How to Turn Data into (Authoritative) Content

Kylie Moore

By Kylie Moore

At Digital Third Coast, we love original research. By incorporating original research into the content we create, we establish our clients as industry leaders while garnering media attention and brand recognition. It’s an effective digital PR and marketing strategy when you’re looking to secure media coverage.

All of our pieces of content are rooted in data.

Whether we’re analyzing search trends, poring through databases, or conducting surveys, we use data to tell a story. By doing so, we create a strong, clear, trustworthy narrative for our clients that also works for journalists.

To reap the benefits of data, you have to know how to use it and where the best sources of data exist. In this post, we’ll break down the best ways to find data sources, use them to build data-driven narratives, and then leverage those research based content campaigns to earn media placements.

What is Data?

But first, what exactly, is data?

As defined by Merriam-Webster, data is  “factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.” Simply put, data is a collection of facts and statistics easily used for reference or analysis. 

Many think that data is limited to stereotypes that we see in the movies: things like experiments in high-tech labs by maybe-mad scientists (akin to Tony Stark or Bruce Banner) or a shower of green numbers in a simulated reality (as seen in The Matrix). 

Think again, and think a lot closer to home: For example, what did you eat for breakfast? Something as mundane as nutritional information of your morning yogurt or daily food consumption could be used as data.

The truth is that data is everywhere. In fact, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day, according to IBM – and more data cross the internet every second than were stored in the entire internet just twenty years ago. 

It’s not limited to graphs, charts, or computer simulations, either. Instead, data can take the form of maps, surveys, social media scrapes, and search trend analyses, just to name a few. The chances are high that you’ve seen data today and haven’t realized it.

Where to Find Data

With this much out there – and so much more to come – using data to tell a story can seem overwhelming and, frankly, intimidating.

But when the sky is the limit, you need to start at the source.

There are two types of data: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative data describes (e.g. “the dog is brown”) while quantitative data focuses on numbers (e.g. “9 in 10 dentists recommend this toothpaste”).

In order to turn data into content (as part of your content marketing strategy), we focus on quantitative data. Finding quantitative datasets that tell stories isn’t hard. You just have to know where to look, and how to use it to your advantage.

If you’ve never combined data and content before, start simple. To get a feel for navigating datasets, we at Digital Third Coast recommend easily accessible tools such as Google Trends, Google Analytics (for B2B marketers), Data.gov, U.S. Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Pew Research Center is another great, free data resource, with research and analyses released annually and on a rolling basis on every topic imaginable, from U.S. politics to religion. We’ve used the Center’s data to shape and enhance our ideas.

Another great source of data is your own research. Conducting a consumer survey not only creates useful data, but also proprietary data that is unique to you and you alone. There’s no limit to survey topics, either – we’ve surveyed Americans on everything from Christmas shopping to how safe they feel in an Airbnb.

How to Use Data for Storytelling

Now that you have your data, it’s time to figure out how it relates to the story that you’re looking to tell. Whatever story that is, it should be newsworthy – timely with a human interest angle that makes an impact on readers. 

Let’s take a deeper look at how to do exactly that…

How to turn “hard” data into content

When we say hard data, we mean data that comes from vetted, third-party sources and exists on the internet in its raw, unadulterated form.

Typically, the data stems from existing databases, such as the ones mentioned above (e.g. Data.gov, U.S. Census Bureau). Hard data can also be found in scholarly reports and studies about specific topics. 

Oftentimes, hard data is released on an annual basis, so using it to your advantage opens the door to plenty of content opportunities, including yearly comparisons and and year-specific pieces. 

Table from the US census bureau about populations.

There are two easy ways to expand upon a pre-existing data: filtering the raw data to focus your data narrative on a specific population, and using weighting systems to compare and contrast different aspects of the dataset.

#1. Utilize filters to analyze data

The best way to get this data to enhance your story is to use the filters to your advantage. 

First, identify the scope of the audience you want to focus your data narrative on. Does it represent a specific sector of the population like millennial homeowners or retirees? Once you identify the scope, you can filter the dataset by that demographic information to really customize your narrative. 

We recently analyzed cities with the most deeply-rooted homeowners in America for a client specializing in active adult communities. We knew that in order to tell the story, we’d have to know where to look, and the U.S. Census Bureau was it. 

