The Train Tracks Underneath the Visual Content Based Social Media Train: Part 1

 “Social media makes everyone a visual storyteller.”
– Amanda Pehrson, Social Media Manager at Crocs Inc., BDI Visual Communications Forum 12/12/13, NY
“The Big Question for marketing in 2014 is: How can we generate content in social media that’s visual and meaningful?”
– Michael Pranikoff, Global Director of Emerging Media at PR Newswire, BDI Visual Communications Forum 12/12/13, NY 
The social media train has officially left the proverbial Entrepreneurial Station and 2013 has been the year that everyone tried to get in on the party. What’s driving the train? Who’s getting noticed for being on board? What keeps the train running smoothly? These are questions I have been pondering since I started blogging here, on Tumblr, and for The Huffington Post. Visual Content Marketing is becoming a legitimate avenue of employment and thought leadership. Just read about it in the new series Up and to the Right in the Hubspot blog and learn about it in the Marketo webinars. Visual content marketing is becoming increasingly popular and is now regularly analyzed around the water cooler at work, the blogosphere online, and business seminars. The two new buzzwords; visuals and storytelling, are subsequently on the lips of many fellow entrepreneurs. Which I find fascinating and somewhat amusing; as both an educator/ speech therapist who is a teacher and observer of human nature, and an entrepreneur interested in balancing humanity and technology; the central theme of my upcoming book. I’ve used both for years 🙂
Those two buzzwords are very familiar to me; having worked with children with Autism for two decades. I even developed a social skills curriculum and iPad App using principals of visual learning and visual strategies. You can learn more about them here. Children with Autism tend to have social communication challenges and incidentally,  tend to be visual learners. They rely on visual stimuli and environmental cues to provide clues and context to trigger memories and learned skills in various settings re: proper conduct etc. Storytelling i.e. narratives involves understanding the passage of time and events in sequence; also two areas of real challenge for Autistic youngsters. These skills are needed to help a person learn problem solving and collaborative strategies; two areas of metalinguistic skill that are crucial to an entrepreneur’s success.
Having studied patterns of human behavior, which is essentially what economics is all about, it is no wonder that in an increasingly technologically driven society, we are craving human connection; to our past, within our present, and for the future, when we leave a legacy for the next generation. That’s why digital photos, storytelling through various mediums (art, film, blogs, books) and websites such as are increasingly popular. That’s why content visual marketing is being universally embraced at this juncture in time; a time where people crave balance between humanity and technology, and the offshoots in between.
There is a famous essay written by the very wise Robert Fulghum entitled Everything I Ever Learned I Learned in Kindergarten. It has so profoundly moved me, influenced my entrepreneurial mission, and my overall professional conduct, that I quote it at my seminars and in my book. I even posted a version of it on my NICE Initiative website, which you can read here. Social skills are the driving force behind human nature and human interaction. It’s why I named my company Socially Speaking LLC, and trademarked my educational curriculum and iPad App with the same name. I did this in 2009, before we all started vying for a spot on the social media train. Now my company’s name and mottos, “Join the Journey for Change”, and “Try the Socially Speaking™ Experience!” has become even more relevant!
So has Fulghum’s essay. That’s why I need to write here that everything I ever learned about the importance of using the visual medium in communication, everything I ever learned as an educator/ Autism Specialist turned entrepreneur, has helped me balance my humanity and technology; an ongoing struggle and aspiration. The lessons I learned coalesced into my mission for the NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship (more on that in an upcoming post in Tumblr). Everything I want to share/plan on sharing with others in my book, my future seminars, and in my future writings/blogposts etc. was validated today.  When I attended the fantastic Visual Communications Forum in Manhattan, sponsored by The Business Development Institute and organized by Maria Feola Magro. She did a wonderful job lining up relevant, interesting, and genuine speakers who shared what they learned along the way when creating their own visual content marketing strategy for their companies.
