TechMunch: Gather round the fire kids – Big Data is going to tell a story

It’s ‘the new oil’; It’s ‘power’; It’s ‘beautiful’; It’s ‘the new currency.’

It’s data. With companies that trade in data comprising 4 of the top 5 on Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2018 ranking, it’s easy to see why it’s considered such a valuable business commodity.

Humanity has created more data in the past two years than in the past 200. We have a treasure trove (or a scrap heap – depending on your perspective) of data stored on millions of servers around the world. Data records our every move through CCTV and our smart devices, runs our global supply chains and powers our cities and industries. The scope of its reach and impact is almost impossible to quantify. Which is part of the problem.

Businesses are now pouring billions of pounds into software analytic tools that can squeeze insights out of data. The job of data scientist, the people who analyse and interpret complex numerical sets, is one of today’s fastest growing professions.

Everyone is looking for ways to extract value from data and the communications profession is no exception.

Comms professionals love data. We use it to support our clients’ claims, give a sense of magnitude, and help us identify trends. Even better, if we see an opportunity for our clients to tell an original story using their own or existing data, it can give us a great opportunity to grab the media’s attention.

So, with access to all the data you could ever want, where do you start with writing a great data story?

Here are three key pointers:

Start with the headline you want to write

All compelling data driven stories start with a good question. Before you go in search of data to make or validate your point, know your audience, the story you’re trying to tell and the results you’re hoping to achieve.  Once you know the impact you want to make, you can ask questions that will give measurable results.

Don’t torture the data

Now, forget point 1. You may know what you want the data to say. But don’t jump to conclusions. Ever heard the expression ‘if you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything’? Don’t be that person.

You may have a great story in mind but if the data doesn’t support it – rethink the approach. The data may be telling you a richer and more interesting story. If you try to obscure it, you’ll end up alienating the audience. Instead explore why the data isn’t telling the story you want it to tell and turn that into your story.

Make connections

Sometimes it’s the results we don’t expect or understand that lead to the best stories. Question your assumptions and ask dumb questions. Don’t accept the data as the destination. Ask why you’re getting the results you’re getting. Then try to find additional data that backs up or that even challenges your results. Celebrated author and speaker, Malcolm Gladwell has made a career from connecting seemingly unrelated data to tell great stories.

Data is only as good as the story it tells and it takes a great storyteller to turn numbers into prose, to make data sing, change opinions and influence behaviours. If you’re interested in the power of data to persuade, entertain and illuminate, you may want to start with a storyteller rather than a scientist.

Tracey Nugent, Technology