Map of the United States with the top 10 cities with the most deeply rooted homeowners: Detroit, Daly City, Cleveland, Berkeley, Honolulu, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Birmingham.

By filtering specifically for owner-occupied homes, we were able to determine areas in which owners not only stayed put the longest (owner-occupied for 30+ years), but also where they were newest (owner-occupied for ten years or less). 

#2. Utilize weighting systems to analyze data

Another way to turn existing data into content is to, for lack of a better word, manipulate it. By comparing different elements of pre-existing data sets you can shape a data narrative. 

To determine rankings in this way, we first determine what, exactly, we’re trying to determine. Then, we identify the key metrics that will lend themselves to the story (e.g. income, home value, affordability) and grade each metric on a 100-point scale. Finally, to determine an overall score, we calculate a weighted average across each metric.

It may take some practice, but it’s not as complicated as it might sound. For instance, when we ranked the best cities for newlyweds, we didn’t just look at the percent of newlyweds in 300+ cities across the country. To give more authority to our rankings, we incorporated household income, home cost, affordability score, and dining options.

infographic: best cities for newlyweds based on median household income, median home cost, percent of newlyweds, affordability, restaurants and dining.

When we dive even deeper into a dataset and take advantage of things like filters or take the time to weigh elements against each other, we’re able to confidently establish rankings. This system works so well because everybody loves to see where they, or their city or state, fall, rankings tend to perform very well with the media.

How to turn search trends into content

Don’t be afraid to use Google Trends or AdWords to your advantage; these give a reliable look at what any given population is thinking about at that moment.

Before you just throw in a handful of keywords, though, think carefully. What’s the story you’re telling, and which audience are you trying to reach?

Define your focus: Are you looking to gain insight on political search trends, business, shopping, or even cooking and home trends? 

Regardless of your topic, the more keywords you feed to Google, the better. 

Let’s say that I wanted to create a search trends piece about the most popular Christmas movie in each state.

First, I’ll come up with a handful of terms relevant to my story, then put them into Google Ads’ Keyword Planner. It’s okay if you don’t have a firm grasp on every term you’d like to incorporate – even ten (the maximum) can churn out 5,000+ results.

The best part is that Google Ads keyword planner is free, unless I use the keywords in a paid ad.

Keywords used in Google Trends search data to find volume of specific queries.

Now that I have my list of keywords, I’ll download them, then enter them into Google AdWords again to determine historical metrics. At face value, these will provide me a look at the number of monthly searches each term has gotten across the country.

But I want to tell a story more interesting and relevant than that. So, I’ll drill down and target each state, adjust the time period, then find the uniquely popular search term – the one which sees the most traffic – in a separate .csv file. 

Screenshot of Google Trends interface for search volume examples of search terms.

Boom: I have an authoritative list of the most popular Christmas movies in each state (for the record, Illinois’ is Home Alone).

Bonus tip: Journalists and readers alike love to see stories about their region or audience. Localizing your data gathered from search trends or hard data sources is a great way to garner local coverage, especially if your story includes a ranking or map. The more local a story, the greater chance of catching a journalist’s eye – and reaping the benefits of syndication. 

[Related: How to Tap Into the News Cycle With Your Content]

How to turn survey data into content

Surveys are far less regionally-specific, but can tell great stories nonetheless and are great for evergreen content. This type of research allows you a look into the preferences, attitudes, and behaviors of Americans on a wide variety of topics. 

We conduct a number of surveys each month, and they range from the serious (Mental Health at Work) to the silly (Biggest Complainers in the NFL). There’s absolutely no limit on what survey topics – but as you create them, be sure you’re sticking closely to your narrative. 

Using survey data to produce content marketing content. This particular examples shows the content campaign produced for a survey of millennial and Baby Boomer cannabis users.

Selling Data-Based Narratives

Original research and its success with the media is wholly dependent on data, whether it’s from databases, search trends, or surveys. 

Quantitative data doesn’t have to be boring — it can be turned into content that tells a compelling story – you just have to know how to shape it. Whether you’re using filters and weighting systems to your advantage in order to create authoritative rankings, or relying on surveys to get inside the minds of people across the country, story possibilities are boundless.

If you want to learn more, check out our other resources on creating content:

Content Marketing vs. PR: What’s the difference?
How to Tap Into the News Cycle With Your Content
Using Data to Secure News Headlines
How to Get Media Coverage for Your Business
Why Data Visualizations are the New Press Release

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