4 Key Lessons Content Marketers Can Take From Data Journalists

There’s an oft-cited statistic on the planet of expertise professionals, from entrepreneurs to startup founders to knowledge scientists: 90% of the world’s knowledge has been created within the final two years.

This instantly-Tweetable snippet was referenced in Forbes in 2018, talked about by MediaPost in 2016, and coated on Science Daily in 2013. An informal observer may very well be forgiven for asking: How may that be true in three completely different years?

At Fractl, the info makes good sense to us: The international quantity of digital data is rising exponentially over time.

From Seagate

This signifies that the “90 percent of all data…” statistic was true in 2013, 2016, and 2018, and it’ll proceed to be true for the foreseeable future. As our tradition continues to grow to be extra internet-integrated and cellular, we proceed to supply huge quantities of information yr over yr whereas additionally changing into extra snug with understanding massive portions of data.

This is massively necessary to anybody who creates content material on the internet: Stats about how a lot knowledge we create are nice, however the tales buried in that knowledge are what actually matter. In the opening manifesto for FiveThirtyEight, one of many first websites on the internet particularly dedicated to knowledge journalism, Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver wrote:

“Almost everything from our sporting events to our love lives now leaves behind a data trail.” 

This kind of information has all the time been of curiosity to entrepreneurs doing client analysis, however the rise of information journalism reveals us that there’s each client demand and virtually infinite potential for excellent storytelling rooted in numbers.

In this put up, I’ll spotlight 4 key insights from knowledge science and journalism and the way content material entrepreneurs can leverage them to create actually newsworthy content material that stands out from the pack:

  • The numbers drive the narrative
  • Plotted factors are extra reliable than written phrases (particularly by manufacturers!)
  • Great knowledge content material is each lovely and easy-to-interpret
  • Every firm has a (knowledge) story to inform

 By the time you are carried out, you may have gleaned a greater understanding of how knowledge visualization, from easy charts to advanced interactive graphics, may help them inform a narrative and obtain extensive visibility for his or her shoppers.

The numbers drive the narrative

Try Googling “infographics are dead,” and your high hit can be a 2015 assume piece asserting that the medium has been lifeless for years, adopted by many responses that the medium isn’t wherever near “dead.” These extra optimistic articles are likely to deal with the important thing elements of infographics which have remodeled since their recognition initially grew:

  • Data visualization (and the general public’s urge for food for it) is evolving, and
  • A nasty knowledge viz in an oversaturated market gained’t lower it with overloaded shoppers.

For content material entrepreneurs, the appearance of infographics was a dream come true: Anyone with even fundamental expertise in Excel and a superb graphic designer may whip up some charts, beautify them, and use them to share tales. But Infographics 1.zero rapidly fizzled as a result of they didn’t ship something attention-grabbing — they had been simply a distinct technique to share the identical boring tales.

Data journalists do one thing very completely different. Take the groundbreaking work from Reuters on the Rohingya Muslim refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, which was awarded the Global Editors Network Award for Best Data Visualization in 2018. This piece begins with a narrative—an unlimited refugee disaster going down distant from the West—and makes use of interactive maps, stacked bar charts, and easy statistics visualizations to contextualize and amplify a heartbreaking narrative.

The Reuters piece isn’t solely efficient due to its modern knowledge viz methods; slightly, the piece begins with an especially newsworthy human story and makes use of numbers to verify it’s informed in essentially the most emotionally resonant means attainable. Content entrepreneurs, who’re completely inundated with recommendation on how storytelling is important to their work, must see knowledge journalism as a technique to drive their narratives ahead, slightly than considering of information visualization merely as a technique to pique curiosity or improve credibility.

Plotted factors are extra reliable than written phrases

This is particularly true in relation to manufacturers.

In the period of #FauxNews, content material entrepreneurs are struggling greater than ever to verify their content material is seen as exact, newsworthy, and reliable. The job of a content material marketer is to supply work for a model that may exit and fairly compete for visibility in opposition to nonprofits, assume tanks, universities, and mainstream media retailers concurrently. While some manufacturers are fairly trusted by Americans, content material entrepreneurs might discover themselves working with lesser-known shoppers searching for to construct up each consciousness and belief by means of nice content material.

One of the perfect methods to do each is to observe the lead of information journalists by letting visible knowledge content material convey your story for you.

