While our Facebook pages and tweets once relied on text alone, steady streams of images now dominate our digital profiles. The most prevalent social platforms we communicate on today are a far cry from the now seemingly primitive Facebook “walls” of our digital past, showing that today, visuals are the most popular form of communication and define how we express and relate to each other.
In the course of this evolution, we have both been catalysts and witnesses of the gradual decline of the written word, opting for a far more universal language: imagery. At its core, imagery has brought people around the world closer together and enabled us to refine human expression by elevating it beyond the barriers of literacy, language and imagination.
If we look to the origins of our communication, it was primarily image-based, with primitive cave paintings and hieroglyphics defining how we understood each other. From conveying directions to recording the victors of the latest battle, images permitted humans to share a basic language and understanding with anyone they met, because they are descriptive and easily accessible.
Over the millennia, we’ve come a long way in empowering ourselves through expression, which has improved our communication of thoughts, ideas and emotions via the written word. Text and the creation of a written language opened up the doors of expression, but it also caused people to lose the universality that visual language permits: a language beyond borders, education and sound. While language is an evolving art form, and our vocabularies have expanded tremendously over the years, verbal and written communication is still restricted to items and emotions that we possess the words for.
Fast forward to 2015, and technology has given us platforms that have allowed us to quickly and easily communicate with one another. This advance has offered up an opportunity to return to the roots of our communication, and bring back words like, “scroll,” and “tablet,” facilitating a return to the shared language we once had: pictures. Now, on these shared global platforms, we are faced with a deluge of photos, instant play videos, stickers, emojis and gifs from our friends, family, publications and the brands we follow. While Facebook photos once complemented our written posts, today they have largely supplanted them, with snapshots frequently substituting for words altogether.
Perhaps the strongest of today’s growing visual communication is the abundance of GIFs, stickers and emojis in our texts, tweets and posts. When Facebook implemented stickers in its Messenger application in 2013, the company changed the game for digital interaction. Instead of sending a small emoji, users can send the grinning sticker with the gleaming teeth that shows just how eager, sad, excited or enthusiastic the sender is. And, with stickers equipped to convey more than basic emotions, users can send images of people, buildings, landscapes, vegetables, fruit, animals engaging in various activities and so much more, cutting straight to the heart of human understanding.
With 200 million monthly users, Japan-based messaging app Line has been a key driver in the resurgence of visual-based communication and the unearthing of a true global language. Like WhatsApp, the service allows users to send highly detailed images via its signature animal icons: Cony the rabbit and Brown the bear, which encapsulate expression so well.
Instead of typing it out, users can virtually mime their actions and explain their current activities via a simple but elegant sticker. We’ve begun sending these images in lieu of expressing our emotions, because they’re universally understandable and transcend language barriers.
There are countless other platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Periscope and Meerkat that have helped drive and proliferate this dramatic shift towards visuals, but they are only the beginning. Communication is fundamental to business, commerce and our personal relationships, and because of this, we continue to crave and seek out a global language — though I think we’ve found it.
The beauty of this evolution of our chosen communication platforms is that while it brings us closer as a global community, it also removes limitations to expression. We’re not simply returning to the earliest, most primitive form of communication; through technology we’ve bettered it, enabling increased nuance, detail and clarity of expression so we can create an improved version of our global language, transcending the barriers of literacy.
Ambarish Mitra is the CEO and founder of Blippar.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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Digital marketing has a bright future with a sharp increase in effectiveness if we harness sensory metaphors (bright future, sharp increase) in our work.
A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that sensory metaphors are more memorable and more successful (in terms of popularity) than non-sensory metaphors (open access draft). The logic is that our five visceral senses (sound, sight, touch, smell and taste), shape our language, our perceptions and our experiences, and so sensorial language cues more mental associations, making the metaphor more immediate, meaningful, and memorable. Like ourselves, it would seem our experiences and language are embodied.
The research ‘Drivers of cultural success: The case of sensory metaphors‘, conducted by Jonah Berger and Ezgi Akpinar looked at data from 5 million books over 200 years and found that sensory metaphors are used more frequently over time than their semantic equivalents (e.g. bright future vs. promising future). Followup experiments with 156 participants found that sensory metaphors are indeed more memorable than non-sensory metaphors, and that they have more associative cues (the metaphor is associated with more things).
