13 April 2012

A THOUSAND WORDS: SOCIAL'S VISUAL ECONOMY


We’ve told people where we are and what we’re doing. Now it seems we’re showing them too. We’re making our friends, family and contacts part of our life experiences and sharing our stories in ever more visual ways. Whether at home, at work, on the move - it’s all being shared – whenever and wherever. They say a picture tells a thousand words, and that’s probably never been more true.

This Visual Economy is spreading fast due to several factors. First of all, people are being more careful with the visual content they share online, curating their life experiences and glossing over the ugly bits. Tech has improved too; desktop, mobile and tablet devices all have faster connections making higher quality visual content easier to share. Plus, competition between different social channels has increased (particularly between Facebook and Google) who seek new ways for personalize user accounts to differentiate their channels.

You would have to live under a rock not to have noticed how fast Pinterest has grown in the past six months. The fast-growing channel is helping us look at the web more visually; from travel to home d├ęcor, it’s letting us show our followers we’re creative and tasteful.

Another huge step in the growth of our Visual Economy was the announcement this week that Facebook acquired Instagram for a staggering $1bn. Facebook already has 100 million users uploading photos everyday, so this isn’t about growing its userbase.

Instagram has a powerful following – it’s a fun, almost left-of-centre brand. It’s inherently visual by default. Some commentators have compared Facebook’s acquisition to that of YouTube by Google, as purely tactical move. I think it’s more strategic than that – it’s an acquisition similar to Microsoft’s purchase of Skype last year. It’s about winning the hearts and minds of the community and essentially buying a brand. Facebook wants the creative brand equity.

It is also interesting to see Google+ get a visual refresh this week. Like so many other Google-branded properties in 2012, G+ got a refresh with a much clearer interface. Interestingly, images are much larger, and like Facebook’s Timeline, G+ also gets a more visual ‘Cover Photo’ option.

Is the Visual Economy a sign of Social reaching maturity or proof that we just like looking at nice things?