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Strengthen your stories with data
Strengthen your stories with data

Why epic, data-driven storytelling works

There’s an easy way to enrich your digital content – utilising compelling statistics will help you to earn credibility with readers and make your message stick in their minds. WILLIAM COMCOWICH explains how.

When it comes to crafting your PR and marketing content, it’s true that storytelling is key. Stories help consumers to connect with you by appealing to their emotions, memories and perceptions.

Yet the other key component in effective marketing is data. Stories with relevant data help people remember your message, add credibility, improve your chances for media placements and reveal insights into consumer trends – including unexpected correlations, or counter-intuitive surprises that will illuminate fresh perspectives and delight your readers.

“Storytelling without data is fluff. Data without storytelling is forgettable. Data with storytelling is epic,” says Paul Petrone, editor in chief of the LinkedIn Learning blog.

Don't overdo it

It’s essential to apply the right combination of data and storytelling. When you’re including data in your content, it’s important not to overwhelm readers. You don’t have to include every statistic and should remember that the data itself is seldom the story.

Good writers know how to unveil and explain the implications of data, according to University of Oregon professor Damian Radcliffe. Illustrating key points with data helps bring a story alive. Decide what to emphasise and what to include. Some data-based writers recommend focusing on one or two key statistics and one key chart or graph.

Charts, graphs and other types of data visualisations present numbers in ways that viewers can quickly comprehend. The value of each type of data visualisation varies, depending on the story and the information you want to explain – line charts are best for showing trends over time; bar charts are ideal for comparison and ranking.

"Remember that these visual elements don’t have to be sophisticated or beautiful. Often simple graphics are the most effective"

Remember that these visual elements don’t have to be sophisticated or beautiful. Often simple graphics are the most effective.

If you’re lost as to how to incorporate data visualisations, consider creating a style sheet on how to present information. Content creators can weave statistics into stories, show them in bar graphs or present them in tables or more advanced graphs.

You’ll see some good examples of the different ways to do this in sport coverage; digital editions of newspapers often prefer to weave stats into stories, while sport blogging networks prefer bar graphs. Meanwhile, statistics site FiveThirtyEight favours tables and complex graphs when it covers sport as well as elections, science and economics.

Finally, always consider the data literacy of your audience. Readers shouldn’t struggle to understand what’s being shown. For complex visualisations, this may mean including captions that interpret the data.

Get to the source

When crafting data-driven stories, a common mistake is to seek information that supports an editorial position rather than form a position based on the data.

Instead, gather the data first and honestly examine what it reveals. This strategy leads to authentic stories, rather than a story that simply preaches your business values.

Writing like a high-quality data journalist can improve the legitimacy of your story. For example, link to the original research instead of a blog post that later regurgitated the report.

Reveal your sources and avoid unattributed assertions. Most importantly, check your facts! Data-based articles often receive extra scrutiny and a single error can draw criticism, undermining the entire piece.

Data that targets a specific industry or geographic region provides a local slant or a viewpoint on a niche business sector.

Unlike journalists, corporate PR and marketing representatives are not limited to public databases; organisations will have internal data that can be transformed into data-based stories.

Also, social-media analytics can provide a wealth of data and insights on almost any industry and these apps will often organise vast amounts of data for you. Use these tools as well as your CRM software and competitive intelligence data.

Bringing it all together

The most important thing is to connect the data to an issue to which the audience relates. This helps people to remember the story. The idea is that the data convinces people to change their behaviours or views.

When done well, data-driven storytelling provides a fascinating and convincing mix of data and storytelling. The key is to properly balance information with the story.

Too many numbers can overwhelm and bore readers but the right amount will keep them captivated and help your message to spread.

William Comcowich • Contributor

William Comcowich is founder and acting CEO of Glean.info by CyerAlert. Visit: glean.info


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