We love great infographics here at Vertical Measures. We regularly create interesting infographics and datagraphics as part of our own content marketing strategy, in addition to producing them for our clients. However, in our industry, we’ve noticed that the distinction of a ‘great’ infographic isn’t always achieved. Sometimes we come across one that misses the mark, either due to poor research or lack of creative design. I sat down with two industry experts on the topic, Brian Wallace and Matt Siltala, to get clear on what makes one infographic more successful than another. They shared their insight with me based on their experience, and dropped quite a few gems in this month’s Google Hangout series.


Arnie: Hello, everyone. I’m Arnie Kuenn, with Vertical Measures. How are you today? This is part of our monthly Hangout series. We’ve got two experts today to talk about infographics. We have Brian Wallace and Matt Siltala. I’ll let you two introduce yourselves. Brian, why don’t you take the first one.

Brian: Thanks Arnie. Thanks for having me on today. My name is Brian Wallace; I’m the president and founder of NowSourcing, we’re a social media marketing, content marketing, and infographic development house, based in Louisville, Kentucky. We’ve been around since 2005. Lately, our specialties have been content marketing and infographic design, development, and production.

Arnie: Super. All right. And Matt?

Matt: My name is Matt Siltala; I’m president of Avalaunch Media. Same thing; we’re a full-service content marketing. We do specialize in infographics, interactive graphics, and video graphics, and I just love it. I love infographics and the story that they can tell. I’m excited to talk about this. I appreciate you having us on for this, Arnie.

Arnie: Absolutely. How we normally do this, is I’m just going to throw out a couple of questions, one at a time, and let you give us some responses that we hope is going to educate the viewers and the audience of this Hangout when we get it posted in a few days. Let’s just jump right in. I’ll start, again, with Brian. Why don’t you tell us what you feel makes a really great infographic?

Brian: You bet. I feel that a lot of folks in the industry are people that are looking for infographics. Think from the outside observer’s perspective, that an infographic is a really easy thing, because blog posts are easy; you just put a bunch of pictures, words, and texts together. I know Matt’s laughing, because I’m sure he feels the same way, too. That from the outside, it looks like it’s a pretty easy endeavored to put together, but in all reality, it’s a complicated endeavor that requires a lot of hands and a lot of coordination.

Part of what we specialize in, like I said a lot of our business is infographics these days, is because we have three dedicated teams that work on the infographic. Namely, the research team which puts together all the research, which by the way, is more than just copying something out of some guys blog post or Wikipedia which can change on an hourly basis; making sure that its actual data from real sources that can’t really be contested. Coming up with an interesting story angle, because it’s not just another whitepaper or a bunch of bullet points, it has to be something that actually is meaningful, that flows, and has an over-arching message that people can really relate to, because again, you are competing against everybody out on the web, not just for an infographic perspective. Anywhere you go, people are bombarded with marketing. You can be in an elevator and that freaking thing is flashing and it’s got some message. You could be at the gas pump pumping your gas, and it’s trying to sell you coffee and donuts. Wherever you go, we’re just inundated with too much information that can’t be digested, and that’s why infographics are so powerful. You’ve got that research. You’ve got that story line, and then obviously, you’ve got the design side of it, too.

We have multiple people that work on it from a designing perspective in-house, because there are different styles. Let’s face it; design is very much a subjective form of art. What I might like from an aesthetic perspective, Arnie, you might not like, Matt, you might not like. We all may disagree on that. Certainly, different clients have different perspective on that. Some people prefer more of a pure data-vis look and feel. Some people love more of hand-drawn illustration. Other people are just much more ‘give me straight-up geometrics’. Then certainly, what makes a good infographic is the net result of it, and you have to keep this in mind when you are in the market for infographics, what you’re actually looking for, in terms of attaining a goal.

If you’re a tech startup, it may just be that you’re trying to get that visibility and lift to get all the press that you need, or get another round of funding, something to that effect. If you’re selling some sort of product or service, it may just be more from an SEO perspective; getting some really killer back links to your site. It could be direct conversions. A lot of people think that it’s bad and evil to sell in the world of social media. As we all know, that’s nonsense. I think at the end of the day, your marketing efforts have to have a hard ROI to them. There’s nothing wrong with making an infographic, still have a funnel to be a sales point. Not that it’s an advertorial paid placement kind of nonsense, but something simple. If somebody’s read through your entire infographic and they’re still digging it, there’s nothing wrong to say who you are at the end of it and link people to some sort of call-to-action, whether that is a free trial, freemium QR code. Let’s say if you’re an iPhone app, there’s a lot different practical application we’ve seen, that works real well.

Arnie: Super. Matt, let you tackle a question. What do you feel makes a great infographic?

Matt: There’s a lot of what was already talked about, but one thing I want to point out before I really jump into that too, because I just kind of want to play off of what was just said. There’s a lot of people that are in our industry, and we see infographics all the time, but there’s one point that I’d like to bring out here. We work with people all the time that have never even heard of an infographic, that have never even heard of this concept. I say, “This is the people that I deal with everyday.” Not the people that I’m on Twitter, in the community, and speaking at the conferences with. Yes, we see them every single day, we’re tired of seeing them, we’re inundated with them. You know what, that’s not the general public out there. That’s not what they’re seeing all the time, and that’s just a point that I need to make.

When you’re talking about what makes a really good infographic, those are the kind of people that help us push what we think is awesome, and again, all the different styles. Yes, there’s lots of different styles that people have and what they agree on. We’ll do simple, square ones that do phenomenal and get amazing links on some of the biggest blogs that you’ve heard of, and then we’ll have the traditional big, long ones. Again, it just comes down to content: What makes a good infographic? It’s the story behind it, it’s the research. How are you telling that story? Is the research credible, like what was mentioned, and does it appeal to anybody? Is it something that is being talked about right now? Is it something that you could tie into something that’s trending?

A lot of your bigger blogs, for example, like Huffington Post, Mashable, or whatever, they’re looking for what’s happening right now. They’re looking for you to tell stories with these infographics, and they’re going to want to share them with their customers, because number one, it’s happening now; it’s relevant to the readers. It’s beautiful and it’s easy to consume. I’m kind of jumping a little bit all over the place with this answer, but again, if you can keep it to . . . you hone the story down, you have good data, and you’re picking on something that’s hot right now that could be trending. Something that people want to consume, I think that’s a good start.

Arnie: Great. You mentioned something with a square infographic. I don’t know if you meant literally the small bite-size kind of an infographic. We here at Vertical Measures, I’ll say it because my lower 1/3 isn’t exactly working; I can’t get my name up. I’m with Vertical Measures. Our most successful infographic to date, I suppose, was probably the simplest one we have ever created. It probably has 20 words, maybe 30 words on a single image, and the image was done very well. It was the right time of the season, it just hit, and it spread. We’re actually starting to do more and more of that. I don’t know if either one of you are finding even just simpler more bite-sized types.

Matt: It’s funny that you mention that, because the same thing with this one I was giving you an example on; picked up by Huffington Post, CNN, etc. It just went crazy, and it was, again, one of those small ones. I’ve had other big traditional ones get picked up on big, nice sites too. I just like them because they’re nontraditional and it’s easier to consume right away. Sometimes, you just can’t tell all the story with that little square and you need a little bit more, but yeah, I do love them.

Arnie: I’m going to head back over to Brian. I know with our clients, and both of you I know have run into this, we already touched on this a little bit, but your whole expectations thing. Why are we doing this infographic? What’s going to be the result? God forbid, if they say, “I want it to go viral.” Can you give any guidance for those that are listening?

Matt: 100,000 views in 1 hour.

Arnie: What’s that? Yeah, exactly right. You’re going to crash your servers. Can you give any guidance to those that are watching this and that either have done some infographics and are disappointed, or thinking about investing and making a series of them, what their real expectations should be? Hand it off to Brian.

Brian: Sure. In terms of folks that have been disappointed, I think much as Matt said before, there’s a lot of people that hate infographics, but the reality is it’s not a lot of people, at all. You have half the world’s population that aren’t even on the internet, anyway. You’re talking about a very vocal, but very small number of people that actually hate on infographics. What they’re really talking about anyway is hating crappy infographics, and I don’t blame them. We actually made a whole website just for crappy infographics because we got sick of seeing so many. It’s definitely a problem, because there are so many people that want to get in on it that they shortcut a lot of the basics that we have already covered here. If you’re not going to bother researching, you’re not going to bother designing it, or you’re just going to use some little tool that will make a template for you, how can you ever expect a Tools template, which is equivalent of a PowerPoint template to go viral? Because you and 10,000 other people are issuing into all these big sites, basically the same infographics. It’s got to be something that stands out.

I would say, again, for folks that have felt like they’re not really getting the ROI off of it, they didn’t really get what they needed, it’s probably because they either did it in-house, they made it somebody’s part time job, or they just took a chance on somebody that’s never really got it down to a science, in terms of an infographic. It’s not to say that every single one is going to go over-the-rainbow successful. Part of it is going to be timing, luck, and timeliness of the data. I think that we certainly see a number that are quite good, that are specific around a single news event. I think. though, that a lot of other ones that are really good, that pay dividends days, weeks, months, and believe it or not even years to come, are ones that are evergreen. I think that although it’s nice to put in some nice, catchy news angles, I think it also does work quite well to have something that will stand the test of time, because you can have enormous sites looking for research on a topic and they’ll continue to link upon it.

