It’s such a cliche that I’m reluctant to repeat the adage, but it is so true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps even more so in the sciences. I have an excellent example of just how true this adage from the last few weeks. In this case, a scientific fact–that mosquitoes are actually, by far, the most deadly creature to humans–was skillfully conveyed via a readily consumable graphic that quickly went viral. How wonderful of an achievement would that be with so many other facts? Especially in an era when so many scientific facts are disputed or questioned.
Originally posted on Gates Notes, The Blog of Bill Gates, on April 24, the simple but ingenious graphic was quickly picked up by many other outlets, including The Washington Post, CBS News, and many more after being tweeted and shared through social media. The end result was that this story stuck around through the end of April, by which many other articles had long disappeared. But what are some of the key points that positioned this graphic to be shared so readily sharable?
1) Shock value–very few people knew that the answer was going to be “mosquito” before they clicked on that link. The element of surprise contributed significantly to a reader’s willingness to share.
2) Simplicity–the graphic itself is very streamlined and easy to follow. All extraneous data was eliminated. The images that were used to represent the different animals were simple and readily identifiable silhouettes.
3) Minimal text–As stated above, the image itself provided much of the data. Actual text was kept to a minimum and used only as necessary, this includes a short title.
4) Snapshot effect–it really only takes a few seconds to convey the entire message of the image.
Graphics can help anyone reach a wider audience. If we can follow the principles outlined above, we can create information that can be used and shared and that, ultimately, has an impact. Unfortunately, however, it’s still unclear on what exactly makes a post go viral, although tips abound. Having an excellent graphic that tells a story is a great start.