infographics

Small Business Use of Social Media Continues to Grow

Small businesses follow trends of increased social media presence and promotion and use of visual content such as infographics, images and videos.

Small businesses follow trends of increased social media presence and promotion and use of visual content such as infographics, images and videos.

Despite its problems with preserving user privacy, Facebook remains the dominant social media platform for small businesses, but Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are catching up. LinkedIn and Snapchat are in the race, too.

More than 70 percent of small businesses with fewer than 500 employees use social media promotion, according to a recent survey of more than 350 US small business owners conducted by Clutch, an independent research firm based in Washington, DC.

Small business presence on social media platforms has risen in step with increasing user engagement. Clutch says as many as 24 percent of small businesses now posting on social media started as recently as 2017. More than half of small businesses with an online presence post something daily.

Women-owned small businesses tend to rely on social media more than businesses owned by men. Millennial-owned small businesses are more likely to use social media than older business owners.

Fifty-four percent of small businesses post images or infographics on their social media sites, adhering to evidence that visual content draws greater attention than text.

Of the small businesses surveyed by Clutch, 16 percent said they planned to become active on social media, while only 13 percent indicated no interest.

Eighty-six percent of small businesses surveyed indicated they are on Facebook, which isn’t much of a surprise given its overall social media market dominance with 2.13 billion users across multi-generations and the ability to target audiences.

A little more surprising is that Instagram logged in as the second most used social media platform with 48 percent of small businesses. YouTube (46 percent), Twitter (44 percent), LinkedIn (31 percent) and Snapchat (25 percent) also attracted substantial small business usage. Only 12 percent of small business social media users rely only on Facebook.

A social media presence for women-owned small businesses is a virtual no-brainer because women outnumber men as social media users. The same holds true for small businesses owned by Millennials and targeting Millennial consumers, who grew up surrounded by digital media and can’t imagine life without the internet.

Generational preferences indicate Gen X and Baby Boomers are more likely to prefer Facebook and LinkedIn while Millennials gravitate more to Instagram and Snapchat, creating at least a crude form of social media segmentation.

The Clutch survey showed 52 percent of small businesses post something daily on social media, 70 percent post weekly and 94 percent monthly.  Images or infographics (54 percent) are the more popular type of content posted by small businesses, followed by offers or promotions (52 percent), reviews (49 percent), videos (44 percent), blog posts (40 percent) and research data (33 percent).

 

TSA Uses Visuals to Convey a ‘Necessary Nuisance’

The Transportation Security Administration uses a range of information and impish visual communications to explain the necessary nuisance of searching bags, confiscating disallowed goods such as fireworks and patting down passengers to ensure commercial airline safety.

The Transportation Security Administration uses a range of information and impish visual communications to explain the necessary nuisance of searching bags, confiscating disallowed goods such as fireworks and patting down passengers to ensure commercial airline safety.

If people who check your identity, scan your carry-ons, seize your water bottles and pat you down can generate smiles on Instagram, so can you.

TSA is the ultimate purveyor of user-generated content – from loaded guns and lethal knives to angelic kids and lovable dogs. What TSA sees and sometimes confiscates is eye-popping fun, which the federal agency shares on its popular Instagram account.

Hard to imagine a federal agency, especially one often under siege from air travelers and politicians, could have such an infectious sense of humor. But it is easy to recognize TSA uses quirky pictures on its Instagram account as part of its overall visual communications strategy.

FEMA has developed an infographic that provides useful, easy-to-grasp ways to prepare your home for a major earthquake. It is another example of a visually appealing way to help people deal with a necessary nuisance.

FEMA has developed an infographic that provides useful, easy-to-grasp ways to prepare your home for a major earthquake. It is another example of a visually appealing way to help people deal with a necessary nuisance.

David Johnston is TSA’s social media strategist who helps travelers literally “get the picture” of what they can and cannot take aboard a commercial airliner at a US airport. Pictures are the best means to convey a lot of information quickly to people who speak different languages and have varying degrees of experience on air travel. Pictures also can be a powerfully passive way to explain controversial or sensitive regulations and avoid ugly confrontations.