The actual goals: It’s difficult to give you a broad-strokes answer on that because it really depends on what we’re talking about here. Are we talking about a really sexy kind of topic? Are we talking about entertainment? Are we talking about apparel? Are we talking about something that’s a very niche audience, V-to-D, that doesn’t really get a lot of public appeal? I think at the end of the day, a lot of that is just a function of how creative are you and how creative are you willing to have us, the infographic makers, with your brand?

In terms of what I’ve seen that’s done well, I’ve seen some amazing things that have had viral success, where I’d say total reach has been in the tens of millions. The client will, as a result, get radio, TV interviews, actual press, and more importantly, actual conversions. We’ve seen folks get record numbers of lead generation, conversions, and sales. I think that’s really where that stuff goes. I think that there should probably be, when you’re sitting down to make an infographic; some set of minimum expectations that you’re looking for, but at the end of the day it should be part of your content marketing mix. You shouldn’t bet the farm on this one infographic will save the world, and now I don’t have to blog anymore, I’ll turn off the email newsletter, and all that stuff. Even when you employ an infographic in your strategy, it should be part of an overall editorial map. It shouldn’t just be the one; it should be depending on how big you are as a company and how much you roll out. It could be something that you’re doing on a quarterly basis, every other month, monthly. We have some folks that put things out on a weekly basis even, depending on the size and shape of the industry.

Arnie: All right. Matt, what advice would you have? How do you coach your prospective clients, I guess, when they’re talking to you about,” What’s this infographic going to do for me?”

Matt: I love what Brian said about the evergreen ones. Just to give you an example, and I’ll give you several examples on this one. With the evergreen one, for example, we created almost 5 years ago, it’s hard to believe, we created this one called ‘The History of Marketing Channels’, and as far from a social standpoint of looking at Tweets, Facebook Likes, and all that side of it, it didn’t do a whole lot. What that piece has continued to do for the last almost 5 years is almost, every other week I’m looking and it’s building a link. I’m seeing some new person that picked it up, that liked it, that’s linking to it. If I was gauging the success of that, strictly from how many times someone tweeted it or how many times someone shared it on Facebook, it would have been a complete failure. But I’m looking at it from a standpoint of, how many solid links did this build me over the last 5 years? It’s in the thousands, the numbers that it’s built. It’s a pretty amazing thing.

Then you also have the flip side of that where we put out this one graphic around the time Charlie Sheen was having his meltdown. We were one of the first ones, and I thought that it was going to be fantastic. I’m like, “This thing is going to just rock,” and it only got 10,000 views, which still, in and of itself isn’t horrible, but I thought it was going to be one of those that exploded. While at the same time, we pushed out this history of police car-type graphic and it got over 200,000 visitors from Stumble Upon within the first week. I’m like, “What? Where’s the formula? How did that happen?” Some stuff you just never know.

Again, I think having . . . with what Brian said, you have to have some sort of expectation with the client. Figure out what their goals are. Are they strictly trying to just get social mentions, help their branding, and get that side of it coming out for when people do branding searches? Are they very specific in wanting links built with this piece? Is it strictly just a reputation piece? Are they trying to do leads with it? We even put one out, that the client loved it so much, they made a poster of it and they started selling the poster, and the poster started making them money. We didn’t expect that to happen when we first put it out, but again, it all goes back to having that conversation: What do you really want to do out of this if it’s just the one-off? If you’re working with a long-term client, you need to talk about an overall strategy. Let them understand that, “This isn’t going to be your end-all solution and we’re going to have to pack up the keyword research and we’re done because Elvis has left the building; throw the mic down.” This is not it. It’s going to take, it’s a part of an overall strategy, and I think that’s where people I guess have to do a better job.

I think that we are, and I know Brian probably is, I’m just saying as an industry, we have to do a better job of setting expectations. I talk with so many people that have tried these before and they’re like, “It did nothing for me.” They got their crappy stories. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ll be the first to admit I put out some pretty nasty ones when I first got going. Luckily over time, things have gotten better, but again, I think we just have to evolve and figure out the clients expectations.

Arnie: Great. I just registered NastyInfographics.com. I’ll be looking forward to you sending me those, Matt.

Matt: I already own UglyInfographics.com.

Arnie: Do you? All right. That’s all the time we have, but I really want to thank you guys for some great insight in infographics. I hope everybody who’s watching this has taken some notes and gotten some value out of it. Thank you Brian; thanks Matt. We will see you all next month to continue on with our series. Thank you, guys.

Matt: Thanks.

Brian: Thanks so much for having us. Take care.

Matt: Appreciate it. Bye.

Brian Wallace is the President of NowSourcing, Inc., a leader in infographic design and promotion based in Louisville, KY.

Matt Siltala is an online search industry leader and President of Avalaunch Media.