It’s taken a while for the Internet to shift from being the text-only medium of its early days to the image-dominated medium it’s increasingly becoming.
In fact, it’s barely a decade since Internet users could post on photo-sharing sites such as SmugMug (founded 2002) and Flickr (founded 2004). There are now over six billion photos on Flickr, although Facebook dwarfs that number with six billion photo uploads per month and a total of 90 billion photos on its servers, according to Justin Mitchell of Facebook Photos.
Moving images are even more recent. It’s just under seven years since YouTube was founded at a time when video accounted for virtually 0% of Internet traffic. Now, video accounts for over 50% of Internet traffic and will reach 90% within three years, according to Cisco’s VP for Marketing and Emerging Technologies, David Hsieh.
Responding to people’s preferences, the Internet is becoming increasingly visual. As IBM’s former chief strategist Irving Wladawsky-Berger sees things, it’s because “in the physical world we interact with each other in a very visual way … now that we have the technologies to add a more visual capability, we can make all IT-based applications much more visual and human over time.”
The trend is also apparent in the rapid rise of Infographics as a way of presenting complex information quickly and digestibly.
Technologically, everything is coming together to serve people’s tendency to favor visual content. Along with massive remote storage capacity, we now have high-capacity wireless data connections that can carry even large video files fast; we have graphics processors and brilliant screens that offer vivid colors, sharp resolution and HD video on devices of any size, from smartphones to tablets to televisions.
Add to this the fact that 80% of Internet users gather health information online and the implications for healthcare communications are clear.
Social media and Pinterest
It’s people’s natural response to visual information that has made Pinterest the hottest social media website of the moment. Describing itself as a virtual pinboard, it enables users to grab stills and videos online, organize them and share them with other Pinterest users and with other social media favorites such as Twitter and Facebook.
For the time being at least, Pinterest has stolen the limelight from the big names of social media. According to comScore, it was the third-fastest-growing site in January 2012. ComScore VP Andrew Lipsman said that after attracting 418,000 unique visitors in May 2011, Pinterest had surged to 4.9 million visitors in November 2011. He described Pinterest as an exceptionally sticky site that keeps it users engaged for long periods of time.
Pinterest is different from other social media sites in several important ways, which is what has enabled it to create its own niche in the social media ecosystem.
Unlike Facebook, it’s not a destination where users go to swap chat with images and links thrown in; it’s a destination where people post images of things, with comments. As a Forbes blog put it, Facebook is like a bar while Pinterest is like a craft fair – a social network of stuff, rather than a social network of people.
Unlike Twitter, it’s not a streaming timeline of words and links that disappear after a day or two. It’s highly visual, and it lasts.
Unlike YouTube, it’s visually dense and includes still images.
Unlike Tumblr, Pinterest enables users to create densely-packed “boards” or sets of images grouped by theme, with each image automatically linked to its source.
Some commentators describe it as a virtual mood board; some refer to it as part of the content curation boom. Dr. Christopher Long, a professor at Ouachita Baptist University, sees Pinterest boards as being like its users’ personal happiness collages that represent “things that I appreciate, that I desire, and that express who I am, whether the things are cupcakes, shirtless David Beckham, or an inspirational quotation.”
Pinterest and healthcare
In contrast with the main social media platforms, Pinterest has been adopted early and enthusiastically by brands and marketers, including healthcare brands. Although it’s a social media platform, it doesn’t need a single-named individual to generate the content. On most social media, brands can look like out of place among all the named individuals; on Pinterest, they look perfectly at home. Pinterest is primarily about showing stuff with the possibility of building relationships, rather than building relationships as a means of showing stuff. Consumers can use it as a visual “wish list” of what they desire, brands can use it as a shop window of the experience they offer.
With its visuals laid out in sumptuous, inviting spread and automatic links to source images, it’s not surprising that Pinterest is generating more referral traffic to websites than YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn combined; if you like the image, you click on it and go to the original. Lurking beneath the surface is a very clever social commerce play. It’s a natural online location for apparel brands such as Gap and retailers such as West Elm and Nordstrom. It’s also proving to be an interesting place for healthcare brands to experiment, even though health does not yet have its own category on Pinterest.
At the time of writing, the Summit Medical Group of New Jersey has seven Pinterest boards, including a set of brief “Medical Monday” videos on topics such as Seasonal Affective Disorder and The Challenge of Obesity. Baylor Health Care System has nine boards, including Interactive Health Quizzes and Family Health.
One reason for healthcare brands to use Pinterest is that the current user demographic skews female; women tend to be the healthcare buyers for their families. Another is that it provides another concentrated and appealing “touch point” to reach healthcare consumers and bring relevant content to their attention.
However, the most compelling reason of all is that it enables healthcare brands to pack together an emotive set of still and video images relevant to their patients without irksome content management or web design; they can “pin” images from their own sites together with relevant images from third-party sites (e.g., health-related book covers from online booksellers). In a spare hour or so, a healthcare professional can assemble a “best of” board of photos, pictures, charts, infographics and videos.
It’s early, and the possibilities, so far, appear pretty boundless. Visualizations creating entirely new educational venues for disease states and therapies and new depictions of patient journeys that open up a whole new kind of storytelling for brands are just some of the applications.
With Pinterest, any healthcare brand that has already invested in visual assets can extend its reach at minimal cost of time, money and effort. With so little cost involved, the question is not “Why would you bother?” but rather “Why would you not bother?”