemade’s exposure and market share in this rapidly growing space.
Video is the most widely consumed form of content among millennials, and to succeed in the live video space, creators have to work to make their offerings genuine and unique without trying too hard.
Quick Lessons from the Live Video Revolution
We’re learning quickly that the keys to successful live video can be applied to most forms of visual storytelling.
The content production cycle is getting faster. Work to find ways to keep up. Optimizing your processes and making content production easy will help you keep up with the pace.
Remember not to try too hard. The authenticity of your content will shine through if the quality isn’t overshadowed by overproduction. With the stream of internet content building to firehose-type levels, content that comes from a true, honest place is more likely to stand out.
What lessons have you noticed or learned from the evolution of visual storytelling? Let us know in the comments!