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How to Get More Mileage Out of Your Visual Content


This summer, a video, The Fallen of World War II, was uploaded to Vimeo and gained attention across the Internet. Written, directed, coded, and narrated by a data-visualization specialist named Neil Halloran, the video spends 18 jaw-dropping minutes narrating the history of World War II through the prism of how many people died. Using a single stick figure to represent a thousand deaths, Halloran methodically walks us through the carnage, stacking up both civilian and military casualties in such a way that quantifies the horror of history’s deadliest war. In doing so, Halloran imparted knowledge and information in a way no history textbook ever could. In terms of data visualization, I can think of few examples that can compare to Halloran’s video in both scope and breadth.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

Increasingly, when brands decide to wade into data visualization, they seek out this kind of premium video and interactive content. Circa 2011 you saw the rise of static infographics. Nearly every marketing firm scrambled to pump out new charts and graphs on behalf of their clients in the hope that a tech blog or news site would publish them. With the flood of low-quality infographics, brands needed to up their data-visualization game to be noticed, hence more animated videos and interactive websites popped up to convey a much richer data story.

But the richer the data visualization, the more time it requires to complete. I couldn’t find an interview with Halloran in which he revealed how much time it took him to complete his masterpiece, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it comprised several months or even a year. But this presents a problem for the brands willing to engage in such expansive storytelling: You place many of your eggs in one content basket. In other words, if you spend several months and most of your budget and time creating a tent-pole piece of content, then you’re left with little to populate your social channels and blog.

There’s a solution to this dilemma. Remember when you were in grade school and learned about how Native Americans used every part of the buffalo? So too can you get more mileage out of your data-visualization videos and interactive sites with creative derivative content. You can continue to employ it on your social and blog channels long after the tent-pole content has launched. Here are some ideas on how to do it:

Screen grabs

A video is a series of thousands of still images. To use the example of The Fallen of World War II video, the dozens of charts and graphs depicted throughout the narration could serve as standalone graphics. This static screen grab compares Polish deaths during World War II to the number of Germans who died while invading Poland:

screengrabs-example-image 1
Click to enlarge

Looking at this screen-grab image, you can see how a single video asset can spawn dozens of static graphics you can publish over a series of days or weeks.

The same is true for interactive graphics. A few years ago, The Washington Post created a visualization that allows readers to click on any neighborhood in the District of Columbia to see all the guns confiscated by police in that area between 2000 and 2013. This single interactive map could lead to hundreds of static infographics, each based on a neighborhood. Here, for example, is a visualization of guns confiscated near the Columbia Heights metro station in northwest Washington, D.C.:

interactive-graphics-example-image 2
Click to enlarge

GIFs and short-form video

If you commission the creation of a data-visualization video, chances are the final product will be between one and three minutes. While this length works well for platforms like Vimeo, YouTube, and Facebook, social channels like Instagram and Vine have stricter length limits. Other platforms, like Tumblr, have users who are more likely to share short GIFs instead of long-form video. Instead of just breaking down a video into static infographics, think of ways you could peel off six- and 15-second segments to tell a shorter story. For instance, here’s a six-second data visualization produced by CNN that shows the median income disparities between black households and the national average:

Articles and blog posts

If there’s a consistent theme to be found in this post, it’s that you should constantly find opportunities to refer to the tent-pole data visualization. This includes any articles you publish to your blog and elsewhere. Even when you’re not writing about the interactive graphic or video, you should find relevant opportunities to link to it. Doing so will help in improving the content’s SEO and will keep more of your readers spending additional time with your brand’s content offerings, providing further opportunities to convert those web visitors into clients or customers.

Want to expand your video knowledge? Check out Case Study: Video Marketing Playbook in the CMI webinar archives.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute