Make It Look Good: The Value of Visual


The saying is about as old and clichéd as one can get, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Frankly you’re probably bored reading these words right now, and about to scroll down to see if this is even worth your time. If you’re not a visual thinker, it might be time to start.

“Most nonprofits have a ton of text, which is great information, but isn’t needed.”

- 2012 Millennial Impact Report

Now I’m not saying you need to run out and grab a Susan Sontag book, but we do need to discuss our current visual culture. The powers and nuances of the internet have become extremely sophisticated – and the same is true for visually-based social media. What do I mean by that?

A visually-based social media is one where videos or pictures are the main form of communication. Facebook may have extensive photo sharing capabilities, but that’s not really what you use Facebook for, right? There are so many other things that Facebook can do. The trend we’re currently watching, however, is the emergence of social media devoted to visual. That’s why Pinterest is popular, why Facebook bought Instagram, and why Vine has literally exploded on the scene.

If you’re unfamiliar with Vine, it’s the new video sharing service from Twitter. Users can share six second video clips – it’s fun, kitschy, and literally did not exist when I started writing this article. Twitter is a social media that is based on the written word, if only in 140 character increments. I think the development of Vine is a real sign that there is a demand for a way to communicate visually. Spektrix has an entire post about the possibilities of arts marketing with Vine.

Not only do users flock to these new visual tools, they’re furious when these tools are taken away from them. For example, the explosion that shook the net when Instagram disabled its Twitter card. Essentially, Instagram photos no longer appear in Twitter streams, now users have to follow links to see the images. What’s meant to drive traffic to Instagram is really only infuriating people who want what they want and they want it now.

This is not a radical idea for internet users, either. Almost half of internet users create content, picture or videos, and post them online. A Pew report about visual media as social currency refers to these people as “creators”. Additionally, the report found that over 40% of users share or repost images online with their networks. The report referred to these users as “curators” – which is another whole issue – but whether they’re “curators” or “aggregators” these individuals can be a powerful force on the web.

Take George Takei for example. Most of you probably know what I mean – either you or someone you know follows him on Facebook or Tumblr and shares or likes his posts. For those in the dark, George Takei, of Star Trek Fame, has found a unique niche on Facebook as an aggregator of memes. Three and a half million fans hang on his every post, which has allowed him to craft a book deal and champion personal causes. His posts are so popular that Facebook Stories, which profiles people using Facebook “in extraordinary ways”, created these marvelous visualizations of how some of Takei’s posts spread over a three month time span.

And all he does is post funny pictures – usually with a short witty pun or line introducing the piece. And in true internet fashion, most memes do have writing on them. It’s important to recognize that pictures can be meaningless if they do not have text attached to it. Images need credit and context to be relevant to your audience, to draw them in.

This is especially important if you’re looking to capture the Millennial or younger demographic. The number of “curators” on the net jumps to 52% when you look at those aged 18-29.

Why should you, the hypothetical nonprofit organization care about that demographic? It’s something I’ve said over and over and one of the greatest ignored facts – the Millennial generation is one that likes to donate. 75% of them did, in 2012.  They like to learn about non-profits and donate to non-profits online.

So maybe you should start speaking their language: which is entirely visual. Here's some tips to help you get started:


3 Easy Tips for Non-profits

Lead with the picture

  • I know it seems obvious, you’ve heard it before, and you probably already do it, but a picture will be the first thing that entices someone to your content. Also consider the importance of page breaks with your posts. A few lines of text gives your readers context and pulls them in, then hit them with a “read more”.

Consider a visual social media

  • Is your organization on Pinterest? What about Instagram or Vine? If you’re using Facebook, Twitter or a blog to share pictures, you may be able to integrate more visual elements into your social media strategy.

Recognize your Curators and your Creators

  • You’re probably tracking the buzz created by your posts, but who’s creating that buzz? Obviously it’s important to recognize those who share your work with their networks – and who’s sharing work back with you. It’s good to show these devoted folks love, especially when it relates back to your organization.


Is your nonprofit using visual social media in an interesting way? Why isn't your organization making the choice to do so? Is it ironic I wrote an entirely text post on how important pictures are? Leave a message in the comments below or tweet us, @techinthearts!