Quantifying Success: Industry Experts Stress the Need for Communication Savvy in Data Careers

Data Day Brings Case Studies, Panel of Analytics Experts to ComArtSci

On Feb. 24, 2020, MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences held the third annual Data Day, bringing leaders in marketing analytics and data insights to campus to share their experiences with students, alumni and other guests.

The speakers included Dennis Bulgarelli ‘81, vice president of client insights for Comscore; Becky Roth Kim ’10, head of product marketing for Expedia Group; and Jeffrey Wisenbaugh ’13, head of content for the @instagram feed at Instagram.

Early in the afternoon, students and guests had the opportunity to hear case studies on data analytics from inside Comscore, Expedia Group, and Instagram. The case studies were followed by a panel in WKAR Studios, which drew a large audience in the studio and on a live stream.

Hosted by Advertising + Public Relations Associate Professor Kjerstin Thorson, Ph.D., the panel covered questions ranging from current work in the industry to tips for job seekers vying for data-driven careers. The focus of the panel centered on emerging trends in data analytics and advice for using data to boost business.

Curating Instagram’s Instagram

Wisenbaugh spoke from a creative standpoint, sharing strategies he uses at Instagram to produce high-performing visual content for the trend-setting social media platform. Kim and Bulgarelli provided a look at the data-driven side of business, discussing data analytics and interpretation in-depth.

“One size does not fit all,” said Wisenbaugh. “Every account is different. Every person is different.”

He said the more businesses and platforms can cater to their audience and create content that appeals to different demographics, the better off they will be.

“It’s all about storytelling,” he said. “It’s about presenting it in a beautiful way.”

Part of the challenge of working at Instagram, he said, is to stay ahead of the curve and race to set the trends in the digital sphere.

“We don’t want to be chasing the trend,” he said. “We want to be leading the industry.”

In order to create compelling content and maintain a feed for about 334 million followers, Wisenbaugh said his team aims to be forward-thinking, data-informed and always pushing to achieve better metrics using social media content. Whenever the data shows that content is performing poorly, his team focuses on specific aspects of that content they can improve.

“We approach it with a lift the floor mentality,” said Wisenbaugh.

Emerging Trends in Data Analytics

When asked to identify emerging trends in marketing and data analytics, the panelists pointed to augmented reality and artificial intelligence (AI). 

“There’s a lot of exciting stuff that is happening in the augmented reality space,” said Kim. “What we’re seeing is that we’ve moved past that initial phase of marketing gimmick, and we’ve moved into that phase where we’re trying to use augmented reality to solve a real customer problem. As devices are able to keep up and leverage that technology, we’re going to see some really cool stuff.”

The movement of these trends may depend upon how much personal data consumers are willing to provide. While in the past, digital consumers have had to opt out, more and more, the digital space is moving toward an opt-in culture, giving consumers careful control of what products and services they receive.

“Consumers are starting to demand much more transparency about their data regardless of laws,” said Kim. “It’s a really interesting balance that I think all developers are dealing with right now.”

Bulgarelli said even data collection tools like website cookies could affect business practices in the future.

“We’re going to see less data coming back to us as people opt out of cookie tracking,” he said. “It’s going to really change how we do business going forward.”

The field of data analytics has also made great strides in terms of its use of AI. 

“AI is really baked into everything we do at this point,” said Kim. “It’s hard to parse out what parts of the business are using AI, and what parts are not using AI, because it’s so integrated.”

The biggest way companies are currently leveraging AI is to use chatbots for enhanced customer support. With improvements in AI, Kim said bots are able to engage with better lingual analysis and textual support, driving people to the information they need.

“If a bot can get back to you instantly, and it feels like a live person, you may not even know that you’re talking to a bot in some cases,” Kim said.

The Intersection of Data & Communication

To be successful using data analytics, Bulgarelli said people need to understand the larger story that the data is telling them. He said presenting these insights to company leaders requires data analysts to not only interpret the data, but to also identify a course of action moving forward.

“Give them actionable recommendations with the data,” said Bulgarelli. “They’re looking for direction. The direction generally is in the data, so you can report it, but you should always go that one step further and tell them what they should do about it.”

Even when someone masters the use of data analytics, there is always more to learn and understand.

“There’s so much fluidity in the marketplace,” said Kim. “New things come up all the time. You’re evaluating data. You’re interpreting data. You’re looking for the story. You’re looking for the insight.”

She said those who can interpret the data, leverage computational communication, and convey the big picture using storytelling and visuals will prove to be a valuable asset to their companies.

“We have so much talk around ‘How do you tell a story about this data?’” said Kim. “The questions are always ‘Where did this come from?’, ‘Why do you have it?’, and ‘How can we use it now?’”

While the panelists identified several emerging trends, they said future evolutions in data careers are difficult to predict. They agreed the industry needs more people who communicate clearly, bring creativity to their work and use critical thinking, as well as people who are able to adapt and learn on the job.

“With the rapid change that goes on in our business, what this business looks like in 10 years could be totally different than what it looks like now,” said Bulgarelli. “I think it’s just going to grow more and more in the next five to ten years.”

By Melissa Priebe

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