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I love infographics.  I appreciate the way that visuals are crafted to convey information, usually statistics.  It really speaks to me and the way I absorb information.  It helps makes the data memorable and makes dry numbers fun to read.

Early on in my career, one of my identified weakness was analytical skills, and so a development plan was put in place to build my expertise.  As a result, every quarter I had to produce a top line summary of Nielsen market share information for the products in the several categories where we played.   This report was distributed to top management in Canada and the U.S.  There were no charts or graphics, (although I prepared a ton to see the trends) just written, point-form notes indicating the changes in performance, period-to-period and year-over-year for each category, segment and major brand.  Explanations were required to link to our activity, the environment and competitive activity.   It was no easy task, at least for the first several times, when multiple revisions went back and forth, many times.

So I look at infographics and think, what a wonderful way to simplify data and make the information accessible and even entertaining.

However, I remember something that my boss and mentor for the process of improving my analytical skills told me.  “Figures lie and liars figure.”  She explained that sometimes the numbers do not tell the whole story and, alternately, when you get really good at analysis, you can get the data to say almost anything.

Do Infographics Oversimplify?

While the “distortion” of data may be an issue, I take a more practical view.  My primary concern with infographics is more that, in some cases, they oversimplify matters.  This ‘dumbing-down” could conceivably result in serious lapses.

For example, the  Everything Your Employees Need to Know About Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC] talks about “How to Train Your Employees in Social Media”, because “your best social media team might be your current workforce”– is a great idea.  But it seems to put the cart before the proverbial horse.  Getting employees involved before the strategy and plan have been put in place could be a huge waste of everyone’s time and a set up for potential failure, or at very least, a high level of frustration.

This is the type of thing that some senior executives I know would print out (yup, you can see the problem already), and send, along to Marketing, Communications and HR with a scribbled note saying, “Please collaborate to make this happen.”   Yikes!

Before you decide WHO, it’s best to decide WHAT!

1. Outline a Social Media Policy                                                                                                                                a. Identify the social networks that are key to your business (HINT:  They should comprise a significant number of your target audience/user/consumer)

b. Determine the role that each network plays for your business (HINT:  This should indicate which networks are most important to allow you to properly prioritize and allocate resources appropriately)

c. Outline the parameters of  the information that is approved for communication through these networks.  (For example:  You can talk about, features, benefits, specs.  You cannot talk about sales, personnel, profits, R&D…)  Do it in writing.  Present it to the employees involved.  Repeat the presentations on a regular basis.

2.  Limit the communication touch-points (i.e. one key person per department with an assigned back-up).  This one is key for me.  By assigning responsibility to one, maximum two people, communication is clear and has a consistent personality and toneAnd the potential of releasing confusing or conflicting information is significantly reduced.

3.    Ensure your employee representatives understand what you want to accomplish.   Have a clear objective of what you want to achieve through your social media initiative that can be articulated and shared with your designated team.  This will help guide them develop the appropriate communications dialogue.

 4.    Hold regular updates.  I know, I know, no one wants another meeting, however the group responsible for Social Media needs to get together regularly to exchange information, update each other and be updated on any pertinent news or activities.  Getting the group together may help raise common issues or opportunities for the organization.  Senior management should attend regularly.

I’d also advocate dividing up the employee roles differently:

I.     “Spokesperson”.  This role is formal in nature, “talking” on behalf of the company.  The spokesperson makes official announcements, conveys information and responds to specific questions for “official” information that is corporate in nature.  I suggest you would have only one of these “positions”.

II.     “Advocate/ambassador”.  These are the employee(s) that actually engage in reciprocal dialogue with the customer.  This exchange is more informal and personal in nature and has a scope larger than the product/service being represented, although this remains the core shared interest.  There might be several ambassadors, one for each portfolio of products/services, one for each major product/service, or one for every product/service.

III.     “Resource”, those native digital experts that know all about the platforms, what to use, how things work and how to use them to best advantage.  These are the people that can ensure the communication is smooth, can suggest tools and methods for improving communication.  They can fix glitches and troubleshoot.

IV.     “Monitor”  the people who watch and listen, spot trends and issues and bring them up to be addressed or leveraged.  These are the observers, their “hands off” stance would allow them a more objective perspective to view the information stream with a more analytical eye, which could help adjust and refine the communication and process.

We’re all doing out best to get into the social media game.  Better to take a little time  and get prepared than to rush in, disorganized, and pay for it.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

I still love infographics!

But, I still love infographics.  I think the blend of graphics and data is one of the best products of social media.  I actually have a modest collection on Pinterest.  However as infographics become a more popular and important communication vehicle, they will become more “commercial”.

I’m just advising caution. Use the information as inspiration.  If it interests you, do your homework, look into things, think things through.  Let the information in infographics be stimulation – food for thought, not the basis for your next corporate restructure.