How Visual Are You OnlineHow visual do you need to be online? - Each week strange coincidences happen. Yesterday I was asked via Facebook about the relevance of visual imagery for online audio, such as podcasts. Then, as if by some magic force, a couple of hours later I received an email from an online video production company promising to turn my blog posts into enticing visual feasts (at a mere $1,000 a time - I don't think so...!).

But it got me thinking. How important is visual content?

In spite of the fact that about 40,000 YouTube videos are watched every second, the number-one online activity is still reading text-based material. Each day you spend several hours reading thousands of words - emails, blog posts, Tweets, Facebook messages, mobile phone texts and so on. We read far more than we have ever done before.

So, you might think that visual material is not that important. However, a great deal of what we read is because we "have to". Many email messages, for example, would be better as diagrams or charts or tables, yet the speed with which we want to send out messages means that quickly typing something is easier than spending an hour or two coming up with a visual form of communication. The only problem is that the recipient might not quite "get" what you typed in your email. A quickly written piece of text saves the sender time, but could increase the amount of time needed by the person reading the email. We end up reading thousands of words of emails each day because - frankly - we are all too lazy to turn the text into something more appealing or easier to understand.

And as the video production company revealed in their (video) message to me, when they turn text-based blog posts into videos there is a significant uplift in engagement measures, such as click-through rates. Many bloggers - myself included - do not resort to video because it is just much quicker and easier to write some text.

The result of all this is that we are forced to read thousands of words each day rather than look at some kind of visual to gain the same information and message.

Human beings are visual creatures. We have a hugely well-developed sense of sight, and a considerable amount of your brain is devoted to processing visual information. Even when you are reading the text on this page, your mind is well aware of the picture above and the other visual elements. Your peripheral vision doesn't drive much information into your conscious brain, but it is a dominant provider of material for your subconscious. Indeed, four years ago I wrote about a study that demonstrated that what we see in our peripheral vision affects our opinion of a website. So those untidy graphic elements you might have, or the adverts that you carry can affect what people think of the text on your page they are reading. It is a demonstration of the significant power our visual senses have.

So how come we like listening to the radio?  Similarly, how is it that there are some highly successful podcasts if we are so visually driven? The answer is simple. When you listen to some audio, you create the visuals in your own head. Just go to BBC Broadcasting House and ask anyone who works in radio. They'll tell you that their radio station has better pictures than the TV studios can produce. That's because listeners create those images in their mind. It is the same as reading a book and then seeing the movie - the film is never as good as the book because what you are witnessing are the images that appeared in the director's mind, not yours.

However, podcasting online presents us with a unique problem in visual terms. People can only really create the images in their mind when they are listening intently. Sitting at a computer and trying to listen to speech-based audio is tough. People get distracted, and they end up reading their emails and losing concentration on the sound. When most people listen to the radio, they are not trying to process other words at the same time. They might be driving or in the shower, but their mind can concentrate on the audio.

Online this doesn't happen. If you sit facing your computer screen, you expect to be doing something. So that's what people do. They switch on a podcast and then surf the web or check their social media and never quite get what the podcaster was saying.

It's OK if the podcast is being listened to in the car, or as you sit in your aeroplane seat, or go jogging. But once you sit in front of a computer to listen to a podcast you feel trapped and that you need to do something.

If you are podcasting, perhaps you need visuals. Even though it is an audio element to your online footprint, without visuals, you could be disengaging your audience. You could use slides, background images, anything really that will enhance the audio and force people to watch something as they listen.

Visuals are important - even if all you are providing is audio. But they are important too when we provide text. So, all I have to do now is convert all of this text into some visual.

To help me with that I could always use these infographic templates. Well, Phillip, that's it for another week. I wish you well for the week ahead. See you next Saturday....!

Kind Regards
 
Graham Jones
Internet Psychologist

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