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Social Analytics: Turning Data Into Design

Last month, I wrote about the basics of social analytics. That post was a mere starter kit for taking a step toward a more comprehensive system of quantifying the relationships, influence, and engagement of your organization. This month, I’ll walk you down the path of the next step: turning data into design.

bloggraphic2Well, What’s the Point?

“I’ve already got all the numbers entered into my spreadsheet,” you might be thinking. “And I put them there, so I know what they mean…why spend precious time rehashing?”

The short answer? We process visuals much faster than text. And providing a way to make those table cells of “reach” and “impressions” seem less like a foreign language and more like an understandable measure of success is imperative. Manufacturing giant 3M claims the rate of processing for visuals is 60,000 times faster than for text.

blog2Gregory’s Visual Assumption Theory emphasizes the power of top-down processing during the practice of absorbing — and understanding — information. Gregory’s theory assumes much information — approximately 90% — is lost by the time it reaches the brain, despite reaching the eye. To make sense of data, we rely on past experiences to piece together the bits of information that do reach the brain. In the case of social analytics, numbers in table cells don’t immediately make sense. Context is needed. A visual representation provides the necessary surroundings and environment for the brain to quickly comprehend data.

Visual information has the ability to affect a person cognitively and emotionally. Mike Parkinson notes these effects: Cognitively, graphics expedite and increase our level of communication by improving comprehension, recollection, and retention; Emotionally, visuals engage our imagination and stimulate other areas of our brain, which leads to improved understanding.

Last month, I advocated the use of analytics to validate social media from an institutional perspective. Visuals play an essential role in this validation. Those who work at Colorado State University outside the realm of social media don’t have time to sift through our spreadsheet and attempt to make sense of the data, so visual reports tend to be an effective way to prove that our hard work and dedication is coming to fruition.

This Is Dandy And Everything, But How Do I Do It?

As I’m inputting stats at the end of each month, I jot down any findings that seem notable. With social analytics being part of my job duties, I’ve become familiarized enough with our data that unusually large or small numbers jump out at me. Upon finishing the data input, I go through again in search of attention-worthy findings. I peruse for things that demonstrate success or room for improvement — anything beyond the standard deviation.blog1

My personal preference for designing the monthly report is to use a combination of Adobe programs because they offer the most flexibility for customization. However, these programs are expensive and can seem complex when first learning your way around the interfaces. The good news is that viable alternatives do exist. Microsoft Excel and Word have charting functions for bringing your data to life. You may also find a third-party infographic generator website to be of use (e.g., Piktochart, Infogr.am, & Venngage). Adobe Illustrator has a built-in chart building feature that allows me to create a bare bones element of a noteworthy finding. Then, I customize individual aspects of the chart to fit the color palette and design style I’ve developed for these reports. From there, I copy the chart and paste it into Photoshop, where I have created a .PSD template with a general layout that ends up being adapted to fit the various charts for the month.

Parting Sentiments

  1. Your stats support your purpose.
  2. Stats don’t tell the full story, so get out there and get to know your audience. Increased reach does not equal stronger affinity.
  3. 40% of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. (Source: Zabisco)
  4. Save often and save a backup copy.