Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Res Ipsa Loquitur: Showing Instead of Telling

By Sarah Larson

Twitter threw its 200-million-plus users for a loop at the end of October when it suddenly began embedding photos and videos directly into those users' personalized feeds.

The famously terse social media channel had remained resolutely photo-free since its launch in 2006. Users could upload a profile picture, but if they wanted to share photographs, they had to do so through links.

But as Twitter evolved, so too did its audience's expectations, growing amidst increasing pressure from the meteoric rise in popularity of visual powerhouses Pinterest and Instagram.

One of today's leading social media services, Twitter first gave voice to millions of over-sharing narcissists who then turned their streams into their own personal newswire services. From there, Twitter quickly developed into the Internet's de facto breaking news service, and now is the primary source of news for a whopping 8 percent of U.S. adults.

Not bad for a 7-year-old.

Twitter, though, soon found itself in much the same position as a storied news icon - The New York Times. Though the nation's paper of record printed its first photograph in 1896, The Gray Lady stubbornly held out for decades against the everyday use of color photography. It wasn't until 1997 that the first color photo appeared on the front page of the Times.

The Times, and Twitter, both yielded to a principle that science has shown to be true; the human brain processes visual information faster and stores it deeper and longer than it does textual information.

Twitter touted its new "rich tweets" as a way to bring one's followers "closer to what's happening," but it's difficult to escape the implicit concession from the Model T of microblogs: textual content no longer can be relied upon to hold an audience's interest, even when that text has been whittled down to bursts of no more than 140 characters.

So if we know a picture really is worth a thousand words, what does that mean for those of us who market professional service firms? Great photos on Pinterest might help Nordstrom sell more clothes and crowdsourcing campaigns on Instagram might be right for Red Bull but how does that apply to my law firm?

Creative and effective use of visuals is just as important for professional services organizations as it is for retailers. Engaging visuals can do everything from create a mood to evoke a positive connection to present industry-specific data in an engaging manner.

Not sure where to start? Here are 5 easy ways to start showing, not telling.

1. Send a photo with every press release. 

Were your attorneys named to a "Best Lawyers" list? Be sure to send a photo of the attorney when you issue the press release. Did your office get voted a best place to work? Gather everyone near the (branded) sign and snap a group photo, like Citrin Cooperman's Philadelphia office did here after being named among the Top 100 Places to Work.

2. Hire a professional photographer for events. 

Is your firm sponsoring a charity event, or hosting a grand opening, or having an open house to celebrate an anniversary? Hire a pro to document the occasion. The cost will pay off in the long run when you have professional quality images to share in all of the marketing tactics you surely are implementing to capitalize on the event. When the Hepatitis B Foundation renamed its research institute in honor of Baruch Blumberg, the man who discovered the hepatitis b virus and developed the test and vaccine to combat it, foundation leaders turned to Allure West Studios to commemorate the event. Its future marketing campaigns now have access to photos like this one, of Blumberg's son-in-law Mark Thompson, CEO of the New York Times Co., with the medical bag Blumberg used on his research trips - a bag that helped save millions of lives.

3. Illustrate blog posts.

Many law firms these days have discovered that writing relevant articles about facets of their particular legal niche for a blog page can help them develop into thought leaders in their fields. The writing is just part of the campaign, though. People will spend more time on your page - and in fact are more likely to be drawn in to read it in the first place - if a relevant photo or other illustration accompanies the words. But don't just rush to Google images and take something from there. Be mindful of intellectual property when choosing photographs. You'll be on safer legal ground if you invest in a stock photo or two rather than hope no one notices you stole a photo from a newspaper or other blog.

4. Embrace video.

More than 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day. Its 1 billion - with a B - users turn to it for everything from learning how to unclog a sink to checking out the newest preview for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The next time your accountants are speaking at a conference or your attorneys are presenting a CLE, arrange for video recording, like the Philadelphia personal injury firm of Feldman Shepherd did when two of its attorneys demonstrated how a house fire that killed two young boys started in a dryer, leading to a products liability lawsuit.

5. Invest in infographics.

The rise in popularity of infographics is no accident. A good infographic takes a jumble of data and reorganizes and presents it in a visually pleasing manner. People who wouldn't invest the time to read paragraphs of information will scan an infographic simply because it entices them to look. Take this example on private attorneys vs. public defenders from Criminal Justice Degree Schools.

As marketing and public relations continues to shift towards visual communications, it becomes even more vital for professional service firms and their marketers to adapt and evolve, too. Thinking visually while executing your next marketing tactic will improve the return on the investment in your marketing efforts, leading to more referrals and business leads and, in the end, increased business development and revenue.

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