“Numbers don’t lie” vs. model trustworthiness

In the buildup to the 2012 election, Nate Silver’s earlier iteration of FiveThirtyEight drew each huge visitors to the New York Times and criticism from conventional political pundits, who argued that no “computer” may probably predict election outcomes higher than conventional journalists who had labored in politics for many years (an argument pretty just like the one confronted by the protagonists in Moneyball). In the top, Silver’s “computer” (really a complicated mannequin that FiveThirtyEight explains in nice depth and open-sources) predicted each state appropriately in 2012.

Silver and his group made the mannequin broadly accessible to indicate off simply how non-partisan it actually was. It ingested an enormous quantity of historic election knowledge, used chances and weights to determine which data was most necessary, and spit out a prediction as to what the most definitely outcomes had been. By exhibiting the way it all labored, Silver and FiveThirtyEight went a good distance towards bettering the general public confidence in knowledge—and, by extension, knowledge journalism.

But using knowledge to extend trustworthiness is nothing new. A much less cynical take is just that persons are extra more likely to consider and endorse issues after they’re spelled out visually. We know, famously, that customers solely examine 20-28 p.c of the content material on the web page, and it’s additionally recognized that together with pictures vastly will increase likes and retweets on Twitter.

So, within the period of limitless scorching takes and the “everyone’s-a-journalist-now” mentality, content material entrepreneurs seeking to set up model authority, credibility, and belief can study an unlimited quantity from the confirmed success of information journalists — simply persist with the numbers.

Find the nexus of straightforward and delightful

Our group at Fractl has a difficult activity on our fingers: We root our content material in knowledge journalism with the final word objective of making nice tales that obtain extensive visibility. But completely different stakeholders on our group (to not point out our shoppers) usually wish to obtain these ends by barely completely different means.

Our creatives—those working with knowledge—might wish to construct one thing enormously advanced that crams as a lot knowledge as attainable into the smallest house they’ll. Our media relations group—consultants in figuring out the nuances of the press and what’s going to or gained’t attraction to journalists—might want one thing that communicates knowledge merely and fantastically and could be summed up in a single or two sentences, just like the transcendent work of Mona Chalabi for the Guardian. A consumer, too, will usually have particular expectations for a way a bit ought to look and what ought to be included, and these components have to be thought-about as nicely.

Striking the stability

With so some ways to current any given set of numbers, we at Fractl have discovered success by making knowledge visualizations as advanced as they have to be whereas all the time aiming for the nexus of straightforward and delightful. In different phrases: Take uncooked numbers that can be attention-grabbing to individuals, consider a centered technique to clearly visualize them, after which create designs that match the general sentiment of the piece.

On a marketing campaign for Porch.com, we requested 1,000 Americans a number of questions on meals, specializing in issues that had been mild and humorous dialog starters. For instance, “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” and “What do you put on a hot dog?” As a local Chicagoan who believes there is just one technique to make a scorching canine, that is precisely the kind of debate that will make me take discover and share the content material with mates on social media.

In response to these two questions, we received numbers that seemed like this:

Using Tableau Public, an open-source knowledge reporting answer that is without doubt one of the go-to instruments for speedy constructing at Fractl, the tables above had been remodeled into tough cuts of a closing visualization:

With the constructing blocks in place, we then gave in depth notes to our design group on tips on how to make one thing that’s simply as easy however a lot, rather more enticing. Given the enjoyable nature of this marketing campaign, a extra lighthearted design made sense, and our graphics group delivered. The total marketing campaign is price trying out for the undertaking supervisor’s modern and knowledgeable means to make use of easy numbers in a means that’s lovely, easy-to-approach, and immediately compelling.

All three of the visualizations above are reporting the very same knowledge, however solely one in every of them is immediately shareable and retains a story in thoughts: by creatively exhibiting the meals objects themselves, our group turned the straightforward desk of percentages within the first determine right into a visualization that may very well be shared on social media or utilized by a journalist overlaying the story.

In different instances, akin to if the subject is extra severe, easy visualizations can be utilized to devastating impact. In work for a model within the habit and restoration house, we did an intensive evaluation of open knowledge hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The dramatic improve in drug overdose deaths within the United States is an emotional story fraught with highly effective statistics. In creating a bit on the rise in mortality fee, we wished to verify we preserved the gravity of the subject and allowed the numbers to talk for themselves:

A key a part of this visualization was including one extra layer of complexity—age brackets—to inform a extra contextualized and human story. Rather than merely presenting a single statistic, our group selected to spotlight the truth that the rise in overdose deaths is one thing affecting Americans throughout the complete lifespan, and the impact of plotting six completely different traces on a single chart makes the visible level that habit is getting worse for all Americans.

