Why infographics are bad
Infographics are a powerful tool, but today they also create a trap for content creators and curators.
Content marketing is on the proverbial lips of every company. The idea is to inspire business and loyalty from buyers by delivering “consistent, ongoing valuable information”
I’d also define this as win-win-win marketing. If you look at it from the outside, you see a clear win for all involved parties: the sender (you), the medium (someone who shares your content in a blog, tweet etc) and the recipient (the person consuming the content). Commercials are essentially a win-win-lose as the only parties who profit from them are senders and mediums, and rarely recipients.
Essentially, there are two branches of content marketing: “make me feel something” and “teach me something”.
American Express is doing a great job of “teach me something” with their Open Forum, and this is by far the most popular approach to content marketing in B2B.
By producing insightful content, curating such content or providing a platform for sharing of knowledge you establish yourself or the brand as knowledgeable, generous and confident.
Infographics are a vastly popular subset of content marketing, and for good reasons; a well constructed infographic can give you an overview of a subject that would require a substantial amount of time to read, were it presented in plain text.
Infographics visualise information and data. This increases the chance that the audience remembers your content — and in extension you. They often also make complex matters easier to understand by visualizing them. The deeper the understanding, the more value for both parties.
It’s also much easier to explain a complex thing if you can use infographics. Try explaining the whole story of the movie Inception in text. Then look at these infographics.
Add to that shareability and backlinks (if you have a blog in English, chances are you’ve gotten proposals of “hosting infographics” about a wide range of subjects) and it’s clear why “infographic” is a top buzzword right now.
One important part about content marketing is that you must be accurate, and you must tell the truth. When someone quotes you because they trust you, and is later proven wrong, those positive associations to you quickly turn to “those bastards that set me up to look like a fool”. Quite the opposite of what content marketing is intended to do.
And here’s where the infographics become a danger. Because infographics are often taken at face value. One reason that I suspect plays a big role in the blind belief in infographic facts is the assumption that if someone took time to create this, surely they must have put time into fact checking it.
And it is hard to fact check infographics. Even if they contain a source, it’s often in fine print and the URLs are not clickable. You have to type them in by hand. And often it’s not just one URL, it’s several. Try typing these in by hand:
To be clear, the above example isn’t bad from a fact checking perspective. It lists all the specific documents that the facts are fetched from. Had it just listed “Forrester, E-Tailing.com and Practical Ecommerce” as sources, the process of fact checking would have become exponentially harder.
The problem for you, whether you’re a content producer or a content curator, is that you gamble your credibility and trustworthiness on a third party’s fact checking skills and honesty.
Exhibit A: I stumbled on a great example where Fast Company republished 10 facts from Buffer. Fact checking one of the facts in that list went like this:
The fact quoted an infographic -> that quoted a blog post at Huffington Post -> which in turn quoted another infographic -> which quoted a blog post at PR Daily -> which quoted “CNN”. Dead end.
Another approach found that the fact was incorrect.
If you want to be seen as credible and trustworthy, make sure you don’t fall for the bad infographics.
Infographic of infographics made by Ivan Cash
This was originally posted on my (now defunct) blog on November 22, 2013.