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Supporting image for How to Tell a Visual Story in Social Media – @ekaterina
How to Tell a Visual Story in Social Media – @ekaterina
The Agents of Change

AOCP-Pinterest-Ekaterina-WalterMixing in pictures, graphics and photos with your content and advertising is nothing new, but are you doing it effectively to get more bang for your buck as far as your audience is concerned? When you can effectively lay out your conversation point for your audience and convince them right away that the content is worth reading, then you’ve won half the battle already. It’s also a fact that the human brain processes visuals much faster than text.

Powerful visuals give rise to certain emotions and feelings, which in turn drives a deeper audience engagement. You can develop a powerful marketing program driving your company’s authenticity and cultural relevancy using rich media such as visuals, videos and social media. Think of it as the inverse to “show and tell”, and instead you tell the audience your story by showing them through visuals. Learning how to do this effectively will have a huge impact on your lead generation and allow you greater success while marketing your brand.

Ekaterina Walter is an innovator in the art of visual storytelling, and a best selling author on the topic. She has inspired creativity within organizations and proven that a picture really is worth a thousand words, or perhaps even more.

Rich: Katerina Walter led strategic and marketing innovation for Fortune 500 brands such as Intel and Accenture. Branderati, the start-up she co-founded, was acquired by Sprinklr where she now serves as Global Evangelist.

Ekaterina is an international speaker and author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg” and co-author of “The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos, and Social Media to Marketing Your Brand.”

Ekaterina has been consistently recognized by the industry and her peers for her innovative thinking, most recently receiving a 2013 Marketer of the Year honor (SoMe Awards) and being named #3 on The Forbes 2014 World’s Top 40 Social Marketing Talent. In June 2014, Fortune magazine included her in the list of the most impactful business people on social media alongside Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, Warren Buffett, and others.

She’s been featured on CNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, Forbes, Techcrunch, CNN, Wall Street Journal, INC. and now The Agents Of Change podcast. Ekaterina, welcome to the show.

Ekaterina: Hi, Rich, It’s my pleasure to be here. That sounds very fancy right there.

Rich:  You’re now exhausted. You’re like, “Oh my god, look at all that stuff I’ve done. It’s time for a vacation.”

Ekaterina: You know what, yes, that’s right and it’s coming up.

Rich: Alright, excellent. So your first book was about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and then you really seemed to shift gears and talk about visual storytelling. What led you to create a book on that topic?

Ekaterina: My first book is more about business innovation, leadership and what it takes to create an innovative company and a culture of constant change. So that’s always been my passion, I’ve written on this topic a number of times. And I also  think no matter where you are – whcih industry, which road or what your focus of passion is – kind of knowing the basics of what it takes to be successful and continue challenging the status quo is beneficial both professional and personal. But I’ve always been a marketer at heart, I’m still a marketer, and one of the things that I’ve been doing and been passionate about a lot in the past 6-7+ years is helping brands understand what that digital transformation means to them.

At some point I had written a post for Fast Company that was extremely popular and shared a lot and it was discussing the idea of how online everything started shifting from text to visuals, and sort of this whole rise of visual social media. And because it’s just been an ongoing conversation I decided that it’s going to be a great topic to explore as a digital marketer than as a marketer just overall. It’s just something that I’ve always been fascinated with and always tried to create a lot of visuals and videos and media and how I engage my audience personally and on behalf of a brand. So that’s how it transpired.

Rich: Alright, so that’s interesting. That leads into my next questions where I was going to ask basically why you think visuals are so important in marketing today. So I guess my question now is, have visuals always been important in marketing or is it something new now that there’s more bandwidth? What is it exactly where all of a sudden visuals seem to have bubbled up as one of the most important things brands or companies can be involved with.

Ekaterina: Human beings are very visual creatures all along ever since the beginning since our creation. Our language has only existed – depending on the source you’re looking at – 5,000-7,000 years, and our brains and minds work in visuals. So if you look at some data that’s out there, scientists say that visuals are processed by human brains 60,000 times faster than text and that 90% of information is absorbed by us in a visual form. So it’s in our nature to think in visuals.

[Related: How to Find the Perfect (Legal) Image for Your Social Media Marketing]

What starts happening online is the reason why visuals bubble up as sort of this differentiate or filter of the content that we’re actually consuming is because of the noise. I talk in the book about that fact that we live in the age of authenticity and we are inundated by information. According to Google we are now cranking out an amount of content and information that  we’ve created from the beginning of time till the year 2003, so now that amount of information that we’re cranking out every 48 hours. How crazy is that?

