Videos, infographics, and other visual-based "Internet memes" are all the rage.  Since one of the main purposes of social media is to minimize text or prose, these tools have forced us all to take another look at how we're expressing ourselves.  The few written words still used are there primarily to entice you to check out the visual, or provide an interesting or amusing caption for that visual. The visual is now the story, which means that telling your story using visual imagery is one of the most effective ways of getting your message out. 

What does this mean? That if you have not yet translated your written-word marketing and sales messages into visual storytelling assets, you are – at best – at risk of not getting your point across. A more likely scenario is that you—and the product or service you're trying to sell—will just be ignored. Even research and analyst firms that relied on mammoth whitepapers, reports, and dense, text-heavy presentations are now delivering their content in infographics and videos. (Not saying they are any good, just saying they are trying.)

You must 'wake' the brain

Your implicit goal in social media is to be thought provoking. For businesses, it's not just about tweeting your status or blogging a movie or restaurant review; it's about providing and sharing insights, ideas, and perspectives that cause prospects to want to learn more and start a conversation. Essentially, you want to cause them to reconsider what they are currently doing and start investigating ways they can do it better.

I recently read a new book called The Power of Habit. It essentially says that the decision-making part of our brain goes to sleep once it forms a routine. That's why it's so hard to break a habit. To make a change, you have to literally "wake up" this sleeping part of the brain.

The same is true when it comes to creating a social media presence that wins the competitive battle for your prospects' minds. Your number one competitor in the marketplace is the status quo—in other words, the "habit" your prospects and customers have gotten themselves into. Just like breaking a habit is really difficult to do; breaking through the status quo also requires a heavy social media lift.

This is where visual storytelling comes in. The part of the brain that actually makes a decision to change is the part that's sometimes referred to as the "old brain" or "lizard brain." It's the part of the brain you need to reach with your communications. The kicker is that this part of the brain doesn't have the capacity for language. It's most impacted by visuals—specifically by emotional content that creates a sense of contrast. This contrast is the key to helping the "old brain" make a decision.

You see, the main job of the "old brain" is to ensure your survival.  It's a very simple part of the brain that makes judgment calls very quickly. It's like an on/off switch.  It quickly assesses every situation to determine whether or not you are at risk. If it senses your survival may be in jeopardy, it judges the status quo as "unsafe" and seeks a "new safe." 

So, if your social media content is going to break through the status quo and engage your target audience, you have to be willing to tweak the "old brain." In effect, you need to wake it up and let it know that its current status quo is no longer safe.

Make sure your visuals hit the mark

You need visual content, but not just visuals for the sake of visuals. Your visuals need to tell a story—a compelling, clear story that convinces your prospects to change. Here's a checklist to make sure your social media visual storytelling efforts target the "old brain":

1)   Show your prospects how their world is changing and that going back to the way things once were is no longer an option.

2)   Get them to see their outcomes and objectives are at risk if they stick with the status quo.

3)   Provide insights about clear, contrasting alternatives that can move them to a "new safe."

4)   Make abstract, complex solutions concrete and simple.

The last point is crucial. Many times people mistake visual storytelling for replacing words with borrowed stock photography or metaphorical imagery. While it provides great relief for the eyes, it doesn't help the "old brain" make a decision.

That's why your visuals need to be more "back of the napkin" as opposed to "presentation Zen." 

Stick figures, arrows, and whimsical icons make abstract ideas more concrete and complex ideas more simplistic. When you do this, people are compelled to pay attention to what you're saying. If it's abstract, complicated, and confusing, people have an excuse not to deal with it or to stick with what they were doing before.  But, if it's concrete and simple, it's more accessible and addressable, which also makes it more likely to be effective at getting the right message out to your prospects at the right time.

In closing, social media is all about getting the most information out by using the fewest words possible. That's precisely why it's become so popular—because it forces users to take advantage of visual storytelling to get their point across, which, by extension, appeals to a part of the brain that makes decisions that promote change. Grabbing their attention is the hardest part. Once you've done that successfully, you'll be in great shape to start closing those customer deals.