I am not a data scientist or an analyst. Like most people in agencies purporting to be, I am just pretending… Feeling my way in the dark; driven to continually learn about something I find fascinating.
Data scientists are not hard to come by. The kind of data science that this industry needs – the elusive multi-tasking-mathematician-statistician-hacker-storytelling unicorn… who also has personality – he or she is. And then, once you have found one of these very, very rare creatures, a possibly even greater challenge is to keep them interested, stimulated and motivated long term.
As a result, the keys to the agency data kingdom are handed to digital and social teams. Teams made up of resilient individuals who are driven by the novel, passionate about the technical and have a high tolerance for failure that comes from rapid prototyping.
These digital, contextual analysts sift through unstructured (mostly Twitter) data, neatly organized and presented by social listening tools. They come to conclusions based on what they see, influenced by bias that they are likely not aware they have. And do this (mostly) with no mathematical, statistical or computer science experience.
So what gives them the right to explore this space? The answer is rooted in storytelling.
Communications agencies have been telling stories for years. And, while most agencies are still playing catch up on programming or mathematics, it’s this storytelling ability that holds the ultimate power. It’s the piece of the puzzle that turns data into something meaningful. Psychographic information into an audience profiles, a list of publications into a media consumption habits studies, disparate Twitter data into an influencer map, peaks and troughs into a crisis trajectory.
A study by Stanford professor Chip Heath found that 63% of his sample could remember stories, while only 5% could remember a single statistic. The truth is that “people hear statistics, but they feel stories.” When data is packaged in a story it creates a bridge to the emotional and influential side of the brain. More and more, the inextricable link between data and storytelling is becoming undeniable.
The online data we have today, quite literally didn’t exist yesterday. We have moved from the offline high fenced privacy of our homes, to an Orwellian repository of everything. We live in a panopticon, and those with the logins to social listening tools are the watchmen.
The future of communication is rooted in data. And the future of data is now.