So as humans we need some sort of a filter, just like we use word of mouth and friend recommendations as a filter on what to purchase, we use visuals as a quick way – literally milliseconds – to decide if we want to consume additional content from this person or the brand’s website. So using that visual filter I believe is a key reason why visual marketing is taking – and visual storytelling not just marketing – telling your story in visual ways.

Rich: Alright, so as our newsfeeds have become more clogged and more people are jumping on social media, it requires us to go back to basics – to cave painting – and use visual storytelling as a way of breaking through that data smog. Is that what I hear you saying?

Ekaterina: Absolutely. But then also visual is one part, but storytelling is the other. And if you think about it how we market and use traditional advertising. If you think about traditional advertising it’s commercials about how awesome our products are, and very few brands are still capable of telling their stories, their passions, and the reason why they exist in a storytelling way.

You tell me a fact and I may be impressed for a second, but I forget facts, I remember stories.  So how do you combine the actual essence of of your brand’s storytelling? It’s all about a bigger vision, a bigger passion that I might share with my consumers. It’s about them, consumers versus me puffing myself up in the chest as a brand, but also doing it in a way that is easy to consumers which is basically visuals.

Rich: Alright, I want to come back to the storytelling piece because I find that fascinating, but I also wonder, it’s like the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. I don’t even know how many a video would be worth, but also if we’re limited to 140 characters on Twitter and even in Facebook the attention span is so short, is the visual storytelling partially because of the size of the space we’ve been given to tell our stories?

Ekaterina: You know, I don’t think size matters, but I do think formats change based on size. So  the fact that we’re posting memes or quotes or any data over an image is because we have that restrictive limitation in short form content. So we’re trying to find new ways to communicate better.

Rich: And I’m sure that half of our audience is very happy that you just said that size does not matter.

Ekaterina: Well, you know, at the end of the day difference audiences have a variety of expectations Some people on some networks have a specific format where you expect short form, some have medium form – like Tumblr – so short form and medium form communication Some still love reading blogs and content with more in depth information and exploration and opinions shared. So size only matters as much as the audience.

Rich: Alright, sounds good. Alright, so let’s get back to storytelling for a minute. So can you give us some tips on how we can tell our company’s stories better using visuals? And if you have any examples that you’ve worked on or seen out there that you think are especially effective, I’d love to hear about those, too.

Ekaterina: Oh gosh, so many. Use new formats. Some people or brands use formats like cartoons, for example, instead of producing commercials and regular traditional way of thinking about advertising your products, use something that not only your audience loves but also lets them know that you understand their pain points.

Get Satisfaction is one – recently acquired by Sprinklr earlier this year – Get Satisfaction is an advocacy platform that they created a series of cartoons to market their brand. Their key audience is community managers, so they communicate through cartoons that they understand the pain and they were able to help themselves in the pain that they’re facing everyday.

There is also this whole idea of opening the kimono. Do you notice how large brands need everything so polished and perfect and god forbid if you they show behind the scenes and admit they’re human. But a lot of times behind the scenes shows who we are and the content that’s shot on the go behind the scenes – what I call “low-fi” – you don’t need to spend months prepping and polishing it and staging it so perfectly. It’s just admitting the fact that we are human beings. So snap a picture of your desk or somebody else’s’ desk while you guys are discussing something in meetings, then also show your culture and who you are. So when you do social recruiting people will pay attention to that, people always look for behind the scenes to figure out whether they want to work for you or just plain engage with you.

There’s no such thing as perfect, figure out if you can be more fluid with your content and bring that audience into your own environment and into who you are. Because that in itself is a story about your culture and what you believe in  and people who are passionate will want to work for you.

Video, some people are so set in just creating standard videos but one of the underutilized ways to really connect with your audience is video response. Just put a camera in front of your face and instead of typing back say, “Hi Joe, I know how you’re struggling with this, but try a couple of these things.” Whatever that is, take an opportunity to surprise and delight them, it doesn’t take that much more time it just takes a little bit of imagination and really giving a damn about your customers and community engagement.

