Visual Content Shouldn't Be an Afterthought
By Julie Weckerlein
In the past, this sliver of wisdom usually applied to print and words, the meat and potatoes of communicating messages and information. As communicators, the attention and emphasis usually falls on writing creatively with excellent grammar and spelling. After all, one could have a flashy, colorful website or social media platform, but if the articles, status updates, and press releases are dry, full of jargon, and errors, then the message is lost.
When it comes to official government websites, I’ve sat on enough editorial boards to say without hesitation that most government web pages are usually text only, and photos or graphics are often added as an afterthought in an effort to break things up.
But as communicators, we do ourselves and our organizations a disservice when we don’t pay attention to creating and using visual content that not only complements the information we put out there, but acts as an information resource in its own right. An understanding of graphic design elements is helpful, however visual content must be able to stand on its own and serve as a beacon leading back to your information, as an appetizer leading to your main course.
It’s not just good practice to use good visual content: the public demands it.
According to the marketing service Experian’s 2012 Digial Marketer Benchmark and Trend report , Pinterest is now the third most popular social network on the web. For those who don’t know, Pinterest is a photo-sharing website that’s a sort of online pinboard. The very nature demands captivating visuals, either via photos or graphics.
Blog: Visual Content Shouldn't Be an Afterthought go.usa.gov/Y34J - "It’s all about content."— HHS New Media (@hhsnewmedia) September 26, 2012
It’s a reason the use of infographics (graphics that incorporate information and data) has surged in recent months. Other photo-sharing and graphic-heavy sites, such as Instagram and Tumblr, has only increased demand for online art.
Even before such a trend was officially noted, industry professionals were already taking note.
As Laura Hampton noted in her Mashable August 2011 article regarding infographics , “Yet despite all of the opportunities infographics offer, they remain significantly underused. As consumers’ attention to traditional advertising continues to decrease, it is vital that communication methods continue to evolve.”
Just like key messaging and targeted audience analysis, incorporating visual content into official communication plans and onto government websites is an important part of the whole package.
Here are things to consider when applying visual content to your web pages:
- Does the topic you are writing about lend itself to good visual content, such as a photograph or graphic?
- Can a lengthy written piece be shortened, and can some of that information be pulled from your content and turned into an infographic?
- Do you have access to a graphics design team that can create something related to your content?
You don’t even need a graphics team to create visual content. If you have access to photos or stock photos, get a relevant photo and place text over it from your article. In newspapers, this was called a pulled quote.
Look at other web sites that grab your attention and appeal to you, and take note as to how they use visual content. Apply those findings to your own sites.
Julie Weckerlein is a Public Affairs Specialist in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. His full office location acronym is HHS/OS/ASPA/WCD.
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