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TSA’s visual communications strategy could be a case study for organizations and communicators that need to “speak” in the digital age. Infographics and videos show what can be taken on board in carry-ons and provide excellent shareable content for social media. Informative, well-illustrated blog posts provide timely information, such as how to pack presents for Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa.

Instagram posts aim to reach younger eyeballs and poke light-hearted fun at some of the stuff TSA confiscates, like fireworks and smartphones with built-in knives.

For an agency whose purpose is to be intrusive in the name of safety, visual communications are icebreakers. They subtly and successfully make TSA seem helpful – and friendly, even as TSA personnel check out your liquid containers and scrutinize your iPad for explosives.

TSA rarely has “good” news to tell or a two-for-one sale to promote. All it can do is strive to make airport security checks less of a necessary nuisance. This should be a light-bulb moment for companies, nonprofits and other public agencies that are in the necessary nuisance business. Visual aids can help.

Visual communications can deliver basic information quickly and often complex information simply. They can cut across cultural, language and age barriers. They can replace bulky text and substitute for lengthy verbal explanations. They can inform with some style and a lighter touch.

Protecting the safety of airline passengers is serious business and, for travelers, a frustration. TSA shows some moxie by relying heavily on visual communications to balance the two while proactively communicating with people who it will check, scan and pat down.

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Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

Earning Clicks and Much More

If you want to be heard, be seen.

If you want to be heard, be seen.

Images improve the chances of connecting your customers with your content. If you catch their eye, you can earn a click.

However, images can do much more than just earn clicks. They can deliver useful information, answer common questions and provide clear explanations. 

Visual content works because our brains are wired to process images much faster than words. That's why a good picture is worth more than a 1,000 words.

Images have other virtues, too. They can simplify, symbolize and sequence information in ways that are familiar, comfortable and nearly automatic. It takes far less effort to look at a picture than to read a paragraph.

Capitalizing on visual content requires the same care, thought and editing as writing an effective paragraph. Sticking a picture into the middle of a mound of words won't cut it. We use the phrase "information design" to describe the process of determining how to meld words and images into a cohesive communications unit.

Here are some tips about finding and using visual content successfully:

1  All pictures aren't created equal. You need to choose pictures that grab attention and tell your story. We have moved past the Polaroid era and people expect higher quality imagery, which they see everyday, all day on television and the Internet. If you can't discriminate between a good picture and a bad one, get help so what you choose does the job.

2  You don't have to be a world-class photographer. Some of the most powerful pictures are ones taken in the moment on smartphones. The pictures you want to use should be judged by their effect on your customers, not based on the credentials of who shot them. 

3  Images don't have to be pictures. Some of the best, most shareable visual content comes in the form of charts and infographics, which are cleverly packaged and logically sequenced information delivery vehicles. Charts are especially good ways to show contrast. Infographics work well to explain a complicated piece of information in a simple, digestible fashion. They also are powerful ways to show causal relationships.

4  Video counts as visual content. Video gets discounted because of a perception that it is too hard and too expensive to develop. That's yesterday's news. Short videos can be easy to produce and are an effective way to show how something works or share a testimonial.

5  Seek and use customer content. A great way to generate images is to ask your customers to send them to you. You may receive a lot of unusable stuff, but all it takes is a few gems to add value to your communications. Customer-generated content is also a great way to engage your customer base.

6  Little pictures matter as much as big ones. No question a large, dramatic picture can be spellbinding. But smaller pictures can be appealing, too, such as photographs of the staff member who writes a blog. Think both big and small when you search and select images.

7  Don't overlook the element of surprise. Pictures, unlike words, can make people do a double-take. Visual surprises pull the eye toward them because they conflict with our sense of the familiar. They cause us to take a second look, which increases your chance of getting someone to spend more time with your content.

8  Be careful with stock photos. Stock photography can be a short-cut to getting a relevant, eye-fetching picture. It also can be a can of worms. First off, make sure you purchase the stock image you use for the purpose or purposes you intend. Second, be mindful of whether a competitor has used the image, which can be very embarrassing. Finally, stock pictures are just that. They are generic, not specific. If you are going for authenticity, look somewhere else than the online galleries of stock photography.

