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The Power of Visual Storytelling

Posted 25.09.2018
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What shipping companies (and the rest of us) can learn from seafarers’ personal Instagram accounts.

It’s often said that the best way to make a point or raise an issue is to tell a story. Stories, when properly conveyed, have a powerful way of connecting us to our listeners, both on an intellectual and emotional level. They allow us to take complex or abstract ideas and transform them into something universally relatable – moving beyond the realm of possibility afforded by figures and statistics.

There are many ways to tell a story. As PR experts, a big part of our job is to find ways of communicating our clients’ message in a way that resonates with their target audience, often with the aim of changing their perception on a particular matter or encouraging them to take some sort of action. More traditional methods like press releases, interviews and speeches are all highly effective ways of doing this. However, in today’s busy, tech-driven world, where the average attention span is rapidly diminishing, we’re finding that one of the most compelling ways to reach an audience is through the strategic use of visual storytelling, particularly on social media channels like Instagram.

For the shipping industry, which suffers from a chronic lack of reporting in the mainstream media, visual storytelling can leap over the walls of misconception built by inexperience and unfamiliarity. It enables us to paint an authentic picture that persuades and influences, in a language that is universally understood. And how is it able to do this? Because these stories are driven by human beings, and people relate best to other people. Not objects or concepts, but a face or a name. It’s how we’re wired.

Think about your own preferred way of receiving communications. Would you rather listen to a Ted Talk, where world-class speakers use simple narrative and powerful imagery to convey a message, or read a 20-page report full of complex tables and diagrams? No matter how complex the message is, the chances are you can convey it in a way that affects your audience in a more profound way by incorporating the human element.

"It enables us to paint an authentic picture that persuades and influences, in a language that is universally understood."

So, why is it that so many companies and organisations still fall into the trap of adopting a business-as-usual approach to communicating, choosing instead to rely on data, numbers, statistics and analytics? How do we move beyond the business-as-usual, and start engaging with people in a way that is both meaningful and enduring?

Those looking for an example of how visual storytelling can inspire and educate should look no further than Instagram’s seafaring community. These ordinary people live extraordinary lives, subject to pressures we know – families, relationships, dreams and fears – and to dangers and difficulties we can only imagine - such as piracy, hazardous weather conditions, and abandonment. Yet, while those of us in the industry know this goes on, for most of the world’s population this goes past largely unseen, unconsidered and unrecorded.

"For charities and unions trying to raise awareness of their cause, making use of visual storytelling can take issues such as mental health and loneliness out of the abstract and turn them into something tangible and real."

Social networking sites are changing all of that. Photo and video-sharing platforms like Instagram provide us with an insight into these people’s lives, using visual narratives to take us on a journey of discovery and enlightenment. Seafarers can now document their lives and share it with a mass audience, breaking down stereotypes and misunderstanding, and creating awareness of life at sea. Many use their accounts to talk about their everyday lives and the problems they’ve overcome, while others use their photography skills to showcase what it looks like to work onboard a ship. For the first time in history, people are waking up to the hardships of seafaring and starting to take action.

So, what can companies and organisations learn from seafarers’ Instagram accounts?

Firstly, you should always consider using pictures of real people such as staff members or customers in your visual communications. A common trap that many companies and organisations fall into is that they use their account solely as a marketing machine to promote their own products and services. While self-promotion has its place on social networking sites, people mainly use Instagram to connect with other people. Sharing real-life stories or the stories of others can allow your audience to feel like they are getting to know an authentic person, rather than a corporate machine.

You can also use visual communications to promote company culture, showing your customers the system of values, beliefs, and behaviours that shape how real work gets done within your organisation. In today’s business world, a strong company culture is no longer a ‘nice to have’. It’s a business imperative.

For charities and unions trying to raise awareness of their cause, making use of visual storytelling can take issues such as mental health and loneliness out of the abstract and turn them into something tangible and real. Relatively speaking, very few people know what it’s like to work on a ship and be away from your family and loved ones for months on end, however most of us can empathise with the feeling of being lonely and isolated.

So, whether you’re a start-up tech company trying to move a new idea, or a charity trying to encourage more people to donate, recognising the importance of human connections through visual storytelling is vital to your customer relations. Simply put, people go to, and come back to, those they know, like and trust.

Three seafarer Instagram accounts to follow now:

1. @lifeofaseafarer


Name: Wakinyila Running
Position: Third Officer
What we like: Beautifully-crafted photo captions, which provide insight into a series of topics such as seafarer fatigue and what it’s like to work on a tanker vs a container ship.

2. @jeffrey.hk


Name: Jeffrey
Position: Navigator
What we like: Panoramic shots of vessels, Jeffrey’s “Oh crap! Automated ship is coming I am losing my job” face (June 1)

3. @like_a_free


Name: Dmitry Osadchy
Position: Chief Officer
What we like: One word – drones!

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