What this means is that brands, advertisers and copywriters will enhance the effectiveness of their campaigns and content if we focus on bringing to life the sensorial truth of their communication through sensory metaphor. This latest research confirms another finding that consumers may respond better to taglines that use metaphor (specifically metaphors with figurative and literal meaning) than purely literal language.
With that in mind, ask yourself – or better your customers – which of these sensory metaphors best suit your brand? Use the answer to diagnose how people really feel (sensorially perceive) about your brand, and use that insight to connect with people on a more visceral level using sensorial metaphor.
As social networks become more visual in nature, it’s better to convey your message with images rather than text. Nowhere is this more apparent than Instagram, which is almost entirely image based. Hashtags also play a big role on Instagram, but now people are able to include emojis in their hashtags, which has given rise to a dynamic visual language on the site.
Emoji use has skyrocketed on Instagram since the introduction of the iOS emoji keyboard in 2011. Just one month after the new keyboard was introduced, 10 percent of text on Instagram contained emojis, and when an Android emoji keyboard was introduced in 2013 the upward trend really kicked off.
40 percent of text now contains emojis, according to the Instagram engineering blog. Some countries show even higher emoji use, with 60 percent of text from Finnish users and 58 percent of French users inserting emojis into their text.
The blog post also notes that users are replacing some words with emojis, because the emoji is enough to represent the intent.
Intuitively, substitutable words have similar meanings. For example, we might say that ‘dog’ and ‘cat’ are similar words because they can both be used in sentences like ‘The pet store sells _ food’.
Indeed, users are also forging their own meanings from the suite of available hashtags. The needle emoji is being used for blood donation pictures, tattoo pictures, and pictures alluding to drug use. Users have also been tagging adult content with eggplant and peach emojis, which has prompted Instagram to block searches for the eggplant emoji because it “consistently is used for content that violates their community guidelines.”
New York Times Bits Blog contributor, Mike Isaac, notes:
Users are finding new ways to use them to communicate. Paring two or more emoji together, for instance, can form rudimentary sentences or sentiments for others to understand.
The Instagram blog post theorizes that the use of emojis will increase. As users embrace the use of emojis in hashtags, it’s entirely possible this novel use of visual language will become more complex. But as with every language there will be limitations, and debate about how the language is developing.
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How we communicate — specifically the words we use — can speak volumes about our personalities, values, and how we interact with the world. Now, there’s a tool that analyzes your Twitter activity to identify your emotional, social, and thinking styles.
Analyze Words was developed by James W. Pennebaker, Professor of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, and focuses on the junk words we depend on in our language. These so-called junk words include pronouns (I, you, they), articles (a, an, the), prepositions (to, with, for) and other small words that hold together the nouns and regular verbs.
For instance, according to Analyze Word, using “I” can indicate introspection. However, overuse can become a sign of depression, stress and insecurity:
Other junk words can signal arrogance, social closeness, deception, leadership and a wide range of other psychological states. Because our research team has already collected tremendous amounts of language and psychological data, we have a fairly good idea of which words best tap psychological processes.
The Daily Mail analyzed the tweets of President Obama and Katy Perry. According to the tool, Obama is upbeat, distant and analytical, while Katy Perry is depressed and sensory driven.
Personable people use positive emotional words, pose questions and reference others frequently, while those who are ‘arrogant or distant’ tend to be well-read with ‘an arms-length approach to socialising.’
According to the New Yorker, social media is ripe for this kind of language analysis, since the language of individuals is available everywhere online. However, the challenge is establishing causality. In fact, Pennbaker cautioned New Yorker contributor Maria Konnikova against drawing such conclusions.
Instead, he pointed to the idea that journaling can be cathartic — people who journal recover from negative experiences quickly. This positive effect was even more true for bloggers who posted personal content open to comments.
In the end Konnikova wrote:
Researchers want to use social media to learn about you. But by writing in a public space you may also be learning about —and helping—yourself.
Readers: What did Analyze Words say about your Twitter activity?
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