From data to action
Data is great and we believe that no online publishing newsroom should be without it. But that doesn’t mean that any data will do, or that simply having the data will make the job better. Letting the data inspire your actions is where the real challenge lies. In other words, how do you get from data to action?
Actionability is the keyword here. In this blog we will discuss the steps you need to take in order to collect the right data, present it in a way that’s actually useful, get it to the right people and start taking the right actions. This will let you transform your data into actionable insights, that help you make the most of your content and support your business model in the best way possible.
We’ll discuss how to:
- Focus on the statistics that really matter
- Become the master of your data, rather that the other way around
- Get the right data to the people that actually need it
- Find valuable insights to optimise your content strategy
- Plan your actions according to the data
- Determine if your actions are successful
What data do you actually need?
The accessibility of data has people drowning in it. More data isn’t always better, because if it doesn’t tell you the right things, it will only confuse you. And the people who could benefit the most from the insights often lack the skills to interpret it. When we asked Dmitry Shishkin, digital transformation and innovation specialist well-known for his ‘user needs’ work at BBC World Service, about data-related challenges for the journalism (and any other content-creating) industry, he said: “Actionability is one of the hardest things to do. The majority of people will know what to do, just not how to do it – let alone when. Especially when it comes to making plans and executing them. Simply because that is not their job, or they are not experienced in it.”
So how do you make your data work for you? Not every company can afford to hire specialists to help with this. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do yourself. Take a moment to pause and prepare for what’s ahead, and make sure the available data shows you what you need to know.
Determine which metrics support your business model
When it comes to data, less is definitely more. The risk with large amounts of unstructured data, is that people will see what they want to see in it. If you don’t direct the numbers in a certain direction, it will be difficult to draw unambiguous conclusions. So, first define what numbers are truly important. Whether they’re pageviews, conversions or engagement and loyalty, you need to be able to track your progress.
Also take your business model into consideration.
As a company, determine how you define success. What are your mission and vision and what achievements contribute to them? Also make sure that everyone has the same definition of success, and how all the metrics you measure keep track of your progress.
Get tools that support those metrics
Not every analytics tool out there will track your chosen metrics. If you already have a tool in place, you may feel tempted to make use of what it’s showing you, rather than make it show you what you need. But remember: the data available to you should be useful and you decide if it is.
In no situation should you let the available data dictate what you should value.
Do the analytics revolve around pageviews, but are pageviews not relevant to your business model? Don’t be tempted to let those pageviews drive your actions anyway.
Making decisions based on wrong or incomplete data is worse than making them based on no data. If the tool does not match the metric, get rid of it and find a better one. This may take some time and effort, but you’ll benefit in the end!
Clean up your data and measure what matters. Assign tools that you actually need and don’t try to find a use for the tool that you already have. Also: keep an eye on the right metrics. Don’t be distracted by high numbers that don’t contribute to your goal – only celebrate when there’s really cause to.
Getting the right data to the right people
Being actionable really depends on people more than data. After all, it’s people who need to act on the data.
But different people and roles in your organisation all have different needs and goals. An editor in chief will want growth and profits, while a social media manager is all about building a follower base. Meanwhile, the data analyst is tired of having different sources of data that contradict each other, he is looking for that one data truth.
Everyone has their own optimisation challenges, so you need a system that understands and can answer to the needs of all different roles in your organisation.
Don’t assume anything, but talk to everyone within the organisation to understand what they need. Then, organise the data and make sure the right people have access to the right data. Connect the needs of the people in your organisation back to the metrics you’re measuring. Who needs to keep track of and act on what? See if you can customise dashboards and reports to fit everyone’s targets.
Plan your activities carefully and mindfully
Do you know when your audience primarily consumes your content? Is that around the same time you’re posting it? If not, you’re missing out on a lot of possible engagement. With the overload of content being produced every minute around the world, readers can only consume so many stories.
What if you shared your latest story on Facebook right when most of your readers are active there..? That would drive a lot of traffic to your website, but could also create a discussion on other channels, increasing engagement and possible viewers.
Make sure you understand your audience. Your data has a wealth of knowledge about them. Research what type of stories, channels, or topics are popular. Also investigate at which time of the week or day your readers are most active. Do your content distribution and audience activity coincide? If not, see if you can match your content strategy to your audience’s biorhythm.
Don’t fall into the trap of creating more content to catch your reader’s eye, but publish the right content at the right moment and channel.
What action needs to follow which event?
While having lots of graphs and relevant insights to look at is nice, the million dollar question is, what should you do with it? If X and Y are the case, then what’s Z? Presenting people with data will not magically make them take the right action. You need to make plans first.
So how do you get from data to insights, and from insights to action? The key is to create workflows that state what action should follow a certain event.
Challenge yourself: what actions do you take when? Are they really the right ones? Experiment, and see if you can maybe automate or even roboticise your actions. AI is not something to fear, but rather something to help out editorial rooms that are overwhelmed and tired. If you can automate certain tasks, you will have more time on your hands to work on the pieces that really resonate with your readers and make a positive difference to your performance and business model.
Get feedback that shows your progress
Finally, data is a valuable source to determine if your actions are yielding the desired results. But again, don’t simply look at the data as a whole.
Create specialised and dedicated reports that focus on the metrics that matter. This way, you also make sure that people only see what matters to them and aren’t involved in things that they don’t need to bother with. If you create one truth with these reports, everyone will be on the same page and the results are clear; not up for discussion.
The feedback should be on story performance as well as your actions. Did that social share create more traffic and engagement? You could even make an actionable summary, evaluating the last week’s actions and turning them into guidelines for the next. What were the best actions of the week?
Make sure all your data shows just one truth: measure a lot, but report less. Don’t make people dig through the numbers themselves but serve them only the insights they need for evaluation.
by Jacqueline Woudstra
Republished with kind permission of smartocto, the world’s most actionable editorial analytics system offering a bird’s-eye view on The Story Life Cycle©.