Blog post,  Communications professional,  Digital communication,  Evaluation

Can comms and data live in harmony?

How many times have you heard someone say jokingly, “don’t let her (or him) near a calculator, they’re in comms!” Or you have said, “I don’t do numbers, I do words”. As communications professionals, we don’t often align ourselves to numbers but in the era of open data and online analytics, it is time we did!

In the olden days – aka 10 years ago – communications professionals produced great communications products using instinct and experience. Fast-forward to 2018, and we are working in the era of data, it is everywhere and can tell us anything. It’s time for communication experts to take that professional gut-feel and expand it with the huge amount of data that is now available to them.

Data is such amazing ammunition for a comms person. It provides a great story to tell. It is proof our approach worked. It gives us evidence about our audience preferences. It is a wealth of information that we can use every day. While many of us may be scared of percentages, fractions, pie charts and pivot tables, data is our friend and we need to learn to love it.

There are three key areas where we can work with data:

1.Find out about out more about our audiences

Traditionally, if you wanted to know what your audience was thinking you needed to undertake formal market research. But we have come a long way in recent years and a lot of this data is now at our fingertips. I am not suggesting there isn’t a place for formal market research, if you have the money for it – do it!

But if you don’t, or you just want to supplement what you have, don’t be afraid to try google analytics, social media native analytics or running your own micro survey through any of the free survey tools available online. You can find out what content is working for your audience, what they are searching for, which channels they prefer and how they are getting there, what media they like…. The list is endless.

A lot of people are afraid to use these tools, “I don’t know how”, “I don’t understand what it means” … google it my friends! There are heaps of YouTube videos, blogs and other tutorials that talk you through the basics step-by-step. A lot of online tools have support areas as well. Give it ago, what is the worst that could happen!

2.Tell stories with data

There is nothing more effective in communications than using data to support your narrative, or having data that becomes your narrative! There are few organisations now that don’t produce some type of data. This information presented in the right way can create a compelling story. Not only does it build your evidence but it also creates legitimacy.

It’s important to call out that not only should you be telling these stories in words but also visually. Data visualisation seems like just another new trend but asimply it is showing complex data in an interesting way. This is a great way to allow everyone to engage with your data and as an added bonus, newspapers love a good, well-presented graph.

There are heaps of free tools out there where you can try this yourself if you don’t have an in-house graphic designer – have a play with Canva, Piktochat or Venngage. These tools are also great for quick social media posts!

3.Show outcomes with data.

One of the most important things data can do for us as communications professionals is to prove that what we did was effective. Measurement is critical to being able to prove the value of what we do, and we now have access to measure a lot of what we do in real time.

Data can also help inform what you do next. For example, did a certain news article create a spike in social media engagement? Or did social media engagement spark more news coverage? How does the news cycle impact website traffic?

But don’t hold on to these insights for yourself, share them around the organisation. Not only will it help others in their roles but make you look more professional along the way.

Someone once said to me I don’t feel like a real comms person because I love numbers too much. Lies! That makes you a great comms person. Ultimately, we are problem solvers and a lot of our answers lie in the data. Data-driven communication doesn’t replace creativity or instinct, it makes you better! It provides justification for those things that you just know, proves you were right and tells a better story along the way. So, don’t be scared – give it a go.


Need to get some data research underway? Not sure where to start. I believe that great communications is underpinned by great research. Contact Elm Communications today.

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