Is A Picture Still Worth 1000 Words…Or Maybe 100 Characters & A Link

Posted: June 23, 2009 in Business, Guest Blog, PR, Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

A Guest Post By Alex Aizenberg

First, a definition and origin, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is an adage stemming from an old Chinese proverb, popularized by several 1920’s articles from Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink, promoting the effectiveness of images and graphics in advertising, a campaign that also appeared on the sides of streetcars.

What jumps off the page for me is the word “OLD,” and it is the age of the phrase that leads me to this conclusion: the further away we get from the present, the more impressive pictures, as an idea, become… today however, the phrase is growing more stale with each day.

Whether looking at timeline of art (from sharp focus of renaissance pieces, to nearly moving impressionists subjects, all the way to modern art’s avant garde ideas) or broadcast technologies (from telegraphs, to radios, TVs and the internet), pictures as a novelty have been losing steam while words have steadily been reclaiming their rightful place on top. This makes all the more sense today, given the fact that the ‘content currency’ of the social networking and social media catharsis that is Twitter, is built off of verbal descriptions of activity or initiatives (visual or otherwise), truncated to 140 characters or less.

Even still, this shift back to words does not deter visual search offerings – like ambitious, or inclusive and cutesy, among many others – from emerging. As a tool though, visual search is entertaining more so than useful, and often kitschy. The condensed forum of Twitter however, provides the ability to mine real people’s verbalized conversations and opinions for direct feedback (read: 6 Reasons Why Twitter is the Future of Search). Words, and character limitation, gives everyone the same modus operandi of driving content creation; add ‘real time’ and you have a boondoggle of information begging to be sourced… nearly all of it is words.

Of course, pictures still reign under certain circumstances. Take this powerful image of an Iranian protester… it was pictures, videos and other continuous chatter like this, via the #iranelection hashtag, which triggered a U.S. State Department call for Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance during the protests, to keep the information flow going.

The more time I spend on Twitter, the more I think of pictures as being very finite without as much as a caption attached to them, it’s almost as if you can’t say that much with just a picture anymore. I’ve always said that I’m in PR because “I can make words dance,” and now because of Twitter’s mandate of editing for conciseness, we all have to learn to tango.

So, is a picture worth those 1000 words… or at most 100 characters and a link?

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  1. I must start off with what a well-written piece this was, considering the subject matter can easily sway numerous tangents before finally losing its essence. As far as the question comes into play, I believe there’s both a Yes AND No answer involved.

    Yes, a picture still is worth a thousand words when we look at mainstream advertising and taking images otherwise picked out of obscurity in terms of personal relativity in campaigns. The image of the USAir jet in the Hudson was an image undoubtedly that required very little explanation.

    No, in terms of the rapid frequency depreciation of authentic and meaningful images, with platforms such as TwitPic now acting as Twitters main visual engine, the chances that one might actually come across useful and inspiring images staggeringly decrease.

    To sum up, in my opinion, unless one comes across a profoundly unique and self-explanatory photograph to further any cause, the cross-connection with Transmedia campaigns as put forth by Virginia Miracle help to put out and support the visual with some solid 360 information that puts the pieces together in a more organized manner, eventually leading to a informed understanding of the particular subject matter and strengthening the visual power and recall of the image itself.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the read, got the old brain cells up and at ’em!

  2. Ellen Rossano says:

    I tried to comment in 140 chars! By an invitation, I refer to tweets with links with no context from the tweeter about why I should take a look. I am still learning some of the technical aspects of Twitter, so when I click on a link, it takes time; I find I am passing over some potentially great links because I don’t know why you are inviting me to check them out. I there will always be a certain class of pictures – photos, stills from video, graphics – that will become icons on their own merit – no words necessary. Every person’s definition of “iconic” will differ. That’s when words, written or spoken, can provoke dialogue, discussion, and great debate. Does the limit of 140 characters hinder the discussion, or does it provide a platform for debate in another forum?

  3. PRCog says:

    As a fan of photography as well as the written word I personally feel the age of the photograph is ready to re-emerge.

    As with the journalist/blog situation the value of the written word declined a bit when the web exploded. Anyone with two fingers, keyboard and a net connection became writer, editor & publisher. Many of the initial blogs were bad (on content, style, grammar, etc.). The better ones emerged from the flotsam and jetsam.

    With the advent of cheaper digital cameras, no film expenses and no developing expenses plus an easy to use distribution platform a similar transformation occurred w/ photography – every schmo could do it and call himself a photographer.

    What needs to happen now, and is thanks to peer guided photo sites, is a separation of the men from the boys in the photographic world. I still believe there’s room for very powerful photos which can tell stories nearly all on their own (National Geographic has always been a standout here, and in a prior life Life magazine). It’s simply a matter of encouraging this growth appropriately.

  4. Thanks all for your comments to my post, and thanks David for the forum… appreciate it! I’ve replied to you all via twitter (not a blog comment kind of guy), and hope we can keep the convo going… feel free to @AlexAizenberg whenever, i’m always on =).

    One last tid bit, what i failed to find in time for the post, one that i think will make this case (at least for twitter’s purposes)… would be interesting to see the stats on amount of tweets that include links and words over twitpit and yfrog etc. tweets… my thinking, the numbers are overwhelming.

    Will finish with an RT of my buddy @NicolePRexec “@AlexAizenberg I agree with u. I also think a picture can be worth 1000 lies.”

    Thanks again, talk soon!

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