The Truth About Infographics

Infographics look cool. It’s that simple. People like pretty colors and images that make it easier to understand lots of numbers. It takes time to digest data, and infographics make it a snap to learn the history of Google, the growth of Harry Potter, or even the phenomenon that is Angry Birds. However, not all infographics are created equal, and not all infographics are created for the good of the audience.

data chartThe Infographic Problem

These days, infographics are published anywhere and everywhere. With free and cheap tools to create them, they’re hard to avoid. There is no policing of the accuracy of the data on infographics. If they look cool and they’re about a topic people are interested in, they’ll spread across the web very quickly. They’re highly shareable, and there seems to be an infographic related to every topic a person might be interested in.

Don’t believe me? Head on over to Google and do a quick image search for “infographic.” I’ll make it easy for you — just click here. How many results did you get? I got over 3 million results (of course, many are duplicates) and within the top 10 results were gems like, “How Do I Win Rock, Paper, Scissors Every Time?” and “A Visual Guide to Pissing off the Financial World.”

As Anthony Ha of Ad Week says, we’re in “infographic overload,” and it’s hard for the casual observer to know the difference between a good infographic and a bad one. Despite the list of sources at the bottom of an infographic, this is not a scientific tool for many infographic producers. That means sources aren’t checked for accuracy. Some of those sources might not even be real.

The problem is that many infographics are created for no other purpose but to drive traffic to a specific website. For example, that infographic about hot celebrity couples published by a credit card processing company or debt consolidation company was probably not created to provide useful information to a targeted audience. Nope, that infographic would be classified as a link-bait tool that was created to get more incoming links to a website and ultimately, boost search traffic.

Finding Good Infographics in the Clutter

glasses keyboardOn the other side of the spectrum are the infographics that are truly useful. They’re created with data gathered from direct research or through data from authoritative sources. That data has been checked for accuracy, and the publisher is offering the infographic for reasons above and beyond driving traffic to its website. Of course, getting traffic is usually important, too.

For example, AYTM creates its infographics using a combination of data from its own market research studies as well as from verifiable sources. With access to so much research data, infographics offer a great way to share interesting information with larger audiences while demonstrating what AYTM can do for research customers at the same time. AYTM provides access to the original research data in a blog post announcing a new infographic, so all the information is available and easily checked.

As AYTM Co-founder and CEO Lev Mazin explains, “It’s a great match for the AYTM brand and audience, and that’s why we invite companies, agencies, and publications that are considering putting together an infographic but don’t have a reliable set of data to contact us to see if they qualify for a special AYTM offer where our research services are exchanged attribution.”

Similarly, when social analytics companies release infographics about the state of social media, they’re providing useful information while showcasing their capabilities at the same time. The use of infographics makes sense in these cases, and that’s the barometer people need to use to judge the myriad of infographics they come across on a daily basis.

Self-Judging Infographics

Megan McArdle of The Atlantic offers three self-checks that people can use to evaluate infographics:

  1. “Is it from a site with no real reason to be publishing it?”
  2. “Do some quick mental math checks make the ‘data’ look pretty unlikely?”
  3. “Have the sources been made deliberately hard to check?”

If the answer to one or more of the above three questions is “yes,” then it’s probably an example of an infographic to avoid.

Images: stock.xchng, stock.xchng

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.