Three common themes addressed at this event today were centered around these 3 topics and timely questions raised again and again:
1. How to leverage visuals more meaningfully to drive social media traffic and engagement.
2. When to “up the ante” re: “feeding the beast” i.e. in cyber time after Social Listening, (which is so beautifully explained in this Hootsuite blogpost by Mike Allton and illustrated by the folks at Chipotle, who were commended by Mashable in 2011) or in Real Time, at the same time as a current event in the news occurs or something trending goes viral (think what Oreo did at last year’s Super Bowl when the blackout happened, and read Angela Watercutter’s article on Wired, which revealed the War Room Effort which scored the winning touchdown as far as social media marketing goes ).
3. Why repurposing content (self generated or user generated) using visuals across misc. social channels is psychologically effective for the purposes of branding and calls to action (CTA). Want to dovetail that answer with more insight into the psychology of marketing? Learn about 15 psychological triggers to convert leads into customers, in this awesome, deceptively simple blogpost for KISSmetrics, by Iraqi marine corp veteran turned entrepreneur Akshay Nanavati. It got on my radar last night when I was surfing my Zite App. It really blew me away, because of my background in psychology/visual communication, and because I am also an entrepreneur trying to learn and grow, and break down marketing trends and formulate more scientific and productive Calls to Action (CTA).
What were the CTAs I heard, and the overall takeaways I took from today’s talks on integrating visual content into one’s digital marketing strategy? So much information, so little time 🙂 So much food for thought, where to begin….. Let me sum up and paraphrase/directly quote each of the speakers who touched on interlocking concepts. I will list them in the order of their appearance, which was set by BDI:
1. “Visual based social media builds truly authentic conversations, which creates a community of customers and drives business.”
– Stephanie Scott, Social Media Specialist, American Airlines
My Takeaway: Start with Social Listening to develop a content strategy re: integrating visuals that your “tribe” (read Tribes by Seth Godin) helps you implement. Potential problem: You have to really understand which “playground” your tribe really hangs out in; Instagram is reportedly popular with Millennials, Pinterest with women, and Vine with younger, tech savvy folks and established brands. Read more about it which brands use Vine in this cool article by Sarah Ang for Mashable.
2. “Content, especially visual content provided on social media, MUST correlate to your business objectives, to attract customers.”
– Michael Pranikoff, Global Director of Emerging Media at PR Newswire
My Takeaway: Generate visual content for your social media marketing campaign that is easily sharable across misc. social channels, emotionally resonates with a large cross-section of people, and embeds a CTA in it by telling a story (Read Inbound Marketing by the founders of Hubspot; Halligan & Shah). Read more about visual storytelling in this great article for IMPACT’s blog by Caroline Edgecomb.
3. “The Internet, with it’s potential for visual engagement, is as essential for inspiring new travel as it is for planning new travel.”
– Aaron Clossey, Social Media Manager, Jetsetter (now under TripAdvisor)
My Takeaway: Use visuals on your social media platforms to foster collective emotional resonance for branding purposes, as well as harness the power of the Internet for thought leadership (read Ready to Be a Thought Leader? by Denise Brosseau). Provide virtual mentorship to teach others about things related to your service/product. See more on the ramifications of the shift from words to pictures, written about in Forbes.
4. “Social media, when done right, allows people to easily come together around a shared passion that binds people all over the globe. This is especially true with platforms that share visual content that drives sentiment, like Pinterest and Instagram.”
– Kristie Wells, Director of Global Social Media and Customer Engagement,
My Takeaway: Effective content curation means having a physical (iPhoto for Mac, external hard drive; so glad Kristie said this too!) “vault” in addition to a cloud based (Pocket & Evernote Apps, Pinterest boards, Dropbox, and SugarSync) holding pen for your pictures.  It also means posting visual content more than once to trigger/sustain an emotional reaction, and to post these visuals in a thematic way, using elements of doing good/social entrepreneurship (read Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently–and Succeeding by Seth Goldman) AND branding. See more about the implications for branding in this terrific post by Shana Mallon for Content Marketing Institute.

