How to use data journalism in your content marketing

Michelle Hill at Vertical Leap provides five tips for using data journalism in content marketing.

Content marketing is saturated: 60% of marketers publish at least one new post per day. Between 2011 and 2016, the average number of posts published per month per company increased by 800%. But the average number of social shares per post dropped by 89% and the overall engagement seems to be on decline. The reason?

With the increased availability of information, readers no longer have enough time (or willingness) to go through every other post heading their direction. And here's another truth: they lack the motive to do so as a lot of brands create and distribute content covering the same set of topics.

The baseline principle of content marketing is to create less content that drives more behaviour change in target audiences. To achieve that, you need to publish compelling, valuable and different content. Data journalism is an excellent means of giving your content that unique tilt.

What is data journalism?

Every business hoards data – from customer spending/browsing patterns recorded in the CRM to a handwritten list of amusing customer support queries, exchanged by your customer services team.

These tit-bits can be used to create unique stories. Brands already rely on data storytelling to create better marketing pitches. Data journalism, however, shifts the emphasis on reportage, not sales. Your aim here is to uncover new data and package those insights as ‘breaking news’ – something readers cannot read elsewhere. Another benefit? Your exclusive findings can get picked up by traditional media, generating an organic PR buzz around your brand. Want to start creating stories like a data journalist? Follow the steps below.

1. Determine your angle

Initially, you may feel that no idea in your niche comes without an extensive trail of coverage. But your storyline shouldn't be extraordinary per se. Your goal is to find the right angle for presenting the subject everyone’s discussing. There are a few ways to find a good story angle for your brand:

Seasonal/pop-culture/industry trends. Spotify examined when Christmas mood seriously starts to kick in around the world. The company summarised their findings in a quick infographic, showing that in the UK, users’ feeds include at least 2% of Christmas tunes after 15th November and Estonians start getting festive as early as 26th October.

Tackle information asymmetry.Information asymmetry refers to an inability to take in and process all the incoming information at the speed and volume that it comes to us. You can do all the cognitive heavy lifting for your audience and present them with a huge bulk of data in a clear, succinct, yet deep manner. Data visualisations can help you accomplish that even better. Take a look at how Lucidworks presents the complex notion of ‘dark data’ in an interactive and easy-to-understand manner:

Individual context.Explain how your findings relate or impact an individual (i.e. your customer). The BBC often runs these types of stories, for instance, helping users figure out how proposed budget changes will affect them on a personal level.

Let the available public or proprietary data inspire you. Airbnb has an up-to-date map, visualising various curiosities about their users’ travelling habits. Whirlpool reports on their progress with the Care Counts initiative – a social programme aimed at increasing students’ attendance rates by supplying them with clean clothes. Every company has unique data to resurface and present to the world. You just need to start looking for it in the right places.

2. Find or prepare your data

Scout the web for trending insights. The good places to start are The ONS, Amazon Public Data Sets and Google Trends. If you want to use proprietary data, schedule data cleansing and launch the data consolidation process to prepare your data for analysis.

3. Shape your story

Every good story has a coherent structure. It can either be chronological i.e. reporting the story as it folds through time; or narrative or process-based i.e. revolving around specific issues and arguments. Data journalism isn’t just lining up a bunch of stats. It’s about telling a narrative with the help of numbers and hard facts in an engaging and persuasive manner.

Consider creating a group of assets based on your data. You can publish a series of blog posts, sharing one insight at a time or even create a dedicated multimedia portal for your project, outside the corporate blog. Consider using different mediums for communicating your findings – videos, data visualisations, quick social media snippets – to gain the most traction cross-platform.

4. Publish and promote

Viral stories are orchestrated. Before hitting publish, reach out to journalists covering your niche, and offer them an exclusive sneak-peek at your findings. Continue your outreach post-publication and give your story an extra oomph with social media marketing. If you plan to make data journalism an integral part of your content marketing strategy, consider applying to Google News Publisher Centre. Once your website is accepted, it will show up in Google’s AMP carousel and make your stories more visible in search results.

Journalists have been playing with data for years now. It's a high time for brands to catch up and start publishing original research and reporting stories that no one else can tell. Use your data to differentiate yourself from your competitors and increase engagement around your brand.

Michelle Hill is marketing manager at Vertical Leap

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