In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Samuel argues that data journalism is an underused tool for companies and marketers. She says that while many brands have become publishers, they've failed to take advantage of the insights that their own corporate data could provide to customers.
What is data journalism, you might ask?
Samuel writes that, "This still-new form of reporting draws on the growing availability of data sets and data analysis tools to uncover and tell stories like the impact of vaccines on infectious diseases, the continuing problem of school segregation, or the differences in working hours across industries, often presenting the results through compelling visualizations or interactive applications."
One of the reasons that data journalism is attractive to readers is that it often presents new information that has been gleaned from a data set. What could be better than fresh, compelling storytelling based on new info? Samuel notes that newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times "have invested heavily in data journalism because they recognize that the world of big data offers opportunities to uncover new insights, and to tell stories in newly compelling ways."
Why is that companies and brands have failed to take advantage of data journalism? "That's an ironic oversight because today's enterprises have access to more data than ever before," writes Samuel. "All that information could be fodder for top-notch marketing; instead, it's treated like a state secret, and used almost exclusively to drive internal decision-making."
Samuel notes a few companies that have done data journalism well: OKCupid, General Electric, and Kickstarter. OKCupid's OKTrends crunches number about dating and looks at issues such as race or the affect of profile pictures on conversations.
Let's look at a few examples of what these companies are doing:
Here's a graph about racial biases on OKCupid:
Here's a graph about wake up times from Jawbone, a fitness tracker company:
Here's a graph about which projects get what kind of funding on Kickstarter:
Samuel writes, "These brands recognize what virtually every brand should be doing: opening the treasure chest of data and offering some of that wealth back to customers and the public in the form of original content."
Samuel made a list of the reasons brands should use data journalism as part of their content marketing mix:
Traffic. Infographics are just more popular than text posts.
Value. "When you're sharing fresh, accurate, relevant numbers, you are offering content that gives people real value," writes Samuel.
Authority. "Sharing, curating, and analyzing data-particularly if it hasn't been shared before-establishes your brand as the authority on a topic," writes Samuel. "If you can release a report or infographic that offers a new or definitive take on a key set of market trends or issues, you become the go-to source on that subject. That may bring earned media mentions and interview requests, but just as crucially, the report itself highlights your company's expertise"
Learning. "When you start sharing your metrics externally, you can get a whole new perspective - because seeing how other people respond to and make sense of it may give you fresh insights into numbers you think you already know inside and out," writes Samuel.
Transparency. When you share what you've learned from your data with you customers, then they know what you are doing with the data they give you. "That transparency not only builds trust, but helps to address their concern that they give up more value by sharing their information than they receive back from the companies who collect it," writes Samuel.