Infographics: Pretty pictures, meaningful numbers

Oct 26, 2011 No Comments by Michael

Explaining ideas using only words is so 2010. To combat information overload (see: bing commercials), an increasing amount of social media marketers are turning to infographics.

“Infographic” is just a fancy term that refers to representing data with visual graphics. Visualizing data, or any message for that matter, is an excellent way for marketers present clear ideas that “stick”.

Let’s do a quick experiment. Below is list of US creditors from 2011. In other words, countries who own America’s debt. Quickly scan this list, then proceed to the directions below it.

Country               2011
China, Mainland      1137.0
Japan                 936.6
United Kingdom        397.2
Oil Exporters         236.3
Brazil                210.0
Carib Bnkng Ctrs      161.2
Taiwan                150.3
Switzerland           147.5
Hong Kong             107.9
Russia                 97.1
Canada                 82.6
Luxembourg             62.0
Germany                60.2
Singapore              58.3
Thailand               54.5
Turkey                 39.2
India                  37.7
Ireland                33.6
Korea, South           32.4
Belgium                31.8
France                 29.0
Poland                 28.7
Mexico                 28.0
Philippines            25.1
Italy                  23.7
Netherlands            22.6
Norway                 22.0
Sweden                 21.3
Colombia               21.0
Chile                  19.4
Israel                 18.3
Malaysia               13.4
Australia              11.6
All Other             214.9

Set a stopwatch, then answer this question: If they were a single entity, approximately what percent of total US debt does China and Japan own? Feel free to use a calculator if needed, but keep in mind this is just an approximation.

The infographic below shows US creditors, but this data is from 2009. Quickly scan the image and answer the same question as above.

It’s the same answer: Japan and China account for nearly 50% of total US debt. You likely noticed it took much less time to quantify Japan + China’s share of total US debt in the infographic than the contextual list. This is because the human brain prefers comparing visual references (e.g. lines of dollar signs) over raw data (e.g. a long list of independent numbers).

So how does this relate to social media marketing? In the environment of social networks, your audience’s attention span is extremely short. One must be sure their messages are being understood and absorbed in as little time as possible, and using data visualization is an excellent way to do this.

Here’s a short video on the value of data visualization by Column Five Media, a leading infographic design firm:

The Value of Data Visualization from Column Five on Vimeo.

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About the author

Michael is a social marketing enthusiast and owner of, co-founder at Unibridge Projects and caretaker of his mischievous dog Jimmy (pictured).
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