6111634247_116bfcbe5cSix in ten of us are visual learners: people who learn best when information is delivered through the eyes; by looking at images or videos, or reading. That’s just one of the reasons why visual content is so important in today’s content marketing world.

Another is its shareability and engagement power. In 2013, social media analytics company Socialbakers reported that 93% of the most engaging posts on Facebook were images, up from 85% in 2012. Only 3% of the most engaging posts in 2013 were regular status updates.

There’s no question that marketers today understand the power of visual content. In its State of Content Marketing 2014 report, Oracle Eloqua found that 58% of respondents list making content more visual and engaging as a trend influencing their strategy for the year. But constantly churning out visual content presents a challenge: you need to find meaningful data to fuel that content and, more importantly, you need to find stories within that data that tie into your brand’s values and strategic goals.

The good news is, the inspiration for your next visual project is probably hiding right under your nose. Here are six easy ways to find your next standout piece:

1. Your company’s data

Leveraging company knowledge or digging into customer data and demographics will help communicate your value proposition to the right audience. That’s especially true if you end up uncovering interesting industry trends or insights within your data. Those can be used in your PR and marketing campaigns, as fodder for blog posts and social media updates, in presentations and so on.

When its funding was threatened by a Congressional vote in 2011, for example, PBS launched a “Save PBS” campaign and, in conjunction with other media, used an infographic populated with internal data to make the case for keeping our favorite PBS programming on the air:

Why Save PBS?

2. A survey you conduct or sponsor

Surveys are among the most commonly used data sources in visual content — in any kind of content, really. So why give exposure to another brand when you can position your company as a thought leader and trend-setter by conducting and promoting your own survey? It’s a pricey undertaking, but well worth the investment in future content pieces. Survey data yields dramatic infographics and video, and can be used to accentuate text-based posts, whitepapers and presentations.

One option for companies with lower budgets: you can do a small, 10-question, 100-response survey for free on SurveyMonkey. If you want to increase the sample size and number of questions, your costs will go up. This DIY approach may require a bit more lead-time to allow for response, computation, and analysis, so plan accordingly.

3. From a partner

Before you engage in extended research to cull data for a visual piece, look for a partner who already has the type of data you need and may be willing work with you on a co-branded project. Partnering on data visualizations not only cuts your go-to-market time, but may also split the design and production costs. And co-branding means your piece will have an extra rail as part of your partner’s publishing and distribution efforts. Be mindful of who you partner with, of course: hitching your logo to the wrong name could diminish your brand value.

Once you’ve identified a willing, appropriate partner, make sure they’re involved in all stages of the process from brainstorming, to design mockups through final approvals. Visually recently partnered with Hank and John Green, of the popular YouTube channel Vlogbrothers, to produce this video on incarceration in the U.S.:

Visually provided the collaboration platform and a first-class animator, while Hank Green did all the research and voice over for the video. The result: nearly 800,000 views within a week of publication. (Having a powerful distribution channel – Vlogbrothers has 2 million YouTube subscribers – certainly helped!)

When done right, collaborating on a co-branded piece is a win-win for both brands.

4. Government data

Government data sets offer ultimate data integrity without the cost and effort that comes with conducting research on your own (and, in many cases, having to reinvent the wheel). The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia used Census Bureau data to create The Racial Dot Map, a striking interactive detailing the racial mix of America.

The Racial Dot Map

Demographics is one of many areas where government data abounds. To find links to specific data sets and other sources of public data, read 30 Places to Find Open Data on the Web.

5. Social media chatter

Jump into your social media dashboard or sites like Mention or Google Trends to see what people are talking about on social media and use it as the basis for visual content. Unlike news aggregators, social media offers an inside track on popular ideas that may not be newsmakers, but have captured the attention of the social realm. You can also find visual concepts from images and memes that garner a high number of shares or likes.

Graphic designer Michelle Hardi created a simple, yet fun graphic based on the viral “What Does the Fox Say?” video, capturing 14,000 views on Visual.ly alone.

What Does The Fox Say

Think of the exposure and social media goodwill you could collect by creating something simple – and fun – based on a trending topic. Just be sure to act swiftly (this is why simpler graphics might be most feasible) and tread carefully around material that may have copyright protections.

