Social Media Week
The Evolving Relationship Between Data And Storytelling

As social media has grown to be a major focus for brands, conversations centering around data and its relationship to content, creative, and storytelling have been popping up more frequently. One of the great benefits of social media is that it gives brands and agencies access to an incredible amount of data. But not only can the amount of data itself be dizzying, but how to leverage it is a constant debate amongst marketers. Throw some creatives into the mix and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged debate. Data and storytelling have long seemed to have been at odds. But lines are further blurred and silos broken down with every passing day. The relationship between data and content, creativity, and storytelling is ever-transforming, and the topic was on the docket at Social Media Week in New York on Tuesday before a panel of social media and data experts.


Among the waters that are getting muddied in social media age are how teams and departments are constructed. Whether it be at a brand or an agency, traditional marketing and communications teams aren’t just working together, they’re often becoming one entity. Jess Bahr, Senior Client Strategist for Social Flow referenced the growing trend of having one person—rather than two or more—who can not only collect and mine all the available data, but can translate its meaning and key findings to clients and stakeholders.

Bahr noted that it’s hard to understand the data you’re looking at if you don’t know the context. “Data for data’s sake is just hoarding numbers,” she said. Sam Lim, the Features and Branded Content Director for Stylecaster echoed the sentiment, touching on how editorials have developed teams with folks who sit on both sides of the editorial and marketing sides, which makes all sorts of sense when it comes to branded, sponsored editorial.

The panelists also touched on their experiences and opinions on the symbiosis between data and creativity. Which comes first? Which should come first? It can depend on the campaign, the business objectives, and the brand. Chelsea Long, Senior Analytics Lead at ICED Media, believes there has been a paradigm shift; the data now comes first. Long said that a campaign used to start with a great creative idea. But not all great ideas work in practice. Data can help inform the creative. Long said brands should use data at the outset to understand what communities are organically talking about, and then join the conversation.

Lindsay Kaplan, VP of Communications for Casper, mentioned how data not just informed the creative for the mattress startup, but it became the creative. Casper’s website has a “numbers” section, which illustrates how people “use” their Casper mattress: how many nights have been slept on a Casper, how many hours of Netflix have been watched, and, indeed, how many children have been conceived in a Casper.


As with any and all social media marketing, measuring success can be tricky. Identifying the data that matters can be difficult, and for some, data doesn’t tell the whole tale. Long says that rates should be prioritized over hard numbers, while Lim, from her publishing perspective, believes in the more qualitative idea of a compelling story.

Startups like Casper, Kaplan said, should be more focused on the goals of the company or team. Bahr believes, however, that the proof is in the data. “When your data isn’t telling you anything, it’s telling you something,” she said; if your metrics haven’t moved much, there’s something to be gleaned about the creative or campaign that the data is representing, and there’s always a lesson that can be learned.

Data and creativity will indeed continue to co-exist, to blend, to intersect where they aren’t “supposed” to or never have before. It’s one of the things that makes this such an exciting time for marketers. Ogilvy & Mather Chief Creative Officer Tham Khai Meng recently described the merging of data and creativity as “pure sex”. Forever, we’ve been processing information and using it to gain insights. Anything can spark a creative idea, even a set of numbers. And skeptical creatives will find a friend in data that measures a campaign as a success in ways we weren’t always able to do. It’s a relationship that’s continuing to evolve. Great relationships rarely stop.

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