On Perspective Agents

Thoughts on Visual Influence


If you touch media, marketing or PR in 2015, hang on for a wild ride. Cultural influence will continue to speed ahead to the benefit of an expanding universe of socially networked, visually-minded creators.

Think consumer generated content we’ve seen to date — on steroids.

As more of our media time moves to mobile our appetite for visual content, particularly from newer engaging sources, grows larger.

Well known YouTube creators — like beauty maven Michelle Phan, geek baker Rosanna Pansino and fashion aficionado Bethany Mota – gained such significant influence through their channels, and YouTube’s campaign, that their stardom extends to offline audiences.

Other YouTube chart-toppers, headlined by video game commentator PewDiePie, lead an indie list with over 32 million subscribers. Teen magnet Jenna Marbles carries a network of 14 million strong. Ray William Johnson’s viral video channel now has a 10 million-person base. In comparison, TV top ten regular Dancing With the Stars gets 12 million tune-in viewers.

This visual influence shift is not exclusively happening to the benefit of YouTube under a monopoly of new media mega stars. A long tail of niche creators with community followings on networks like Instagram, Snapchat and Vine now hold increasing sway too. Creators interested in virtually any conceivable subject or subcategory – nail art, vintage cars, fusion cuisine – are creative nodes capable of growing highly-engaged followers.

What was a trickle of micro celebrity influence on culture is a potential deluge spreading across social networks and into mainstream media. And it’s still early in the game.

Instagrammer Tamara Peterson has nearly a 100k+ community by showing intimate livestyle images of New York City
Tamara Peterson built a big community on Instagram by sharing intimate lifestyle images of New York City

A New Era of Creativity and Engagement

What’s driving the next leap forward in consumer generated content?

Mobile. We have cheap, studio-quality production capacity in the palm of our hand that has potential to unleash a full-scale creative revolution.

In some respects, the cultural impact of MTV in the early ‘80s is an illustration of what’s in progress now. While music videos pre-dated MTV by decades, the network as a potential cultural force appeared on the scene suddenly — unannounced and underestimated. What elevated their influence on media and culture? A drop in production cost combined with 24×7 channel capacity (and a little help from Mick Jagger).

From a creative standpoint, MTV delivered experimental, visual expressions that defied TV or music precedent. It spawned a new generation of imaginative multi-platform artists, content and shows embraced by network fanatics.

Similar experimental patterns are prevalent in social media today including new content genres, overnight sensations, and even addictive tune-in behaviors. Like early stage MTV producers, the best creators experiment their way into success, taking advantage of low-cost means of testing concepts through interaction and constant feedback from their communities.

Volume of Consumer Generated Content to Rise. Creator Marketplaces to Mature.

We’ll look back on 2014 as the year when we saw a boom in newly remixed media. Filtered photo sharing. GoPro enabled, adventure-seeker video. Emoji-infused messaging. More media stories enlivened with GIFs.  In a very real sense, visual language fundamentally changed.

The accelerating efficiency in how this media is made is equally fundamental. Consider Saffo’s Law — a design principle embedded in Facebook, Twitter and other networks. Proposed by Silicon Valley researcher Paul Saffo, the law suggests that the smaller the quantum creative act you ask of people, the more they participate. With only a few gestures, we can both create and distribute visual content to the masses.

Saffo’s Law provides context for what’s ahead in terms of our production capacity and scale of output. According to Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet trends report, within two years we’ll have twice as much content flowing through digital and social networks as we have today. Two-thirds of it will be created and consumed by everyday Joes and Janes as opposed to incumbent cultural gatekeepers.

According to KPCB the amount of photo creation and sharing alone is expected to exponentially jump.
According to KPCB, the level of photo creation and sharing alone will see an exponential rise

The cultural operating system that allows this to happen — running on new mobile, social, and visual behavior — favors individual creators and fast-moving communities.

Platform players like Fullscreen, Tongal and Niche, aim to help companies collaborate with creator communities as part of creative, integrated marketing programs. Just over a year old, Niche aggregates the world’s most prolific creators via its software platform to facilitate win-win collaboration opportunities with brands. The company has over 5,000 creators on board with an aggregate community base of over one billion followers.

Prepare for a New Creative Revolution

Watch this fast-expanding world of contemporary consumer-generated media intently.  Pay close attention and gain meaningful insights from what you observe. Then – and only then – engage these new culture creators in a consistent, authentic way.

Understanding this new visual influence in culture is fundamental to the future of media, marketing and PR.

We’re in the midst of a visual culture shift that will undoubtedly accelerate in 2015.

Are you ready for it?




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