Rich: So I heard a couple big themes right then, maybe more. One is kind of the “making of’, so the bottom line is show them a little bit of what’s behind the polished veneer and show them what it took to get you to the point of where you are. For example with the Agents Of Change Conference, maybe showing them some pictures of meetings or sketches that we’re using to kind of develop something out. People buy into that, they kind of want to know how things are being made.

And then the other thing was just in a way of connecting or putting a human face on your brand as well when you do a video response. That has a real visceral impact on them and you’re making a deeper connection. Would you say that’s a good way of summarizing what you said?

Ekaterina: Absolutely. And being human, not just from the perspective of the content that you’re creating but also if you made an error or you’re worried about something going wrong. It’s alright, life is not perfect. People are not perfect, people work with people and we know that, just as long as you say you’re sorry and try to fix it to the best of your abilities. However you do it using human contact is a human element of it.

Rich: Well another thing that I’ve noticed lately is that a lot of businesses do work virtually, especially in the B2B space, well actually both B2B and B2C. So there’s not necessarily that human connection that you may have gotten 5, 10, 20 years ago. Even though our faces are all over social media, it doesn’t mean that somebody is necessarily going to go to my Twitter account or my LinkedIn account to see what I look like. One of the things I’ve started to notice and we’ve started to implement is including pictures of the crew members that are working on a document so the person on the other end sees that it is actually a human being that’s been working on it. And that picture alone can start to create a connection between the customer and the company or the vendor..

Ekaterina: Oh I absolutely love it. Sprinklr is a very virtual environment and I have team members that work for me and with me all over the world. I have a team in India that does amazing work and we try to do more with video, Skype video calls versus audio calls, video conferencing. You’re right, the world is a small place but it also becomes more and more virtual than local, so how do you use that visual element that hopefully will make you feel like your team is that much closer to you in your everyday life. You’re right, it doesn’t just have to be your content, I love that.

Rich: I love visual video conferencing already but I have to say, the day that they put the video camera smack dab in the middle of the screen to so I’m not constantly worried about what the person looks like and at the camera, that’s going to be a brilliant day in video conferencing. I know it exists, but not only laptop.

Alright, well we talked a lot about some big ideas but let’s say that we’re ready to kind of start doing a better job and being more focused on creating some visual storytelling for our businesses, for ourselves, what are some of the first steps that you might recommend? Do we look at platforms, do we talk to our audience, how do we get started if we’re starting from scratch?

Ekaterina: It depends on what you feel comfortable with. I would just start, I don’t think there’s a prescribed formulas. Obviously in the book there’s a whole chapter on strategies and how you start with the basics and the key questions you ask. But a lot of it goes back to your business style, your audience, what you think their expectations. There’s a balance of the people you’re engaging but also what are your goals.

But I think it’s a simple as just pick up a tip or two from our conversation today or an article you’re reading on interesting things that others are doing with visuals and just start trying it today. I can guarantee you’re going to see the success and it’s going to suck you in. So once you’re done listening to this podcast, go engage with your communities and when you’re engaged with the communities go talk and respond with video. And once you see the delight and the surprise of the customer on the other end, you will never put that down. So just play with different things.

I always tell people everybody thinks you’ve got to have some huge strategy. Yes, everything you do has to fit into your strategic goal, but if you start just implementing these tips here and there in your current day to day life, as long as you’re driven by this absolute desire of making the experiences of your customers better you can try out all kinds of cool things and see what works and what doesn’t work. Your customers will tell you and if you don’t nail it the first time they’ll forgive you because you did try something and you were literally, truly driven by caring about your customers. 

Just doing what works for you and your communities in the frequency that it works for you and start doing it today. Just do it, I guess.

Rich: Sounds good. And I challenge everybody who’s listening right now to hit the pause button and take a picture of wherever you are in the world and then tag Ekaterina and myself on Twitter and let us know you’re actually taking action by starting to create some visuals right now. Either take a photo or a video of yourself telling us how you plan on using that, I’d love to see that. And you can put it on Instagram or Vine or Facebook, just make sure you let us know that it’s out there so we can check it out.

Ekaterina: There you go, that’s fantastic, that’s a great starting point. Just as long as you are having fun with it that’s what counts. You and your community’s happiness, that’s all.

Rich: Love it. Ok, how should we measure our success when it comes to this? After we’ve been doing it for a little while, what kind of response, engagement or metrics should we be looking at to determine if this type of visual storytelling is effective or not?

