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At a loss for words: Digital success for nonwriters

October 29, 2012


Photo: Mike Baird (CC)

I’m in love with words, but I sometimes have affairs with pictures.

Writers may have an unfair advantage in all things digital, whether blogging, social media, SEO or email newsletters. But that doesn’t mean nonwriters can’t succeed in the online world.

Use the “Look at me” culture to your advantage with these tactics.

1. Photos. Everyone you know has a camera on hand at all times, usually in their phone. They’re taking photos of their dinners, their pets, their sunsets and their children.

Facebook expert Mari Smith tweeted, “10% of ALL photos EVER taken by humankind were taken in the last 12 months.”

She knows that Facebook users look at photos more than anything else, giving them a chance to Like, comment and share each one. Meanwhile, another tribe has Instagram to show off its artfully enhanced photos.

In a blog post, an author can use one striking image, or string them down the page for an illustrated story, or feature them in a gallery of related shots. Every post deserves an image, but many will forego the visual for the verbal. That’s a big mistake.

Pinterest runs on images. Facebook may require users to share a common language, but Pinterest transcends that barrier with a barrage of colorful pins from friends: shoes, cakes, hairdos, dresses, sofas, cabins, lakes and on and on. A pinner who spoke no English could easily decipher a scrolling wall of desserts.

Do this: Take photos that tell the story of your company. Share those photos. And Like and comment and share other people’s photos.

2. Memes. Variation No. 1 on photos. This popular form of expression is all about what’s trendy or viral, a photo with a short caption overlay.

I have snuck them into presentations, created some for social media and browsed (and laughed) at thousands of them.

Users can make their own — using stock memes or with their photos — with free sites. I like Meme Generator.

Of course, if the user happens to be a really good writer, memes will come more easily to him.

Not sure if compliment or sarcasm.

Do this: Share a meme with your fans that will brighten their day.

3. Animated GIFs. Variation No. 2 on photos. These eye-catching pics can be works of art.

No, really.

LSUFreek takes on the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu,
in this animated GIF on Every Day Should Be Saturday.

Terrance Donnels, a k a LSUFreek, has delighted sports fans with his hilariously demented takes on football coaches and players.

I’ve made animated GIFs before, but nowhere near the level of sophistication seen in forums and comment threads. And they don’t work at all on Facebook or Reddit.

Do this: Check out News Cat GIFs, an incredible Tumblr devoted solely to reporter inside jokes.

4. Charts and graphs. Microsoft Excel will make charts for you. Apple’s Numbers will make charts for you. Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) will make charts for you.

If communicators have lots of data, they can present them in an easily digested format, whether in a chart of pie, bars or lines. Those with excellent graphic skills can do maps, cutaway illustrations, step-by-step diagrams and more.

Project Bulk - calories

A chart I made in 30 seconds from a spreadsheet,
both for free on Google Drive.

I’m using charts in my new personal site Project Bulk to show progress over time.

The supersize version of this is the infographic, usually a very vertical one showing an array of data around a topic. I’ve found hundreds of them on Pinterest. The great ones go viral, especially on blogs.

Do this: Look at data presented in pages on your company site. Turn it into a visual presentation using a chart or a graph.

5. Slides. You can thank or curse PowerPoint for the invasion of presentations in the business world. Even schoolchildren are assigned to report to their class in slide format.

I love using slide decks for talks and webinars, but I’m fussy about how I build and incorporate them. Often, they don’t hold up on their own as a coherent presentation, but I didn’t design them that way.

Slides: Think Like a Rock Star, by Mack Collier

A user can present simple or complex material in a linear fashion. I use SlideShare to not only store my slide decks, but also to embed them in posts, all for free. It accepts PDFs, PowerPoint, Open Office and Keynote.

Do this: Sign up for a free SlideShare account. (Feel free to follow me there.) Look through the network to find interesting and informative presentations in your industry.

6. Videos. People have made their careers on YouTube. They did it with nothing fancier than a camera and maybe editing software.

If someone has a talent that lends itself to a visual (and aural) presentation, she can record it and upload it. For example, this entire post could have been me giving a 3-minute video tour of blog posts and Facebook pages that use all of these types of illustrative devices.

Video: “Call Your Girlfriend,” covered by Lennon and Maisy

Take Lennon and Maisy, two up-and-coming young singers who found fame through their YouTube cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend.” They’re now playing daughters of Rayna James (Connie Britton) in the new ABC drama, “Nashville.”

By the way, a video can be a series of photos or even one image with a musical or vocal soundtrack. These are easier ways to break into the YouTube market without all the steps of shooting and editing footage.

YouTube has started to overtake network television as an option for millions of viewers. Whether the video is one you made or one you found, it can easily attract and keep fans in ways plain text cannot.

Do this: Look at your five most recent blog posts. Search for embeddable video that could enhance your topic.

A company site could be more than just words. It could be a rich portfolio with minimal text. Each page and post could be a video, a chart, a slide deck or a gallery of photos.

A Facebook page could show the vibrancy of a brand through arresting images and clever memes.

All it requires is thinking visually and bringing that look to life.

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