Sunday, 15 December 2013

Your data story

I recently participated in a trade mission with UKTI - think David Cameron in China, but instead it was Baroness Bohnan Carter in Mexcio. And as part of this GREAT Week, I gave a presentation on how to use data to tell stories. The presentation was to a room full of journalists, social scientists and programmers, who had been brought together, given a bunch of Government data and challenged to visualise it in 24hrs.

It was super exciting for many of the Mexicans in the room (and me!) because this was the first time certain Government departments were making their data freely available and it was good stuff! Data from the Mexico City bike scheme (their equivalent to Boris Bikes); stats from the Government helpline call centre; data from hospitals and air pollution levels.

Before they split into teams and got stuck-in to the data, my job was to provide some context for the day. I started by explaining that making the data available is only the first part. People need help to:

  • Understand why they should trust the data, what is the motivation behind making it public? Who owns the data? Where did it come from? How was it gathered?

  • Interpret what it means to them. How can they use it in their every day life? So we need to make it resonate, by making it relevant.

People don't connect to data, people connect to stories. You need to find the story in your data. Kantar, the company I work for, is the data investment management division of WPP and we have a staggering amount of data. When I first joined, one of my challenges was to get my head round the data we have and I struggled. And the more I learnt about the company, the more I realised it was a struggle that all the spreadsheets in the world weren't going to solve! What helped me was a simple story about how one of our clients used our data to develop their product and ultimately grow their business. And it's these stories that have been helping me ever since.

It comes back to journalism (doesn't it always with me!) 

  • What? (data)

  • Where? (context)

  • And why (why this is happening, so you can learn from it).

When I was a News Editor one of the important lessons I would have to drill into all new journalists was the problem of burying the lead; this can happen surprisingly often when you become embroiled in a story. 

Authors Chip and Dan Heath provide a framework for creating a story in their book 'made to stick' and I find it to be a useful checklist when working with data:

Simple - Data is complicated, but it is your job to make it simple and bring it to life.

Unexpected - get people to pay attention
Concrete - help people understand and remember
Credible - so they can believe and agree
Emotional - so they care
Story - because it spells success?! and because a good story will encourage people to act

So after stealing shamelessly from the Heath brothers, I felt I needed to present the Mexican audience with at least one idea of my own! So I talked them through my five-step process for telling a story from data:
  1. I spend time looking at and playing with data, creating hypothesis and seeing whether they are supported by the data. Is it different for men v women? Do older people respond differently to younger people? Is there a problem with X or Y? I've become a dab-hand at pivot tables!

  2. Pull out the key points, accept that at this stage there may be a dozen, or more, different little nuggets of information. Collate them all and worry about whittling them down to a more succinct story later.

  3. Bring the data to life by interviewing experts and asking their opinion on the most interesting data points you've pulled out. This is your opportunity to sense check the data.

  4. Use the data and these interviews to create a narrative, following the SUCCESs framework.

  5. Then take that story and tell it in a dozen different ways to get the maximum impact and traction: data visualisation, charts, snackable content, short articles, longer pieces, white papers, social media posts, video et al.

I talked again about the 'scrappy or epic' way of working that I learnt at Google. This is something I talked about in my blog post on measurement and it is just as applicable when talking about data stories. You can use data in a scrappy way to tell quick stories, or you can use epic data to tell vast game-changing stories, but if you find your data tells a rather mundane dull story (which you will find on occasion) then my advice would be to stop and do something else instead.

Recommended reading:

'Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck'

Monday, 7 October 2013

Measuring Up - Using Measurement To Make Better Business Decisions

A few weeks ago I went out for coffee with someone and the conversation turned to social media, and in particular the ROI of social media. Ah the ROI of social media, the elephant in the room. Now this particular person explained that his company had measured the ROI of social media, to see whether they could justify hiring a social media manager. They had done the maths for 2012 and calculated that they had made the princely sum of £3,000 from social media. This figure was based on how many people sent a tweet or messaged through Facebook asking about advertising and then went on and advertised. But I think we all recognise that is too simple a measurement, social media is so much more holistic than that.. and it's more important than that. This is about whether you want your business to exist in 5 years time, it's that business critical.

So how should they have been measuring social media? Well, they didn't need to measure to justify a hire, because with everyone in your company embracing the role of social ambassador, you won't need a social media manager. I have heard so many amazing examples recently of companies that do amazing things with social media, just by educating and empowering their wider teams. More on this another time.

The fact is, it is very easy to measure. You can measure everything... Well, not you personally necessarily, because you, like me, will be constrained by processes, resources and technology, but in theory one could measure everything. And the is the part in the blog post when I'm supposed to list all the various, amazing and oftentimes free ways to do that. But actually some of you will already be using these, or something better, and those of you that aren't are a really a bright bunch who can learn how to measure in minutes.

Okay, here are a few I use:

No, I don't want to talk about how to measure... 
What I really want to address is the why? And the what? of measurement.

Measurement is you map and compass
You see without measurement you don't know where you are, where you're going and where you'll end up. Measurement is our map and compass. Measurement will show us how we can best serve our clients, measurement will help us shape the future of our business and measurement helps us make better decisions.

