Content Marketing, Social Media Tools, Blogging and Content Creation, Pinterest

Will The Rise of the Photo Apps Kill the Written Word?

Ekaterina WalterEkaterina Walter is a social media strategist at Intel. She is a part of Intel’s Social Media Center of Excellence and is responsible for company-wide social media enablement and corporate social networking strategy. She was recently elected to serve on the board of directors of WOMMA.

Overall, the statistics point in just one direction: blogging is dying. A 2011 study by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth researching social media usage by Inc 500 companies (who have a strong usage of social media generally) found that the use of blogging had dropped to 37% from 50% the year before. 74% and 73% of the Inc 500 use Facebook and LinkedIn respectively, and the study concluded:

“Fewer [companies] are using blogging, message/bulletin boards, online video, podcasting and MySpace.  More companies are using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, downloadable mobile apps, texting and Foursquare.”

The rise of image driven apps such as Pinterest, Tumblr, or Instagram is another trend that various commentators have jumped on to hail the death of the written word in generating sales.

Will The Rise of the Photo Apps Kill the Written WordWord Killer Number One: Pinterest

Pinterest, the virtual social pin board for themed images and interests, is currently ranked 5th for driving traffic referrals, behind Facebook, You Tube, Twitter and Yahoo. Google+ ranks at number 9. (Source: Experian Hitwise US) But before brands can start getting too excited about the commercial potential of Pinterest, it’s worth looking at the type of traffic it is generating. Of the top 10 brands on Pinterest, 9 are lifestyle/retail. Pinterest is a visual medium that works best for lifestyle and retail industries, where customer decisions are particularly based on visual appeal.

But Blogging Actually Works

Another 2011 study, this time by Hubspot, focused solely on companies concerned with inbound marketing and painted a different picture. They found that:

  • 57% of companies using blogs reported that they acquired customers from leads generated directly from their blog.
  • Businesses are now in the minority if they do not blog. From 2009 to 2011 the percentage of businesses with a blog grew from 48% to 65%.
  • 85% of businesses rated their company blogs as “useful”, “important” or “critical”; 27% rated their company blog as “critical” to their business.

What this actually suggests is that blogging is becoming more ‘niche’; rather than an all-purpose tool it is being used with more specific goals in mind. Companies who may have not been all that dedicated to maintaining a blog are finding other communications channels, such as image applications, work better for them. Brands that get value from their blogs are just as committed to that form as ever, but may have also added other platforms to their communications toolbox to interact more flexibly with a wider variety of audiences. Socially savvy brands like Dell, for example, report significant cost-saving benefits from having a support blog in place which helps reduce the volume of the call center calls. But it doesn’t mean that Dell doesn’t have other touch points with its customers on various networks.

The way I see it, social networks cannot truly replace the role blogging plays in company’s content strategy and credibility-building. Your blog is where you share your best content; social networks are channels which support the distribution of that content. Helpful, genuine and targeted blogs bring a number of benefits to a brand:

  • Thought leadership: being viewed as a trusted source
  • Improved customer service
  • A way to humanize the brand
  • Contextual relevance
  • Better connections with customers which leads to increased loyalty and advocacy
  • Differentiation from competition
  • Improved search engine optimization

Having a network of blogs where each blog focuses on a particular topic or audience is a great strategy employed by a number of successful companies. It allows you to connect with relevant customers in a meaningful way.

It’s Not Blog OR Social Network, it’s Blog AND Social Network

Companies are asking themselves, what media is best for interacting with customers? This might be image-driven, video, or another visual medium. If short messages are the best way of reaching customers, tweeting, texting or using Tumblr might be preferable. A company with a local customer base might be more suited to Foursquare.

But these platforms are not mutually exclusive, and in fact are highly compatible. Brands can use their Facebook page, their Pinterest account, and their blog to drive traffic, often using cross-promotion. How they use them will depend on the message.

What we are seeing is the fragmentation of information on one hand, but its conglomeration on the other. As content strategy becomes more ‘niche’, the potential for sharing that information across a multitude of platforms brings a kind of umbrella to the process, tying it all loosely together. So a successful blog will be joined up to a whole range of social media channels: it might come up in a Google Plus search, or a good blog infographic might be taken and shared across Pinterest.

We’re moving away from one-size-fits all social media approach and towards niche usage. So no, blogging is not dead: where the written word is the most appropriate form of communication it is stronger than ever. Blogs are generating leads, showcasing thought leadership and supporting customers in an ever more relevant way. Where blog usage has fallen, it is because the written word was not the most suitable method of communication, and other media forms have proved a better fit. Brands are thinking harder about the ever-expanding range of communication channels available to them, and where they are blogging it is because they have made a conscious choice to.

A good blog will focus on long-term audience engagement, and that’s something that is still often best achieved through the written word.

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  1. HeidiCohen says

    I’d suggest that one of the reasons for the rise of photo apps is not the decline of the written word but rather photographs are easy for consumers. Every phone, both smartphones and feature phones, can take a photograph. With consumer photos, there’s no worry about how good my written communications are. I believe that a blog should still be at the heart of a strong social media marketing program. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

    • says

      @HeidiCohen Sharing photographs is also easier for the content creators. It’s fairly easy for me to get my clients (green industry) to take pictures of their work but to get them to write a 400 word blog post is like pulling teeth.

  2. says

    Great post, ekaterina . I love this quote: “Pinterest is a visual medium that works best for lifestyle and retail industries, where customer decisions are particularly based on visual appeal.”

    I work specifically with companies in the green industry (garden centers, landscape designers, landscape contractors, etc) which is a very “visual” industry. Folks in this industry, especially the designers, are adopting Pinterest at a rapid rate.

  3. Likosky says

    great article.

    ironically I tried to tweet this but the link does not show up. maybe I’ll take a photo and share it on instagram.

  4. Likosky says

    actually scrolled back to the top to tweet it but there were 27 characters too many. another reason to instagram it! :)

  5. says

    I think it’s interesting to see the rise and fall of various social media networks, while blogging remains relatively steady (and, at least with many people I see, is just starting to catch on).

    There is no marketing magic bullet, and strategies cannot be cookie-cutter. What works on Facebook will not work on Twitter, and what works for one industry will not work for another. The only that works for *most* industries is creating solid content — some free, and some used to capture leads. It’s the way my business has grown their sales volume, and we’re sticking to it.

  6. geoffliving says

    I think it is forcing blogging to evolve, just like a great ad needs a picture or visual element in addition to great copy, good online media requires visual elements. Yet alone, a picture can be stark… Or vapid. We need both.

  7. mwmarketingltd says

    You need to get the balance right, its about content and choosing the right medium to share it. Photos are great and very easy to take / share thanks to our mobiles and apps but I think the written word will come back strong as ever.

    Nice article, thanks for posting.

  8. ginarau says

    Another great article by Ekaterina and I couldn’t agree more. Buyers are looking for more information on the products they select, even at the commodity level. While your website typically includes static information on your company and products or services, your blog is where potential customers can learn why they should buy from you, what makes you special or different, and how do you look at the problem I’m trying to solve.

    That said, I’d love to see a B2B organization use visual representation only in a blog to tell their story.

  9. BelAcuna says

    Congrats! A really good post! Is true the graphical content is winning place. But i am agree about the company’s credibility is given through the words.

  10. says

    Where do infographics fit into this mess? Some content is best suited for an inforgraphic whereas I see too many that are just blog posts with some colour and the occasional shape or two.

  11. saket says

    Ekaterina, As far as business is concerned, the rise of visual media will kill the written words in next 3 years. Short time? Not really. Its already happening very fast. I am working deep into it and my research is clearly indicating it.

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