5. “Make yourself your own backpack journalist when curating content, for increased authenticity and engagement.”

 – Amanda Pehrson, Social Media Manager at Crocs Inc.
My Takeaway: Act like a nomadic journalist on the go, who has the oxymoronic privilege of inspiring copycats by sharing stories/visuals from others who cross his/her path (read Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon) and generating a unique breadcrumb trail for others to follow using a photo diary such as Pinterest or Flickr, or blogging. If you don’t have the time or luxury to document your Story and/or produce visual content across all your social channels, don’t sweat it and DON’T be a perfectionist about it. Stick to several channels and shine there. Repurpose visual content when pressed for time, from your followers there, sometimes interspersing it with some half-baked visuals that LOOK user-generated for greater storytelling potential and emotional attunement. Read more about why being authentic, more visually transparent, and blogging (about your experiences, and what you’ve seen or read about other people’s) matters, in this excellent blogpost by Mitch Joel from 2008!
6. “Food porn is driving today’s engagement using visual communications”
– Jessica Lauria, Director of Brand Communications, Chobani
My Takeaway: Good content via storytelling moves beyond “selfies” and “food porn” to sustain visual engagement, not just drive it (read Body of Work by Pam Slim). What is considered good content? Visuals that are meaningful. That are helpful in teaching you something. That tug at the heart strings. That tickle the funny bone. All of which help your episodic memory retain those images in a more organic, long term, and holistic manner. This leads to increased emotional resonance, brand recognition, and the ability to stave off reaching that psychological “saturation point” too soon, something inbound content marketers are telling us to be wary of, especially when dealing with Millennialls. Read this intriguing post by Jamie Dunham for more related  information.
7. “Effective visual integration into social media means using photos that focus on usage trends that optimize the product experience.”
– Jon Fox, President, Flightpath, Goya Foods Campaign
My Takeaway: Optimize your “visual shelf life” for your content by tailoring your “feed” to your niche market in a way that helps them diversify i.e. be versatile and flexible by using your service/product more than one way (read Link Out: How to Turn Your Network into a Chain of Lasting Connections by Leslie Grossman). This also aids in promoting more social traffic and “shares/likes”, especially when using specific life cycle events that are universally appealing;  child-centric pictures or holiday recipe cheat sheets etc. Finally, this helps you ensure brand consistency. To learn about the dangers of inconsistent branding, read this succinct, scary post (in a good way) by Melissa Kelly.
The forum’s speakers were all experts in their field, helpful, and honest. They openly shared mistakes they had made along the way (fodder for a future post about the pitfalls of perfectionism, which I touch on in my book) and all admitted that they don’t have all the answers. For example, differing opinions emerged about the sticky situation we all encounter when repurposing user generated content. The question “what does fair use defined really mean?” always rears its ugly head. The collective jury is still out re: avoiding copyright infringement best practices, something that SHOULD be on all our minds when using visuals!
I was reminded today of the word game I played as a child on long trips in the car, before the iPod, smartphone, compact car DVD player, and iPad was invented. My friends and I, all book nerds and wordsmiths to a degree, called it “lock and key”; a word association game we loved. Little did we know that our teachers loved it too! It was aimed at building critical thinking and vocabulary. In this case, visuals are the lock, which help lock in a loyal customer base, generate sales, and stick in one’s memory banks faster than an audio message….. but what’s the key? What’s the “secret sauce”, the train tracks underneath the social media train carrying all those pictures, video clips, and Infographics?
To be continued…..
Here are two interesting quotes with train track images from Pinterest- Happy Trails!

About penina4niceinitiative

Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP, TSHH, CEO of Socially Speaking LLC, is the author of "The NICE Reboot: A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur". She is an Autism specialist and educational technology consultant turned social entrepreneur. She is also a pediatric speech therapist and the creator of the Socially Speaking™ Program & iPad App. Her second book, "Autism Intervention in the iEra" was published in 2015. Since 2010, Penina has been a national/international speaker about social communication development, balancing humanity and technology, and best practices re: mobile and social technology. Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more. You can also find her on Twitter: @PopGoesPenina, Facebook: Socially Speaking LLC, Google+ at The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, and Pinterest and YouTube as well.
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