Today, we have unprecedented data and potential for better intelligence in all things business, and content is no exception. That’s exciting. It’s also a problem.
Why is wrangling value from data harder than keeping Mogwais who eat after midnight under control? (Forgive my 80s reference.) And why is it especially tough to get insight about your content? A few reasons I hear from my clients and colleagues include
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. And, most of these reasons are symptoms of a big, underlying problem: Terrible communication of data-driven insights about your content. Without better communication, your content data will never truly become content intelligence.
So, how can you improve the communication of your data-driven insights? How can you help your team and stakeholders make sense of your data? Let’s start with what the answer is not. It’s not more cool visualizations. (See great examples of visuals gone wrong here.) Turning data into graphics, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily make the data clear. I’ve seen plenty of graphics-filled reports that collect dust on people’s shelves.
No, the answer is to use the data and insights to tell a story. Sometimes that story needs illustration, sometimes not. Why a story? That might sound touchy-feely and horrifyingly subjective. The reasons are many and, surprisingly enough, grounded in science. Among the reasons stories are influential…
(For more reasons stories are influential, see my first book “Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content.”)
Now, allow me to add a caveat for you scientists and analysts who are, very rightly, concerned with accuracy. I don’t mean figure out the story first and make the data fit later. I don’t mean make something up or make mistakes in logic such as confusing correlation with causation. I mean frame the data and insights into an accurate story.
To jump start your effort to make sense of your data, I’m sharing three types of narratives out of several I describe in my latest book, “Does Your Content Work?.“*
The most compelling data-driven stories usually involve comparison, or seeing how your data stacks up against the past, against competitors, and against your expectations (or hypotheses). Let’s walk through three examples inspired by the greatest 80s movie, Rad. (Okay, it’s the greatest 80s movie about BMX biking.)
Who doesn’t love a good coming-of-age story? From Billy Budd to Rad, we never quite tire of the tale of growing and maturing. In Rad, we see Cru Jones improve his performance on the bike track while navigating tough decisions off the track. (Hey, even Rad has layers.) By the end of the movie, Cru is a better BMX rider and a better person.
This story of progress or maturity can work for your content, too. As a simple example, one goal for my consultancy website, content-science.com, is reach—we’re interested in expanding our audience through our blog. The traffic has increased steadily each year since the site launched in 2010 and more than doubled from 2010 to 2013. We’re progressing toward our goal and improving over time.
This story is especially important for content that doesn’t directly and immediately have an impact on conversions or sales, such as resources, thought leadership, technical support, and more. For example, launching my consultancy’s blog did not make a difference overnight to our reach. The impact happened over the course of weeks, months, and even years.
In Rad, Mr. Timmer saves the day by financially backing Cru Jones at the last minute. When your approach to content rescues your organization from a crisis or helps your company seize an opportunity, focus on this story. In the process, compare your content’s effectiveness before implementing your approach to your content’s effectiveness after.
For example, content strategist Sarah Cancilla of Facebook shared how her approach to content affected user engagement at a dramatic scale. She reworked the title, descriptions, and links for an underperforming “Find Friends” module. After implementing Sarah’s content changes, Facebook experienced an unexpected surge in the rate at which people were adding friends—an increase of 6,000,000 connections per week. Content was the hero, but no one would have realized it if Facebook had not compared performance before and after Sarah’s changes.
As you explore the story that your data is revealing, you probably will discover problems or opportunities that you didn’t expect. At first, I found that stressful. But now I see it as an adventure—as the start of another great story. Every save-the-day story begins with a problem. For example, a multibrand, international hotel company once came to me after discovering that the rate of bookings for people visiting their site through mobile browsers was much lower than they expected. Together we worked out a response plan, and we turned that problem into a success story.
So, experiment with communicating data-driven insights about your content or business as stories. As you do, don’t be surprised if those insights become more memorable and actionable for your company. The benefit? Your company will make better decisions about both your content and your digital business, which ultimately leads to more success.
*Excerpted from Does Your Content Work? by Colleen Jones. Copyright © 2014. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.
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