6. Older content

Do you have any visual content that’s performed well in the past? An old win comes with a track record of success: capitalize it. Use these pieces as source content for new blog posts, highlight certain sections for more in-depth coverage, or simply refresh data and re-release it. This blog post offers even more creative ways to re-use content.

As a rule of thumb, avoid re-using data points that are outdated (and certainly ones that are more than three years old), and only use content that is still relevant — and hasn’t been covered to death by others.

Here’s a quick recap of all the sources we’ve focused on here:
6 data sources for visual content

Where do you go to find the data and inspiration for great visual content? Tell us about it in the comments!

P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy our Buffer Blog newsletter. Receive each new post delivered right to your inbox, plus our can’t-miss weekly email of the Internet’s best reads. Sign up here.

This post was originally published at Visual.ly and is reprinted with permission. 
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Top photo credit: Simon Blackley

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Written by Liz Staplefoote

Lizetta Staplefoote has a decade of experience writing about small business challenges for healthcare, real estate, and technology. Her passion is researching and writing about the impact of cloud computing. When she’s not wordsmithing, she enjoys hanging out with her sons, exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, and feeding her music addiction.

  • This is an awesome article! Data visualization is such a fascinating field. I work for a data project and I can say that it takes a long to prep data–but when we share visualizations (via Buffer ;)) they are more successful in terms of engagement.

    The linked article “30 Places to Find Open Data on the Web” mentions the multiple steps in getting data, cleaning it up, and just making sure it’s even infographic-viable (i.e. won’t mislead or misrepresent). There’s a ton that goes into the data before it’s ready to be visualized. For example, a critique of Slate’s map of states’ most common languages that made the rounds a while ago: http://aapivoices.com/slate-youre-doing-it-wrong/

    If readers are looking for social issues to highlight through awesome infographics, I think indicators projects can be a good source. http://www.bostonindicators.org is a project that is working to get data to the point where it can tell a credible story. http://www.mncompass.org (where I work) is another!

    (For Census data, people might also be interested in http://factfinder2.census.gov/ or http://censusreporter.tumblr.com, which make it a little easier to navigate data sets. http://hackforchange.org/data/ and its local affiliates have some great data sources.)

    Thanks for this article!

  • Thanks for the insight, Liz. With visual media increasing in popularity, it’s important for businesses to understand how best to utilize it. Your tips and examples of real companies are appealing ways to show this message. We at http://www.ProseMedia.com were particularly impressed with the idea of recycling old content, by updating it via a blog post. This both shows prior experience in the field, as well as an interest in staying up to date.

  • Andrea Mercado

    Thank you for all the great tips!

  • AllisonCSikes

    Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail…….


  • Loving inputs and sites. thanks.

  • Recently, I added creating and sharing Infographics in my content marketing strategy but I did not have sufficient Data sources For Infographics. You shared this post on right time. Thanks

  • Kimberly Davis

    WOW! Very cool tips. Thank you for sharing that and making something that can be very time consuming, that much easier! Thanks Joel!=)

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      my Aunty Allison recently got a nice 6 month old Jaguar by
      working from a macbook.this website C­a­s­h­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

  • Excellent post, Liz. Thanx 🙂

  • HipsterMonkey

    I’m consistently impressed by how relevant and useful Buffer’s blog is versus the blogs for the other tools I follow.

    • Courtney Seiter

      Wow, what an amazing compliment! That’s what we’re going for every day, and we learn a ton creating the blog content, too! 🙂

      • HipsterMonkey

        Happy to give credit, where credit’s due. 🙂

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    • I concur! Thanks for another great post.

  • Valerie Beeman

    We purchase great infographics from presentationload.com that can be used for a variety of purposes. They are graphical icons/images you can use once you have your data ready.

  • great post

  • DanielPageASEO

    Hey Liz,
    Thanks for the awesome post, not that I’d expect anything less from Buffer. Anyways, I thought this would be a valuable resource for my readers, so I included it in my roundup of June’s best SEO, social media, and content marketing articles. http://www.aseohosting.com/blog/2014/07/seo-content-marketing-and-social-media-the-best-of-june-2014/ Cheers!


  • Sites X-Ray

    One other source of data is http://www.sitesxray.com ; it provides tons of data about websites around the word , their countries , their languages and the technologies used to build those websites.