Like exercise or dieting, the challenge of creating content is not starting, but keeping it up. Once you’ve burned through some “how-tos” and all your A-grade pop culture references in listicles (11 Tips about Buying A Lawn Mower You Can Learn From Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice; 5 ways a lipstick is better at its job than James Bond) inspiration can be tricky to summon on command. In that case, put on your best Obi-Wan Kenobi voice and use the data, Luke.

Presumably, you’re already using data to drive your content decisions. You can’t create effective content without a strategy and that strategy will be underpinned by relevant metrics. With the ability to measure what people click on, what they read and share or what they do next, there’s measurement aplenty you can examine to determine what resonates with your audience.

There are eight million stories in your data

But you can also use your organisation’s data to tell your audience about what you do in an engaging way. It can even be one data point _ something unusual your organisation did that gets people thinking about you differently. This tactic is nothing new. In fact, one of the best examples of it happened in 1958, when the jeweller Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian museum _ and sent it via the post.

Obviously, someone entrusting the postal service to send a $US350 million jewel speaks volumes about its reliability. And it gets people thinking more broadly about what they can mail beyond a postcard reading, “Wish you were here! Love all the gang at number 28”. It generated loads of publicity for everyone involved, including the postie and that’s in the days before social media.

Statistics are your friend

If you have no single bit of information to pull out, you can always crunch a few numbers to tell a story. If the periodic flare-up of the “is a deep-fried battered slice of potato called a scallop, potato cake or fritter?” linguistic debate proves anything, it’s that people love judging other states’ food consumption patterns.

So, if you run/manage? a chain of pizza shops, a list of the most popular pizza toppings broken down state-by-state is a content no-brainer. The social media tiles, blogs, infographics, think-pieces on whether pineapple belongs on a pizza and quiz “Tell us your favourite pizza topping and we tell you which state you should live in” practically create themselves. (Legal disclaimer: they don’t actually write or design themselves. You still need a strong content team)

The best thing about this sort of data is that it builds on itself and before you know it you have an annual Pizza Index. Maybe Tasmania was all about the Kalamata olives in 2017 but in 2018 it’s all about the green olive stuffed with pimento. What does that say that states’ tastes/economy/mindset? How will it affect the viability of the olive industry? When will it be the Moroccan Salt-Cured olive’s time to shine? You guys, there are so many pizza questions! And people will debate them all, on account of the internet being invented.

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Take a deep dive

These examples show that there’s much you can do with this minimal information. But in this era of big data, they barely scratch the surface. You can pull out all sorts of interesting information that not only improves your customers’ experience but gives you a strong story to tell multiple ways.

For inspiration, look at music streaming service Spotify. Something it does well is using the data it has on you _ your music choices _ to give you more of what you want in a range of playlists. It generates thousands of stories for an audience of one, every second of every day.

It’s also mastered pulling out fun information to promote itself. Its annual global billboard campaign, which started last year but is rapidly becoming a tradition, gets creative with data. 2017’s efforts, around the theme “2018 Goals”, include things such as “exercise more conventionally than the 46 people who put “Slow hands” on their running playlists” or “Take a page from the 3445 people who streamed the “Boozy Brunch” playlist on a Wednesday this year”.

It also created a microsite where Spotify users can log in and take a short quiz to see if they know what artist, songs and genres they listened to most this year. Then they are presented with a playlist of their 100 most-played songs, along with another list of recommendations, and invited to share the results on social media. If they are brave.

Tread carefully with data content ideas

Of course, not everyone is Spotify and not everyone creates data that is quite so shareable. If you’re a chemist chain, none of your customers will want to proclaim on Facebook that their most popular purchases this year were foot fungal cream and a nasal hair trimmer.

And sometimes the line between sharing data and maintaining customer privacy is not as clearly defined as everybody would like. This is something that Netflix discovered this week. It released its figures about users’ global viewing patterns in a not dissimilar vein to Spotify. That the video streaming service’s busiest day is January 1. Or that someone watched Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl 365 days in a row.

The US Twitter account also tweeted “To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?”.

Many people reacted in the jokey fashion Netflix clearly intended. Others complained that it was creepy that Netflix was tracking viewers (presumably because they’d never done anything online before). It also copped flack for putting customers on social media blast, especially since A Christmas Prince is a Netflix production.

It wanted to tap into the delightfully terrible telemovie’s “so-bad-it’s-good” buzz, but the tone didn’t land on “oh isn’t that funny”. Instead, it hit “what’s your deal, Netflix?”.

So obviously, you need to keep in mind what your customers want to hear from you when you start harvesting data. But when you’re scratching around for content ideas, looking at the numbers can spare you from creating the type of content your audience least wants to hear: yet another sales pitch.

Originally written by Kerrie Murphy, Editorial and Content Director for Spectrum Group