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Why Data Journalism Is the Secret to Engagement

Authors: Ashley Carlisle Ashley Carlisle
Posted Under: Content Marketing
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Image via Unsplash

Data is everywhere, and nowadays, it is readily available and easily accessible for marketers to utilize in their content strategy. While many refer to a data-driven content strategy when looking at ways to better understand their audience and leverage influencers, a data-driven approach can also mean creating content based in data journalism.

As the efficacy of outbound marketing and traditional advertising continue to decline (even as their costs remain high), brands are turning to inbound tactics like content marketing as they evolve from advertisers to branded publishers. Data journalism is one of the newer trends among content marketers, which utilizes data analysis to extract compelling stories, often through easy-to-digest visuals like infographics and videos.

Since ideation can be one of the most challenging and intimidating aspects of content marketing, a data-driven, journalistic approach offers a fresh source of inspiration. Helping to satiate the internet’s nearly insatiable curiosity, this research-based approach in content creation establishes authority through thought leadership for brands.

Data journalism can fit into any content strategy in any vertical. My team at Fractl utilizes this data-driven approach in nearly every client content marketing campaign we produce. In order to avoid comparing apples to oranges when it came to campaign performance metrics across different industries, we set out to delineate vertical benchmarks by sifting through nearly 350 of our own client campaigns across various industries in a recent study. Besides finding the average media placement and social share count rate for each vertical, we also were able to further pinpoint which verticals saw the most success with various data sources and strategies.


Two Approaches for Content Engagement Across 15 Verticals

Establishing your brand as an industry leader through authoritative content is becoming increasingly important as brands make that switch from advertisers to publishers. Generating high levels of engagement and a loyal following is important regardless of your vertical, but we found two approaches to vertical content strategy exist, depending on campaign goals.

Tangential Strategy and Traditional Virality

Tangential relevance to your brand (but still specific relevance to the brand’s vertical) helps with content creation in terms of diversity and frequency. For this approach, consider the details defining the brand and its target audience, then brainstorm topics and ideas that broadly or horizontally relate back to the brand’s vertical. When searching for the mass appeal that generates a lot of engagement from general audiences, this tangential approach in content strategy is a great option to consider—especially when working with a vertical that doesn’t typically see viral-level engagement.

Ideally, creating broadly relevant content that appeals to a socially-engaged audience’s motivations for sharing will help generate those social shares and media mentions. Take, for example, a UK brand in the online pharmacy and healthcare market. With the goal of creating a viral hit, our creative team thought of a highly relatable, highly emotional topic that tied back to the services offered by the brand: body image and eating disorders. By illustrating the “ideal” women in 18 countries around the world, unique visuals grabbed the attention of a broad audience, generating 3.5 million views from a single media placement—plus 900,000 social shares from over 600 other media stories.

Niche Strategy and Perceived Virality

As more and more content floods the internet, it becomes more challenging to get noticed in a sea of mediocrity. Your brand is forced to compete with not only direct competitors but quite literally everyone. A more targeted approach through a niche content strategy allows even the smallest brands to earn exposure through perceived virality, leading to stronger word-of-mouth marketing, growing brand awareness, less competition, and most importantly, more qualified leads.

Creating and promoting content that connects with a specific, niche audience within your brand’s vertical involves researching audience personas, including where they seek out information, what publishers they read, and what motivates them to engage with content. Our B2B client Alexa’s campaign performance is a prime example of how creating niche content fellow marketers found valuable led to engagement far above the Business & Finance vertical benchmark. While their content calendar wouldn’t appeal to someone outside of the industry, it helps brands and marketers take their PR outreach to the next level—and earned Alexa over 150 media mentions in authoritative industry publications.

Insights on Data Sources for Different Verticals

Data journalism is the core of each campaign we analyzed, all utilizing various research methods and sources to help create content geared towards the brand’s specific vertical and target audience. Sourcing the data can be broken down into two methods: data curation and original research. But what method is best for your vertical? Here are some insights we’ve learned along the way.

Data Curation

To avoid bias and establish authority, curating hard data from reputable sources (i.e., open source government databases) or scraping social media networks for specific information allows content marketers to utilize existing data but add value by simplifying the information and pulling key findings. Similar to curation for content like blog or social posts, it’s crucial that campaign data curation includes creating new content. Otherwise, it just becomes noise.

With higher-than-average media mentions and social shares, Drugs & Alcohol; Politics, Crime, & Safety; Automotive; and Education verticals successfully utilized data curation more than the other eleven verticals. Here are a couple of our creative team’s go-to sources paired with examples of client campaigns demonstrating each source’s potential for success.

  • Government Data: One vertical that utilizes official government data sources well is Drugs & Alcohol, as it improves the promotional viability of the campaign. Specifically, publishers covering these topics need authoritative and verifiable sources to protect their own credibility. For example, a campaign examining the drug use in America versus Europe gathered data from several reputable international government sources including SAMHSA and EMCDDA. The authoritative “.gov” data sources mixed with the international scope of this campaign led to a huge amount of national and international press coverage—over 550 media mentions, to be exact.
  • Social Media: On the other end of the spectrum, scraping social media networks for data is another source geared towards entertainment. It’s worth noting that campaigns for 10 out of 14 verticals specifically using curated social media data saw higher-than-vertical-average media placements. Most notably, more than half of the top performing campaigns falling under the Automotive vertical curated data from the social networks. A scrape of four years worth of Instagram posts with hashtags of various car brands revealed the most-selfied cars on the internet. By appealing to a very broad audience and curating data from a widely used platform, this campaign earned over 150 media mentions plus nearly 9,000 social shares.


Original Data

A second method requires additional resources by creating content based on original data, usually taken from proprietary brand internal data or from primary research. The latter allows for a lot of creativity; research methods range from surveys to surface swabs, leading to a plethora of new data for a campaign.

Business & Finance; Fashion; Home & Garden; Travel; and Technology verticals saw success with original data more than the other verticals with higher-than-average levels of engagement. Here are two examples of our creative team’s favorites research methods for acquiring this original data:

  • Field Research: Some of the best data requires a field trip to find it. Going out into the field to collect data ranging from video footage to bacteria swabs offers a proprietary edge, especially when it comes to media promotions. For example, to demonstrate the severity of distracted drivers on one of the country’s busiest highways, 20 minutes of original footage was broken down into stills to pinpoint the number of distracted drivers. This time-consuming analysis paid off by earning nearly 200 media mentions. In another example, collecting and comparing surface swabs of bacteria in different hotel classes to reveal the truth about hotel hygiene led to some interesting discoveries that made headlines across the internet with close to 700 media mentions.
  • Surveys and interviews offer insights not only for brands looking to better understand their consumers, but also for curious internet browsers. Nowadays, running a massive survey with participants fitting specific requirements (demographic, geographic, etc.) has never been easier with tools like SurveyMonkey and MTurk. For example, by surveying smartphone users performing a list of specific commands, then ranking the three most popular smartphone assistants on accuracy and satisfaction, Comparing Cortana earned over 340 media mentions thanks to the tech pride and brand loyalty of smartphone users.

A data-driven, research-based approach requires content strategists to do their due diligence to correctly source and analyze the data. Presenting key findings from huge data sets must be done without an agenda to avoid bias. Transparency in the methodology while scrutinizing fact-checking are crucial aspects of ethical journalism.

Whether it’s through a tangential or niche vertical strategy, content should ultimately provide value to an audience through education or entertainment to break through the noise. Data journalism is quickly gaining popularity, becoming an invaluable resource to content marketers in every vertical, thanks in part to its ability to educate and entertain.

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