I want to start by looking at my former employer who I never really mention, the plucky little start up: Google. Now actually my obsession with measurement started long before Google. I worked in commercial radio and the RAJAR measurement was the reason I got out of bed to read a 6am bulletin, but didn't have to get up to read one at 5am. But working at Google took my love of measurement to a whole new level. Because like everything Google does, they do measure on a different scale!

Now this story is an oldie but a goodie, and lots of people have told it in far more detail and with more aplomb that me... But here goes... back in the day Google paid search results appeared in blue text, and some bright spark noticed that results were appearing as two different shades of blue, depending on the search type. They wanted to have one consistent shade of blue, but which to choose? Now in lots of companies if you wanted to make a decision like this you'd ask the HIPPO, the highest paid person's opinion! But not at Google, at Google they conducted a 1% experiment and tested 41 different shades of blue. It turns out that there is a type of blue that people are more likely to click on and this particularly clicky blue generated millions of dollars in extra revenue. 

This is a great example of where measurement adds value. Google's business objective (before they got into driverless cars and geek specs) was to make money from advertising (it still is!) How do you do that? Clicks, clicks and more clicks, so conduct experiments to generate more clicks and prove your value.

Use this example in your own business. When working out what to measure look at your business objectives. What are the priorities for your CEO, CFO and/or board of directors? Set up a number of experiments based on those objectives/priorities. Measure those experiments and importantly, fail quickly. Be scrappy or epic, but don't do something in between. If you're going to make an album, make Thriller!

Make the biggest selling album of all time
Then use these experiments and the results as your invitation to the top table. The HiPPOs want to make informed decisions and you can help them.
  • Measurement helps us tell great stories.
  • Measurement helps us make decisions - scrappy or epic
  • Measurement makes us useful and valuable
How: use a tool, many of which are free, and ask for help.
Why: to make better decisions and get a seat at the top table
What: Align your measurement experiments to the business objectives, make it scrappy and fail fast, or make Thriller!

Do you have any example of great measurement tools I should be using? Or examples of where measurement has provided you with a really interesting insight or an invite to the top table?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Google+ - not so evil after all?

Just recently I have noticed an increasing number of friends, colleagues and former colleagues asking me about Google+. Usually with a sigh of resignation they say something like: "you'll have to show me how to use Google+" or perhaps: "I've created a Google+ page for X any tips?"

Now this increase could be down to a number of factors:
  • While I was working at Google nobody wanted to talk shop with me, but now I've left they think I'm more likely to tell them "the answer". Please note: there is no answer, not even if you Google it!
  • People are starting to wake up to Google+. They are noticing more people talking about it and more activity on it and they want in.
  • The fear of being left behind is now greater than the fear of wasting time on "another platform"/something new. 
  • People have read the blog post where Google denied killing a donkey with a street view car and they've decided Google isn't evil after all.
Whatever the reason, it has promoted me to put together a blog post (my first in an age). So when the next person asks for Google+ help, I can point them in this direction and save repeating myself.

I suppose I should add a disclaimer to say, these answers are my own thoughts (for what they are worth) and although I recently stopped working at Google, the tips and tricks below are certainly not: "the answer" because, as I've already mentioned, there isn't one.

What is Google+

Google figured out a while ago that what would make search better is social. When you search for "best place for brunch in Covent Garden" it would be great to get back some results from the cool people you know, raving about the Eggs Benedict in a cute little diner just off Long Acre. The problem was, Google didn't have access to this information, and it was not about to ask Mark Zuckerberg for help! And so they set about trying to invent a social layer for search, and Google+ is the latest iteration of that idea. It is not actually intended to be a social platform. It is intended to "socialise" the whole web.

Okay, I get why Google wants us to use Google+, but why should I?

As an individual, there are a few reasons why you might want to use Google+

  • If you already login to use Google, then Google+ will enhance your search experience, by showing you which search results your friends have recommended (+1).
  • If you have friends or colleagues who regularly use Google+ then it is a great way to keep in touch. In particular, hangouts (the free video chat facility, which allows a whole bunch of people to talk and share content) can be a great way to catch up and share.
  • If you are particularly interested in a brand/TV show or celebrity then Google+ can be a great way of keeping up to date with the latest news. Some celebrities and brands are very active and on Google+ and offer exclusive opportunities and content.
  • If you have a niche hobby and would like to meet like minded people. Google+ (obviously) has an excellent search facility, so however weird and wonderful your interests, chances are there is someone on Google+ who shares your passion.
  • If you're interested in photography. Google+ is an excellent way to share photographs and there are a large number of photography groups and galleries to interactive with.

What should my brand be doing on Google+? I'm already busy on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn et al. Why should I use Google+? I set up a page, but I don't see much interaction?

If you are using Google+ on behalf of a big brand, which (crucially) spends money on AdWords, then your AdWords account manager is a great place to start. All of the Google sales people get brownie points for supporting brands on Google+. You may be able to convince them to help filming hangouts for you, setting up pages, attracting followers etc.

Google may also provide one-to-one help if your community/brand interest them/would be of value on Google+. For example, in the UK the Google+ team have spent time helping mums groups, such as the NCT and MumsNet. 

If you can’t get direct support from Google, then their forums are the next best thing:
Google+ itself is a good way to get advice on Google+ - check out:
There are also a whole bunch of case studies that you might find useful:
If you have any comments/questions or top tips of your own, please don't hesitate to add your two-pence worth below.