Every model’s knowledge has a narrative to inform

Spotify has greater than 200 million international customers, almost half of whom pay a month-to-month payment to make use of the service (the opposite half generate income by listening to intermittent advertisements). As a corporation, Spotify has knowledge on how a sizeable portion of the world listens to its music and the precise traits of that music.

Data like that is what makes Spotify such a invaluable model from a and cents standpoint, however a group of information journalists at The New York Times additionally noticed an unimaginable story about how American music style has modified within the final 30 years buried in Spotify’s knowledge. The ensuing piece, Why Songs of Summer Sound the Same, is a landmark work of data-driven, interactive journalism, and one that ought to set a content material marketer’s head spinning with concepts.

Of course, companies will all the time be protecting of their knowledge, whether or not it’s Netflix famously not releasing its rankings, Apple deciding to cease its reporting of unit gross sales, or Stanford University halting its reporting of admissions knowledge. Add to the equation a public that’s more and more cautious of information privateness and susceptibility to main knowledge breaches, and shoppers are sometimes justifiably nervous to share knowledge for the aim of content material manufacturing.

Deciding when to share

That mentioned, a agency’s knowledge usually is central to its story, and when correctly anonymized and cleared of non-public figuring out data, or PII, the newsworthiness of a model reporting insights from its personal inside numbers could be huge. 

For instance, GoodRx, a platform that studies pricing knowledge from greater than 70,000 U.S. pharmacies, launched a white paper and weblog put up that in contrast its inside knowledge on prescription fills with US Census knowledge on revenue and poverty. While census knowledge is free, solely GoodRx had the actual dataset on pharmacy fills—it’s their very own proprietary knowledge set. Data like that is clearly key to their general valuation, however the best way by which it was reported right here informed a deeply attention-grabbing story about revenue and entry to medicine with out freely giving something that might probably price the agency. The report was picked up by the New York Times, undoubtedly boosting GoodRx’s rankings for natural search.

The Times’ items on Spotify and GoodRx each spotlight the fourth key perception on the efficient use of information as content material entrepreneurs: Every model’s knowledge has a narrative to inform. These items may solely have come from their actual sources as a result of solely that they had entry to the info, making the actual findings singular and distinctive to that particular model and presenting a key aggressive benefit within the content material panorama. While working with inside knowledge comes with its personal potential pitfalls and challenges, searching for to collaborate with a consumer to pick significant inside knowledge and directing its subsequent use for content material and narrative ought to be on the forefront of a content material marketer’s thoughts.

Blurring traces and breaking boundaries

An enchanting piece lately on Recode sought to barely reframe the high-publicity challenges going through journalists, stating:

“The plight of journalists might not be that bad if you’re willing to consider a broader view of ‘journalism.’” 

The piece detailed that whereas job postings for journalists are off greater than 10 p.c since 2004, jobs broadly associated to “content” have almost quadrupled over the identical time interval. Creatives will all the time flock to the choices that enable them to make what they love, and with natural search largely considered as a meritocracy of content material, the alternatives for manufacturers and content material entrepreneurs to make the most of the info journalism toolkit have by no means been larger.

What’s extra, a lot of the perfect knowledge journalism on the market usually solely makes use of a handful of visualizations to get its level throughout. It was additionally reported lately that the median quantity of information sources for items created by the New York Times and The Washington Post was two. It too is price noting that greater than 60 p.c of information journalism tales in each the Times and Post throughout a current time interval (January-June, 2017) relied solely on authorities knowledge.

Ultimately, the convenience of working massive surveys through a platform like Prolific Research, Qualtrics, or Amazon Mechanical Turk, coupled with the ever-increasing variety of free and open knowledge units offered by each the US Government or websites like Kaggle or knowledge.world signifies that there isn’t a scarcity of numbers on the market for content material entrepreneurs to dig into and use to drive storytelling. The trick is in utilizing the fitting mix of onerous knowledge and extra ethereal emotional attraction to create a story that’s actually compelling.

Wrapping up

As manufacturers more and more put money into content material as a way to propel natural search and educate the general public, content material entrepreneurs ought to critically take into account placing these key components of information journalism into observe. In a world of limitless spin and the rising significance of exhibiting your work, it’s greatest to recollect the well-known quote written by longtime Guardian editor C.P. Scott in 1921: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”

What do you assume? How do you and your group leverage knowledge journalism in your content material advertising efforts?

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