Visual Storytelling: navigating digital platforms for journalists

Stories are an essential part of our society.

We hear stories, we share stories, and we create stories through our daily lives. But the formats in which we tell our stories has dramatically shifted even through the last few years.

Social media has created new platforms for people to tell their personal social-media-icons-the-circle-setstories. Whether they post on Facebook Live, Instagram stories, or “vlog” about it on Youtube, people are finding more ways to express their experiences on a global platform.

Journalists have recognized these platforms as crucial aspects of modern day storytelling and the significance of visuals in these platforms. Because of this, journalists have to be able to not only create a narrative with words but through video and images as well.

Snapchat: the Immediate Video Journalism

Journalists have adapted videos for storytelling through documentaries, news forecasts, and the 24 hour news cycle, but when Snapchat introduced Snapchat stories in 2013, journalists had a new format that could produce immediate, unfiltered videos of events happening across the world.

snapchat0.pngAccording to Tayla Minsberg, social editor for The Times, each journalist takes the NY Times account for a specified amount to tell the story from their advantage. In this time, they have to create a narrative that is both personal, visual, and pulls in the viewer.

A large appeal of Snapchat is not only the ability to tell an interesting story, but to see how these stories show an unfiltered view of people’s lives. Due to the informality of this platform, it really creates a great areas to show softer topics and broadcasters. Could you do breaking news that more hard news? Maybe, but maybe not. Although it provides a great outlet for showing breaking news as it is happening, in real time, it doesn’t seem the audience that uses Snapchat is particularly interested in politics or those issues (at least to an extent).

To maximize the use of Snapchat, reporters need to understand:

  1. What stories can be conveyed through a visual platform like this and still be captivating
  2. How to balance authenticity instead of just amateur filming
  3. Keep their eyes open for live streaming or events that can make great opportunities for Snapchat stories.

Instagram: Storytelling through Imagery  

It appears that Instagram saw the success that Snapchat received after releasing their “stories” features and decided to do that exact same thing. Instagram users can share real-time life updates, news media have a “new opportunity to report from the field while giving behind-the-scene glimpse” into the stories they report, according to Taylyn

Washington-Harmon emphasized that the main difference between Instagram and Snapchat is Instagram used for high quality photography (with curation after the fact).

The strongest brands and accounts on Instagram use two concepts to effectively tell their stores:

  1. Consistency
  2. Passion

These two concepts are so crucial to building a presence and an audience on Instagram because people will have a clear and distinct idea about what your story is: whether it’s your mission, values or purpose. Using imagery to build that narrative will not only capture the attention of people, it will attract the target audience that will want to hear your stories or the stories you share.




Going Viral: Moving beyond the “One Hit” Wonder

What does a dog who loves bacon, a mom with a Chewbacca mask, and a frog with a dark side all have in common? Over 10 million views or shares across various social media platforms. And all of them became viral.


But what is viral? Viral videos has become a buzz word that can be subjective depending on the viewer. Does the amount of views make a video viral? Does how quickly the video spreads matter? Or does the amount of time for popularity matter? It’s important to see why certain videos hit that “viral” status and what we can do to make our own posts go viral.

According to Josh Elman, viral videos aren’t just a small selection of videos that magically go viral. There are methods that can put your videos or products on the right track to that viral status.

“Many successful companies have done distinct things to help make their products go viral, all in completely different ways,” Elman said. “So I thought it would be helpful to try to classify the disparate approaches.”

Elman emphasizes the five different types of “virality” that exist:

  1. Word-of-mouth virality
  2. Incentivized word-of-mouth virality
  3. Demonstration virality
  4. Infectious virality
  5. Outbreak virality

The first four types really focus on products and the various ways you can spread awareness of services or products through friends and friends of friends. But the last virality, Outbreak, can be the epitome of what think of when we say viral videos. It’s the fun things that we share because they are popular, make us laugh or give us joy.

The first video really hones on this humorous side since this dog really can be relatable for anyone. The same goes for the hugely successful “Chewbacca Mom”. This was a woman who posted on Facebook Live about a Chewbacca mask that she absolutely loved. Her personality, laugh and humor really made her relatable to a mass audience, and eventually made her move to late night television.


To Chris Andersen, one of the core reasons that Chewbacca mom went viral was because someone from Disney saw the video and reblogged the video to their Star Wars page. Once that happened, her video went from thousands of views to millions of views. This is the concept of the long tail. The basics of the long tail is that something unique may start with a small, local audience. If that product or video is found by a influencer, then it can use the influencer’s popularity to gain even more views and go higher up on the tail.

If we want our own products to go viral, we need to see what people like about videos that go viral and apply it to our videos. It’s about differentiation in product but using the same processes to be successful. We should use humor and reliability to our audience as well as connecting with influencers who can bring our videos into a higher level on the long tail.