Using Data Visualization for Viral Content


One of the biggest mistakes content marketers make today is thinking that their content needs to be about words. That’s not correct. Instead, one of the best, most viral, most valued types of content out there isn’t about words — it’s about numbers. This is true for content ranging from marketing to journalism. In fact, the phrase “data journalism” hardly existed 10 years ago, but has become an increasingly hot topic ever since.

The reason data works so well for content marketing is because it can be something no one else has. It comes from your own business intelligence software reports, website analytics, CRM reports, sales numbers, and so on. Anyone can open a Word doc and start writing about 10 Things Every Salesperson Needs to Know About Cold Calling but it’s all conjecture. What’s there, beyond opinion, to back it up?

Data is hard core.

Data is relevant and timely. It’s endlessly quotable and shareable. How often does someone reference a general article in conversation versus an interesting statistic? Data is concrete, and people like concrete. They crave it. They talk about it.

Go ahead and reimagine that cold calling headline as the following: We Analyzed 10,000 Cold Calls and Categorized the Responses. Here’s What We Learned. I’d read that. And you would too. You’d probably even bring it up in your next sales meeting.

The point is, data rocks. But it has one crucial downfall … numbers.

I’m not a numbers person.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m just not a numbers person” or even said it yourself? Numbers are intimidating. You could have the most groundbreaking data on the planet, but if no one understands it (or they’re too scared to try), you won’t get anywhere.

People don’t share content they don’t understand. They share content to add to their personal brand, to say something about who they aspire to be, or to feel part of a community. But those things aren’t possible if you don’t understand what you’re sharing.

As much as some people seem to try, no one wants to seem ignorant on social media. People share content that they can comment on. If they like a post but are staring at their 140 character space with no clue what to type, they will quickly abandon ship.

That’s where data visualization can give some additional mileage to your content.

Now this, I understand.

The power of data is that it tells its own story. You don’t have to form a conclusion around it or interview any experts; the data is the expert. (Well, data visualization used the wrong way can also distort the facts, but that’s a different discussion. Check this post for some charting best practices). Better yet, the data showcases something about what your company does or knows. And that positions you as an authority.

The power of data visualization is that it makes that story simple to understand, engaging to look at, and interactive. Plus, that “share effect” wherein someone is likely to drop your stats at a meeting or around the water cooler is massively heightened. Studies show that three days after hearing information orally, people only remember 10 percent of what was presented. Add images and memory recall leaps to 65 percent.

A bonus of using data to create viral content is not only highly shareable but highly quotable. Remember, data carries authority. Journalists looking for content from which they can build a story or back a conclusion will use your data — linking back to you and boosting your position as an industry leader in the process.

Proof that data-driven content works.

There are many examples out there of data-driven content going viral. Here are a few from over the years:

OKCupid: OKCupid is a dating app, and a pioneer in using proprietary data to create viral content. Back in 2009, they published a series of stories based on their users’ interactions with the app. They talked about how people perceive attractiveness, how race affects online dating, and so on. They continue to publish such stats yearly. And every year, they are picked up by publishers like People, Slate, and The New York Times to name a few. By publishing their data, they became an authority on online dating culture.

Priceonomics: Priceonomics started as a web crawling service. In 2013, they used their proprietary tools to crawl apartment websites and accumulate data on what it cost to rent in San Francisco. They published a story on it, which quickly gained 30,000 Facebook shares and was picked up by major news outlets. Their yearly updates on the topic continue to soar and they’ve now built a business of content marketing.

Buzzsumo: Among other services, Buzzsumo tracks viral content. Earlier this year, they published a study of 100 million article headlines to analyze what words or phrases seem to drive engagement on various social platforms. Within one week, it was shared 10,000 times and picked up by publishers including Fast Company and Forbes.

Data makes for strong content. Data presented in a visually compelling way makes for viral content. Start by looking at the data you have access to, imagine the possibilities, and start publishing.