9  Insert personality into your visual content. Selfies are popular because they are personal. Inserting some personality into your pictures, charts or infographics underscores authenticity and can reinforce your branding. Be careful not to inject a tone that is inconsistent with your message.

10  Leverage familiar patterns. Infomercials can be effective by relying on tried-and-true patterns, such as "before" and "after." Visuals that are basically doodles work because most people doodle. A familiar picture with an odd twist can be turned into a meme that results in shares and comments online. Be a good observer and follow your own visual instincts.

Tuning Content for Your Audience's Ear

Content marketing is more than blasting content through a megaphone. It involves finding out what your audience wants and giving it to them.

Content marketing is more than blasting content through a megaphone. It involves finding out what your audience wants and giving it to them.

The secret to content marketing lies in knowing your audience, not someone's formula for success.

Neil Patel, writing for ragan.com, says too many content marketing initiatives go down in flames because they follow so-called best practices rather than the clues provided from target viewers.

"Take every best practice with a grain of salt. Do the one thing that matters: Know your audience," Patel urges. "Your form, method, frequency, length, style, approach, tone, structure, images should depend on what's best for your audience."

Content marketers are discovering what ad agencies have discovered – connecting with audiences requires more than shouting through a megaphone. Writing a blog that no one reads is just as much of a misfire as producing an ad that no one believes.

The "best practices" that Patel spears aren't necessarily bad practices to adopt. Snappy headlines, brisk copy, blogs, infographics all can be effective tools. But that's what they are – tools, not ends.

One clue to what your viewers are looking for is what they click on in your website. Typically, the most clicks are for team biographies and case studies. That suggests content centered on your team members and stories about your work.

Another way to ferret out what your viewers want is to ask them. Periodic surveys can combine a little fun with serious questions. This might lead to producing content, such as an informative Ebook, that responds to interests or needs that are expressed.

Tuning into online conversations is yet another way to hear what is on the minds of your audience. Creating content that follows – or bucks – trends could be a great way to capture attention.

One constant in content marketing that shouldn't be forgotten is the need to provide something useful. Usefulness could mean content that is entertaining, informative, relevant or eye-opening.

Another content marketing maxim is letting the form follow the function. Your content must be created, packaged and delivered so it arrives at the doorstep of your audience, whether that doorstep is a desktop, tablet or mailbox.

Many content marketing best practices have value and reflect track records of success. But Patel is right – they aren't where you start in designing an effective content marketing campaign. The place you start are the persons you want the message to end with – your audience.

Content that Informs and Entertains

A clue to success in today's more crowded thoroughfare of content marketing is to entertain while you inform. It will give your content a distinctive quality and provide an even richer conduit to convey your story.

Entertainment values need to match the nature of the content it accompanies. Many subjects aren't appropriate for light-hearted treatment. But great photography or emotional storytelling can deepen the understanding of viewers. 

The presentational qualities of almost all media — from billboards to videos — have improved hugely, so most people are accustomed to, and expect, outreach with more dimension and pizzazz. You no longer can afford to communicate in 2D to a 3D world.

Count on Marketing PR for Creativity

You count on your PR team to deliver your key messages. Give them a shot at coming up with a creative, out-of-the-box idea that wows your customers or solves a vexing business problem.Count on your marketing PR team for creativity, not just hod-carrying your key messages.

An article titled "The Creativity Crisis" in the spring edition of the Public Relations Strategist urges company managers and clients to lean more heavily on PR professionals for fresh ideas. Authors Douglas McKinley and Susan Balcom Walton, both professors at Brigham Young University, say part of the problem is that many top-level officials fail to recognize that PR is a creative discipline.

"Actually, PR people are — and must be — more creative than people in advertising and marketing because we have to persuade the media and others of the merits of our ideas to secure their participation in communicating messages to our target audiences," explains Patrice Tanaka, co-chair and creative director for New York-based CRT Tanaka.