The Visual Web: Images Are Eating The Web

Our web is changing

The web as we know it is going through a fundamental shift. What was a text-heavy web is now being dominated by image-based content. As more and more information is published every day, it’s only natural that consumers turn to visuals as a faster way to process and create content, find inspiration, and express taste. Consumers are also increasingly more mobile, and the form factor of touch devices lends itself to a very visual architecture. Mobile makes it easy for consumers to produce and process photos. The hardest thing to do on a tablet is type. The easiest thing to do on a tablet is to tap an image and scroll infinitely through a visual stream. Most of this visual activity is happening using mobile devices on visual networks such as Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and other niche networks such as Polyvore, WeHeartIt and Houzz.

Mass Marketing is dying

Mass marketing has worked thus far because there were limited channels to broadcast on for so many years (TV and print), and consumers had little choice — they couldn’t get away. TV viewership is down 50% since 2002 (Business Insider), while consumers spend more than 27% of total time online on social networking apps (Experian). As mass marketing channels lose audience to a growing number of niche, interest-focused social networks, marketers are losing connections to consumers.

Images will overtake text and UGC will surpass published content

Images are a revolutionary media type. They are easy to process, and now with mobile, they are easy to produce. This means normal consumers are writing on the web and becoming heavy producers and contributors of visual content. Web 1.0 was all about publishers creating websites. Web 2.0 was about bloggers writing short form articles. Now, the visual Web further democratizes content production with average internet users adding images prolifically. Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr combined get more than 250 million images a day added by normal users. A subset of those images reference brands — and brands need to be monitoring them.

The Visual Web is here and happening. Instagram got 5 million photo uploads on Thanksgiving day. 300 million photos are uploaded on Facebook every day. Etsy gets 100,000 pins daily on Pinterest. The collaborative taste signals from Pinterest help retailers get an early window into what consumers and tastemakers want to buy. The Visual Web — where consumers are expressing taste and intent — is making it possible to know everything about your audience, fans and customers. It provides 360-degree intelligence about their product interests, category interests, brand interests, and competitor loyalty.

Enterprises are adopting The Visual Web

The visual wave is currently manifest in the rise of image and interest-based networks such as Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and Weheartit but will gradually swallow online forums, Yahoo groups, and Q&A sites. In 5 years, we’ll see online forums evolving into interest-based apps accessed primarily on mobile devices. Image based communication will go beyond consumers. Enterprises will use their employees and workforce to source photos and make them a part of their growing archive of digital content. EGC (employee generated content) and UGC will become the primary ways enterprises will source image-based content at scale. Employees, empowered by their camera on the phone, will become publishers of content.

Images will impact many enterprise functions

B2C Marketing teams are the first ones to adopt visual networks as they sit closest to consumers and have to respond to the new imperative – reaching and engaging with a growing audience on these new visual networks. Sales and Customer Service teams will follow soon. Users on these visual networks are prospective leads and happy/unhappy customers. Someone who pins 100 couches from a brand’s website in a week is in the market for a couch. An unhappy traveler taking a photo of a line in front of Delta desk at an airport terminal needs to be responded to.

Visual networks are also public and interest-based which allows enterprises to conduct consumer and product research at scale. These networks offer leading indicators of what people like, giving brands the opportunity to understand their customers more fully. Visual networks are the new large-scale automated focus groups.

Photo networks also offer the opportunity to crowd-source images that reflect brand’s products and turn SEO oriented web pages into a visual display of authentic, social-imagery that leads consumers to purchase and share. Crowd-sourced images are emerging as a great way for brands to tell their stories in visual and inspiring ways.

Visual is bigger than social

Enterprises adopted digital, then social, and are now in the early stages of embracing visual. The visual shift is bigger and far-reaching than social. Unlike social enterprise, which is limited to marketing and customer service on social channels like Facebook and Twitter, Visual Enterprise will see its marketing, customer service, e-commerce, advertising, merchandizing and research teams re-center around images.

The visual Web is built on top of the social graph and accessed on mobile apps that are identity based — leading to a vast trove of targetable data. User Generated Images are growing exponentially and are yielding an unprecedented amount of data for customer intelligence. Brands now have to communicate with their consumers visually, listen on visual channels, and score their visual marketing efforts. Websites, online and social destinations are now beginning to blend visual UGC content along with catalog shots. The visual wave will seep through the enterprise – from marketing to other teams, and finally to employees — turning them into prolific photo producers.

Visual Web is a seismic shift

Images are as easy to produce as they are to consume. The visual web is a seismic shift that started with the consumer web, but enterprises are beginning to embrace the trend and will continue to do so as images continue to pervade every aspect of information creation and sharing. Images are changing the communication architecture of the internet and will impact the way brands interact with their audience, gather customer intelligence, compose web pages, generate consumer research and empower their employees to become contributors of visual content.