By Ahava Leibtag published March 28, 2012

5 Questions to Ask before Jumping on the Infographics Bandwagon

Are you just dying to create your own infographic? Seen five new ones in the past 15 minutes?  Think before you design. There’s a lot to consider about infographics, including purpose, relevancy, and the potential for ROI.

As our web becomes even more image-driven, eye-catching and easy-to-digest content is here to stay. While infographics are a great format for translating data into easily shareable, fun images, you have to have a clear purpose and plan in mind before you start.

What is an infographic?

Traditionally, information graphics, or infographics, are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge, translated into an appealing illustration. These graphics can present complex information quickly and clearly, and can be integrated into many different forums, including signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and educational materials.

I’ve watched the infographic craze grow (and at this point spin seemingly out of control), and many times I wonder if the designers of the infographic really understood what they were trying to communicate. Their purpose can sometimes be confusing. Are they meant to educate? Brand the company that produced them? Create shareable content that in some way is valuable? If you can’t tell what their purpose is by looking at them, then they’re pointless and, therefore, the opposite of valuable, which is what content is always supposed to be.

Many of the infographics I’ve seen are not truly graphic visual representations of information or data. Rather they are colorful posters, or illustrated signs. I’m not whining here for no reason, or because I feel passionately that we must respect the word infographic. I think that content types exist because different types of information are best displayed, shared, and viewed in various formats. Infographics just aren’t always the best way to approach your goals — no matter how hot they are.

Of course, there are certainly some great infographics out there that are capturing the true value of this medium, and some situations where they make the perfect addition to a content campaign.

Infographic or chart: Where the differences lie

There are quite a few infographics I’ve seen that I’ve enjoyed, and some that have made me scratch my head. For example, Copyblogger recently released what I would call a poster about 15 Grammar Goofs that Make You Look Silly. It’s a great poster, and the visual design does a great job of explaining what’s correct grammar and what’s not. Yet, it’s not a true infographic in that it doesn’t take a complex data set and translate it into an easily understood picture. Rather, it’s a helpful branding piece of content marketing from Copyblogger. So in cases like this, don’t call it an infographic — call it a poster about 15 grammar goofs.

Content Marketing Institute jumped on this bandwagon as well. Yet, its infographic, I would argue, is truly an infographic in both name and purpose. A Brief History of Content Marketing educates the reader about content marketing, shows a development timeline, and also serves the additional goal of publicizing Content Marketing World 2012.

Are you prepared to create an infographic?

If you think an infographic might suit your content goals, consider the following beforehand:

1. Do you have something relevant to add to the conversation? If you’re creating an infographic just to be like the popular kids, you may be wasting your time. People care, share, and reuse valuable content in any format, and the additional work and research it takes to create an infographic might not be worth it for your purposes. Even if it looks super cool, if it doesn’t add value to their lives, they’ll pin it somewhere and forget about it.

On the flip side, if you have a complex piece of data that could use a great visual representation, go for it. For example, the infographic, “How Social Sites Make Money”, is a true infographic. It takes a complicated data set and uses visual cues to educate us on how social media sites make a profit. However, “How to Train Employees to Use Social Media,” is definitely NOT an infographic. It’s a how-to that would be better in a slide format, or even as a white paper.

2. Do you have a clear call to action? This is a great chart about How to Do Keyword Research, but I have no idea who Promodo is, or what they want me to do with the chart once I’m done using it. If you’re going to invest your resources in building valuable infographics, make sure there’s a clear call to action.

For example, the history of content marketing is an interesting topic, no doubt, but the CMI infographic I mentioned above was created with a clear purpose beyond simple education — it’s an informational tool that does double duty by publicizing an upcoming conference.

3. Can you post it in more than one place? One of the reasons infographics and charts are so hot right now is because of Pinterest, the social media site where you can “pin” interesting content on boards that you create, name, and organize. Others can “repin” your content, making the content feel like it’s a valuable commodity that you own.

If you intend to touch on several important, interrelated topics, it’s worth it to create an infographic because people might pin it on their many, different boards, helping you to distribute your content across the web. If it’s too general or narrowly focused — for example, a graphic on the many uses of paper — it might be difficult for it to get enough traction and spread (maybe Dwight Schrute, from “The Office” would pin it to the Dunder Mifflin board, but something tells me he’s not quite the influencer type you want or need).

4. Do you have a good designer? This is probably the most overlooked consideration with infographics: Some of them just look bad. They lack visual appeal and flow, and the designs are difficult to understand. There’s no point in creating something ugly to add to a discussion. Again, people may pin or share a mediocre infographic, but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you find an experienced designer who can add to the conversation by displaying your information in innovative and appealing ways.

5. Does it fit into your branding? If you’re a B2B marketer and you want to create an infographic that adds value and promotes your brand, make sure the content makes sense coming from you. Based on my areas of expertise, I could create an infographic on healthcare and social media, but if I created an infographic on fashion and social media — things I don’t know much about — publishing an infographic would create dissonance in my online persona and brand.

So are you on the infographic bandwagon? I’m interested in hearing your advice and stories.

Author: Ahava Leibtag

Based in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Ahava Leibtag is a Web content strategist and writer. She leads AHA Media Group, a Web and content consulting firm, and authors the blog Online it ALL Matters. She thinks 60 words is way too few to communicate why she’s interesting. You can connect with Ahava on Twitter at @ahaval.

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