THE BLOG
02/07/2012 06:46 BST | Updated 26/08/2012 06:12 BST

Social Media: Visual is the New Verbal

As a professional wordsmith, I'm used to being paid for my work. As a blogger and guest blogger, I've had to become used to writing for free, in return for the inbound links and profile-raising. Maybe image-producers will have to let go of their copyright too.

Have you noticed that social media is shifting to favour pictures over words? Me too.

Please note that I'm not a social media guru - to be honest, I don't think anybody can truly claim to be a social media guru, as the discipline is still so new. I am a marketing copywriter, trainer, author and speaker who has been delivering social media training courses monthly for UK small business owners and corporate marketing departments since the beginning of 2010 (things change so fast that I update the course every time I run it). My particular interest is the content strategy required to generate a return on your time investment.

As a trainer, I've collected a range of social media case studies from organisations of many sectors and sizes. As a copywriter, I use social media for my own business and for my clients (I started my first blog in 2007). I've generated income directly from blogging, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (although not Google+ or Pinterest - at least, not yet). So I know from personal experience that these platforms work - if you do it right. And the way to do it is changing.

Looking backwards

Go to Google > Trends and search "social media". You'll find that, until the beginning of 2009, the phenomenon was not even on the radar, but interest has shot up since then, with a little dip at the end of each year which is the two weeks that everybody takes off for Christmas. So, until 3.5 years ago, marketers didn't need to worry about social media. 3.5 years from now, we may not need to worry about it either, as something else may have come along by then. But, for the moment, it's a wave that's high and we need to ride it, or, at least, watch to see what it's doing, even if we decide not to add it to our marketing mix at the moment.

Looking forwards

With Facebook Timeline for business Pages launching earlier this year, plus the recent massive buzz around Pinterest allegedly driving more traffic than YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+ combined, I note that visual is the new verbal.

People are quickly starting to share images rather than words. As a copywriter, it could concern me. As someone who's also highly 'visual' in NLP terms, I "get" it. I get that sometimes a picture can say 1,000 words.

With Timeline for Profiles and now for Pages, Facebook has definitely emphasised the importance of images over text. Instead of five thumbnails at the top, you display a cover image of 850x315 pixels. Instead of tabs or links to help users navigate your business Page, you now have apps (the first being 'Photos' whether you like it or not) which can be customised and used for your calls to action. And any images or videos that you share appear much larger in your Timeline than they did before.

The other point that's interesting is that Facebook and Pinterest layouts have broken away from the reverse chronological order of blogs, status updates and Twitter streams, by presenting information right-to-left instead of just top-to-bottom. I predict that Google+ will soon do something similar.

Copyright concerns

On Pinterest, people are busy pinning, repinning, liking and commenting on pictures and videos they've found anywhere on the web. Other people are publicly panicking about the T&Cs and deleting their accounts. Until there's a test case in court to set a precedent, we can't tell which way this one will go.

The issue is that - unlike Google images which just shows a thumbnail that links through to the original site - Pinterest pinners show images without necessarily crediting the source. Either Pinterest will be closed down and suddenly disappear (unlikely, in my view), or copyright-holders will have to give up their ownership rights, and accept that, once an image is 'out there' on the Internet, it's going to be shared, whether you like it or not. And perhaps that's a good thing.

As a professional wordsmith, I'm used to being paid for my work. As a blogger and guest blogger, I've had to become used to writing for free, in return for the inbound links and profile-raising. Maybe image-producers will have to let go of their copyright too.

What do you think?