Recently I have been harping on about the ups and downs I have experienced in my blogging due to reactionary posts I have written r.e. news articles. I feel particularly ashamed of this behaviour because of the general fury I get, both at previous jobs when managers took my analysis and ran away with it creating a completely differend context, and when I discover the media is trying to swizzle me with their beat ups.
People try to do this to news/data for their own reasons, be it to make themselves look good, scare people into a certain action or to just create some buzz. But having had the title ‘analyst’ in nearly every job I have had since leaving university, it annoys me greatly, as it negates a lot of the work we analysts do.
To stop people doing this to YOUR data in the future, I have put together my little list of Data Contexts – how to try and ensure people don’t misinterpret your data.
If you provide this information alongside your data, you can try and minimise the ways people can misinterpret it. Just remember, if you put too many words/graphs/tables around your base results, you run the risk of people not reading, which encourages misinterpretation. So keep it minimal, but try to get the most important bits across to your audience (where possible):
1. Compare to the previous month/week/quarter/year. Put it in temporal context – is it normal or abnormal?
2. Seasonality effects – if it is abnormal, is it due to changing seasons? Holidays?
3. Compare to the industry/sector, town/country market – is it abnormal now? Or are you following the rest of the market? Compare using competitive intelligence tools like Hitwise or Google Trends
4. Segment your data – can you isolate where the changes are? Are your increases in sales due solely to one product? One segment of customers? One area? Do the sales translate to profits? Drill down into your data.
5. Compare with offline data. E.g your offline marketing campaigns; your server functionality; have changes to your website resulted in code being dropped?;has someone just nay sayed your brand online?;has your competitor just gone bust?; has the Government just sanctioned/outlawed your product? Try and think of possible reasons, but remember to temper these with common sense, as they are pure headline fodder.
Ok, maybe that is enough for now- like I said, too much context and people lose interest. But seriously, don’t just be handing over a number in a “What is the meaning of life?” kind of exchange. You know a lot more about that number you are handing over, so let people know about it. Don’t give people an easy headline, it will only bring you headaches later when they then ask you to support their crazy assumptions. (“Ok Tracy, I just need the data to back up what I told them about our clients living longer than competitors”).