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December 7, 2012

The Rise of Visual Socialization

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rise-of-visual-socializationWhen social media is mentioned, there are a few platforms that are top of mind. The leaders are Facebook and Twitter. After that, it depends on whom you talk to, but YouTube and Foursquare (and possibly LinkedIn as well) are in the conversation. Tumblr gets mentioned a lot, and Reddit is gaining more mainstream popularity. Pinterest has received a lot of hype and is still very popular (not to mention a strong driver of traffic). Instagram (owned by Facebook) however, has now worked its way into the upper echelon of social media platforms.

Social media has always had a visual tilt to it. Facebook is actually the world’s largest photo sharing site; Twitpic was built early on to serve Twitter’s need for photo sharing and much of Pinterest’s popularity is attributed to the ease of creating (taking images and videos) and curating visual content (sharing images and videos created by others). Most people are familiar with the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and in social media, a statement like this certainly has its place. With limited time and numerous sources of content, images are an easy way to convey thoughts, ideas and emotions. Many people would much rather show you what they’re doing rather than tell you.

Instagram looks to be the leader in the world of social visualization, but it depends on what you’re looking for. It’s not just about taking pictures, but what you do with them. Viewing and sharing is just as important as creating. Other platforms like Pinterest and Tumblr are growing and have become strong hubs for visual content. In the past, brands used to clamor for viral videos, now a viral image can be just as valuable.

Celebrities and brands have been using Instagram and other visual services for a while now, but we’re beginning to see a more prominent use of the platform as a social medium. For example, the recent Hurricane Sandy cover of Time Magazine was an Instagram image shot on an iPhone. CNN used Instagram images of the Empire State Building on election night directly on their site. Rich Kids of Instagram became a meme and actually uses Instagram and Tumblr to showcase the images. Singer Ke$ha used Instagram to tease her new album. This is just a small sampling of the tremendous popularity and reach of visual content online, Instagram in particular.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center revealed some interesting statistics.

  • 56% of adult Internet users either create or curate photo content.
  • 12% of online adults (and 19% of women) say they use Pinterest.
  • 12% of online adults say they use Instagram, but the number jumps to 27% of Internet users between ages 18 to 29.
  • 5% of online adults say they use Tumblr, but this number jumps to 11% among young adults.
  • 66% of online adults use Facebook, and 16% use Twitter.

Clearly, Facebook and Twitter still lead the pack, but other services are rising. Especially interesting is the large jump in percentage among younger users.

One thing that we can be sure of is that visual socialization is here to stay. Older users are adopting new platforms, and younger users are growing up with them as a core function of their lives. Digital and social media are more and more a part of everyday life, and visuals will continue to dominate. Sharing will be easier and more and more people will expect visual content — not only from friends, but from brands as well. Take a look around, and you’ll see the trend. And when you do, be sure to snap a picture.


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