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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Spero

How to Use Data for Storytelling and Audience Engagement

Media is steadily shrinking, and reporters are under enormous pressure to generate more content, and more provocative news angles to attract more readers. With so much demand happening so quickly, it is not surprising if a reporter gets the story wrong, or doesn’t cover it at all. Even if your story does land, it’s difficult to know if the article is reaching relevant audiences and, more importantly, influencing them to take action.

A company’s story has to live beyond the ten publications most relevant to businesses. While media coverage will generate high peaks of brand awareness with the right business audiences, there must be an ongoing connection with all the audiences that matter to your business including employees, customers, partners, and the media. This can be achieved by understanding the community that surrounds your business and establishing a steady stream of content that will consistently engage those audiences between big media announcements.

The never-ending story: Optimizing your brand’s story for the internet

Earned media placement delivers high brand awareness and audience reach, but not as many opportunities to engage with audiences. Adding byline articles, podcasts or social media promotion to the mix will support the company’s story, but it doesn’t always sustain engagement.

For example, engineering positions are one of the hardest roles to fill and the highest in demand. Imagine that a potential candidate searches Google and finds a Fortune article from January 2018 about your company’s impact on society, incredible growth, and vision for the future. The engineer then finds a link to a Business Insider piece about a change in leadership at the company in September of 2018. The engineer decided to dig deeper by looking at a link from an engineering community only to learn a different story in January 2019 about frustration from product delays.

One piece of coverage doesn’t tell the entire story of your company, it’s a web of stories, some of which you own and can control. The engineer might go to your company website, only to find product marketing information on version 2.0 and a blog post from one of your engineers on the product's release linking back to the same marketing page. That’s all the potential candidate knows from looking at your story within the context of the search results. Is that the overall brand narrative you want out there about your company?

Understand your audiences’ experience with your content.

Understanding your audiences’ journey and the content, communities, and influencers they encounter along the way is incredibly valuable for creating content and engagement strategies that build brand awareness, engagement, and retention. In fact, The New York Times has an editor dedicated to understanding how readers engage with their content beyond the Times app and website to help inform their off-platform strategy. The editor spends her day analyzing the topics that are being discussed, as well as what’s not being discussed, and the stories engaging the most people.

Off-platform is where your audiences, advocates, detractors, and influencers create a culture of their own. They engage in communities that are specific to their wants and needs. For example, a better result to the engineer’s search might have been a series of blog posts on Medium from leadership sharing how the company adapted to changes in the market. That level of transparency from leadership builds trust. No time for blogging? How about quick video stories on YouTube capturing the engineer’s journey to developing the product? The video will have a greater impact on search results and the potential recruit would have some visibility into what it is like to work as an engineer at the company.

By telling an ongoing story about your brand, beyond a monthly announcement cycle, you can better control audiences' understanding of your business. The engineer looking into joining your team will have a deeper knowledge of your brand when you regularly and in small doses engage with audiences, in addition to releasing major announcements every few months.

Become a local to understand the off-platform culture of your business.

You understand your business and the story you want to tell, but do you understand the digital culture surrounding your business? Do you know the people, places, and conversations happening day in and day out about your business or industry online? Who are your advocates, detractors, and influencers? What are your shared values? How do you build trust? What communities need to know your company story?

To begin answering some of these questions a comprehensive analysis of your audiences is a great place to start. Using BuzzSumo, we analyzed the media headlines containing the names of four venture capital firms including Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock, General Catalyst, and Sequoia Capital. The search-focused company mentions from March 2018 to March 2019. The articles mentioned in the callouts list the most engaging stories for that particular day. Engagement is defined by the number of people who share, comment, like, retweet, etc. a piece of content such as a news article, press release, podcast, blog post, etc.

Andreessen (green) publishes content on their a16z site, while Greylock (orange) produces content from Grey Perspectives and the Masters of Scale podcast. In both cases, the content coming from those platforms is what is sustaining engagement in-between the traditional media (CNBC, TechCrunch) announcements.

If we drill down a bit further into what type of content is driving the most engagement for Greylock we see it is content that answers ‘What’ questions. Greylock has the highest average engagement at 30 per article while General Catalyst has an average engagement of 21 engagements per article. This is helpful for three reasons 1) we have a benchmark for engagement 2) we know what type of content inspires the most engagement 3) we see opportunities for video.

The topic analysis helps to track the trends around topics that are most relevant to venture capital firms. Here is an example comparing content about artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, robotics, and blockchain. While blockchain articles are declining, robotics and cryptocurrency headlines are increasing.

Finally, we can look at venture capital influencers based on the following, relevancy, retweet ratio, etc. Here’s a quick snapshot of the top six based on relevancy and following.

If you understand the off-platform culture, you can enter those conversations to continue building your brand narrative. Knowledge of the top influencers in your space allows you to focus your efforts on the key relationships that will help you bring your story to the audiences you want to reach. Similarly, knowing the topics most important to your audiences and the type of content your audiences prefer (“what” post, list, video, etc.) gives you more opportunities to expand your brand’s reach.

How do your audiences engage with your on-platform content?

Data from your branded platforms can provide you with information about how many people visited your website, the number of social media followers sharing your content or how frequently a viewer watched your video via your brand’s app. It can also help you understand what content is working to engage your audiences and what is not. Start by gathering, analyzing, and interpreting the data from multiple sources.

  • Audience profile — Develop a basic profile of your target audience. The profile should include demographics, sociographic, interests, influencers, and what type of content inspires engagement.

  • Company Website — Take a look at where your audience is coming from, what they are clicking on and how frequently they return. There are now tools that will provide insights into the demographics and behaviors of your site visitors.

  • Branded Social Media — You have a lot of followers, great! Who are they? What do they share most? How influential are they? What can be done to deepen your relationship with them? All of the major social networking sites have analytics to help you answer your most frequently asked questions.

  • Engagement with Your Content — What are your audiences talking about? Where? When? Why? Who from your company is qualified to engage? What do you want your relationship with them to be like? Having conversations regularly is not as easy as it sounds. It takes skill and constant practice.

Data can play a valuable role in uncovering the path your audience takes to learn about your brand story and the content, communities, and influencers they encounter along the way. Brands need to expand beyond media announcements to develop an ongoing conversation with their audiences. This can be achieved through data analysis of engagement over time, types of content succeeding, popular topics, top influences, and more. The more you understand your audience, the better you will be able to reach them. As is the case today, the data is out there, and it is up to you to harness the opportunity it presents.


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