Ekaterina: Well, you’ll see some basic things. First of all you’ll probably see the growth of community, but that’s more a vanity number when we have this many followers. It is a number that talks – especially to you – acquired them organically, it talks to the fact that you are interesting and people want to be in your community.

But you need to take it deeper, so the next layer is engagement. So the clicks, the likes, the comments, how many people engaged back and start a conversation with you, but also how much traffic you drive. Once you start using the small microcontent – and by microcontent I mean the visual to accompany your message – so if you’re driving people to look at the jobs on your site or the blog post or you launched a new ebook, always have an interesting visual microcontent. So the “snackable” content, as they call it, to accompany your bigger picture and then you’ll see which content does well and you’ll see how much traffic you are driving to your content. So that’s the next layer.

A third layer is the intent. So how much are you really influencing things like your downloads that lead to lead generation, so how much these particular pieces of content or engagement of conversation impact you driving leads and maybe closing business deals. It depends on what type of company you are, the pathway will be different and you will measure different specific things. But at the end of the day you do want to get down deeper to add business impact, so make sure you have the right UTM’s and the right links and basic things that allow you to hopefully realize the impact.

Rich: Now Ekaterina, I’m sure that there are a lot of people who own retail stores selling candy or galleries selling art that visual storytelling comes naturally to, and it seems like an obvious fit. BUt then I’m sure you’ve run into people who are accountants or bankers with a product that isn’t sexy or visual and think this isn’t for them. What do you say to people like that?

Ekaterina: First of all it’s a great excuse, I compliment them. What I believe and what I’ve seen in large business and small business is that no matter what your product is there is always – even if it’s a small niche – there is always a community of people who are passionate about this product. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in business and you wouldn’t be selling it. You wouldn’t be spending your time and money on growing a business. There is always a consumer and it doesn’t have to be millions of people. As a matter of fact, it’s actually cooler when you have niche communities.

So don’t talk to me about the sexiness level of your product, there’s always a passionate person no matter what you do, whether you sell software or something very specific for a particular passion point. You just need to find that community and figure out what really makes them tick, what is it that they’re looking for. And that might not be sexy, it might just be all utility driven, that’s ok.

I mean, look at Hubspot – one of my favorite examples – here is a B2B company that does sell software that’s not sexy but it is highly utilitarian software. So when you talk about inbound marketing, they became the go to community for any content that has to do with doing marketing right. I don’t care if you’re nonprofit or if you’re a large corporation, I don’t care if it is tips to do with using multiple social networks or an ebook to help you measure impact, these guys have a Pinterest page and are basically active on all social lists. They have so much of an array of presence on all the social networks, and you think why would they be on Pinterest there is nothing visual, what kind of sexy content can they create. But they have the boards that talk about free ebooks that might be of help and templates that might help.

So if you think it’s not sexy, then find a community that will think your product is. And if you don’t think the content is sexy, go for utilitarian and add value every single day. Become a guide for the industry so that you don’t actually have to sell, they will sell for you.

Rich: Perfect. So basically make sure that you’re just providing value, whatever that value is to your customers, and everything else will fall into place.

Ekaterina: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Rich: This has been great and I know people are going to want to learn more. I know I’ve seen you present before and you’ve got all these great examples and I know a number of them are in your book. Where can we check out your book and where can we talk to you or learn more from you online?

Ekaterina: Google.com is my virtual business card. I’m active on a lot of networks, Twitter is one of them, so you can connect with me there. I try to respond to every single inquiry, ekaterinawalter.com is my website and Sprinklr.com is my company’s website. I’m very passionate about what we do. Otherwise just tweet at me and connect with me through my blog and we’ll take it from there.

Rich: Thank you. Thank you a lot for your time today, Ekaterina, I really appreciate it.

Ekaterina: It was fun talking to you, Rich.

Show notes:

  • Ekaterina has written a number of books covering the topics of marketing innovation, leadership and business culture that you should definitely check out!
  • Check out Ekaterina’s website where she blogs about such things as social media, marketing and business success, among other things.
  • Follow Ekaterina on Twitter.
  • Rich Brooks is not only your host of the Agents Of Change podcast, but he is also the fearless leader of Flyte New Media, a web development and digital marketing company in scenic Portland, Maine. AOCP-FB-Ekaterina-Walter