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From space shuttles to social media engagement: Let the data tell your story

People love graphs. Exhibit A: http://graphjam.memebase.com. Yes, that is in fact a website dedicated to people making funny graphs and pie charts, including my all-time favorite:

 

As the engineer in charge of redesigning data visualizations at Hearsay Corp., I spend roughly 8 hours per day on my computer looking at computer code that comprises our metrics section. Dedicating that much time to any one task begs the question: Does what I’m doing really matter? I’ve come up with a pretty good answer, and no surprise to the data enthusiasts out there, it involves Edward Tufte.
Edward Tufte, famous for his work on data visualization, might argue that data representation can be a matter of life and death. In his book Visual Explanations, Tufte claims the engineers behind the booster rockets are responsible for the demise of the 1986 Challenger shuttle. Tufte says the engineers could have prevented the tragedy had they used clearer and more compelling visual representations when depicting the risks of launching the shuttle.
So what does that have to do with me, the Hearsay engineer who is highly unlikely to cause a national tragedy with subpar graphs? Tufte reminds us that data tells a story. Hearsay graphs enable our customers to understand their own company’s story through social media. This is particularly important for the many companies that put resources toward creating pages and compulsively tracking Facebook fans and Twitter followers without fully understanding the ROI of social media engagement. We look to the numbers to tell that story.
For example, we track posts, likes, and comments on local representatives’ Facebook business pages and compare them to consumer responses on those same pages. By doing so, we learn that companies can expect to bring in roughly half the amount of posts, likes, and comments that they put out. Differently stated, roughly half the posts, likes, and comments that our customers put out will be met with a response by consumers. What we’ll learn over time is whether the frequency of posts will be directly proportional to inbound engagement or whether inbound activity has a limit. From such graphs, companies will be able to gauge how active they should be to foster and maintain a relationship with consumers.

Social Media Activity Over Time

Measured in posts, likes, and comments on the local representative’s business page.

Blue – outbound activity

Orange – inbound/responsive activity

 

Over time, as more and more companies use social media, the understanding of what a company should do online and why will take a more concrete form.  Finding that form and figuring out what works will require listening to the stories that the data tells. Are you listening?