Does data really represent a new golden age for communications? That was the question I posed at the EACD's latest regional event in Italy, where I am its regional ccordinator.

 

Hosted at the Milanese headquarters of insurance comparison platform Facile.it, the event featured guest speakers from the worlds of media and communications, each one giving their own perspective on the use of data in communications, in particular the emergence of data visualisations as a communications tool, and the vital role of the communicator in translating data into relevant messages for the audience.

 

Andrea Polo, Communications Director at Facile.it, set the tone of the event. He said "Everyday we’re bombed by tons of numbers and data; we’ve been told by media gurus that data is the new golden age for communication, but is that, really, the truth? Data alone isn’t enough – what’s also needed is the ability to tell a story that has to be simple, effective and complete. Above all, it should be surprising – and useful to the company’s business. It could seem evident, but data need to be understood and translated in a message that has to be the nearest to the receiver’s interests. This is the real challenge for communication professionals: make data warmer, understandable and useful to the company’s goal."

 

According to Andrea, teamwork is a key competence for communicators. This is because of the ever-growing need to integrate other functions into data-driven communications. i.e. legal expert to approve the analysis, or the IT department to help develop software solutions to properly extract useful sets of data from one or more databases.

It is not just a question for corporate communicators. Alessio Ribaudo, staff reporter at Il Corriere della Sera newspaper, followed Andrea by commenting that the availability of multiple data sets is changing the way journalists work. However, Alessio underlined that it is still important to find the news within the data, without losing time and energy with big numbers that bear no relation to the context. Accuracy and fact checking are as mandatory as ever, because the amount of data gives the media more responsibility in providing readers with comprehensive analysis and more understanding of facts and news. Ultimately, even if there are more and more sophisticated software or algorithms providing data analytics, the human factor still plays a critical role in relating the data to the complexity of the social, cultural and economic context.

 

Adriano Attus, Creative Director at Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, added more insights into the role of data, in particular data visualisations as a communications tool: audiences are increasingly used to reading data visualizations, so the quality of data treatment and visualization can lead to outstanding solutions, with a great capacity to explain complex sets of data.

But, and this applies to corporate communicators as much as journalists,  we would all benefit from a heightened comprehension of how data should be treated in order to be closer to the audiences' needs. So while today's increasingly elaborate data  visualisations sometimes border on works of art, that does not mean it has to be far from readers' comprehension. On the contrary, there is a huge opportunity to use data visualization as a tool for impressive pieces of journalism or brand and corporate communication activities.