7/7/2018

Lessons for showcasing data journalism on social media

 

How do you make data journalism stand out on social media? 

This is the question I am trying to answer through my project for The Economist. In my last blog post I presented some of the ideas we’ve come up with and avenues we’d like to explore to showcase The Economist’s data journalism. Now I’d like to dive into one of those aspects, namely the use of GIFs on social media, and explain what I’ve learned so far. In order to do that, I’m sharing some of my key principles with you. They stem from my experience of creating data GIFs for The Economist’s social media account but all of them are actually borrowed from different disciplines like marketing, advertising, journalism and graphic design.

Don’t bury the lede

Your GIF, video or Instagram slideshow needs to open with a BANG. Like every good piece of journalistic work, your GIF should start with a lead (or lede) that catches the interest of a follower on social media. The first “frame” needs to be exciting. You should open with the most interesting or relevant fact or surprising data point. Include engaging movement or eye-catching colours too as this will be the first thing people see on social, and maybe the only thing if they scroll past too fast.

Image: Here’s one example I made recently, for a story about income distribution in America and Europe.

Colour me surprised

A GIF can only display a maximum of 128 different colours and it will indiscriminately reduce your palette. This means that you should stay away from using different shades of one colour as they’re likely to be reduced to a similar hue, once you export your file as a GIF. That’s the technical reason for why it’s best to use different colours and not just different shades. Another argument is that as nicely as a dark blue and a light blue go together, you want something a bit more eye-catching for social media (see rule above). Of course, the use of different colours needs to be justified by the data.

Eye-catching colours that are easy to tell apart work best. As an aside, approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have some sort of colour blindness. If you want to maximise the number of people who can enjoy your data visualisation, it makes sense to proof it for colour blindness. There are Photoshop settings for that, or online platforms that can generate a set of safe colours for you.

Image: Here’s an example of a gif using different colours.

Words are golden

One thing that other data-viz professionals like Lisa Charlotte Rost and John Burn-Murdoch have often stressed is the importance of annotations and labelling. While your GIF shouldn’t include too much text if you want social media users to take it all in, it’s incredibly important to pay attention to the words that you do include. A GIF often comes with a surprising amount of text. First, there is the actual tweet; then there might be a chart title, source, labels and annotations. Choose your words wisely. The Economist’s charts are often popular on social media because the titles are witty or include puns. Depending on the piece, it can also be interesting to ask a question in combination with a chart or to spell out the key takeaway.

The perfect combination

All of these lessons overlap in some ways (coloured text, colourful opening frames, a question as the hook) and they should ideally complement each other. There are lots of other aspects that are important when making a GIF (dimensions, timing, structure) but these are three central themes that I’ve come across again and again when creating GIFs for The Economist’s social media accounts.

If you’re interested in some more hands-on advice, I’ve uploaded the material for our workshop from the European Data and Computational Journalism Conference this week here. If you want to talk about this in more detail, you can reach me on mariesegger{at}economist.com.

This article was originally published on Severe Contest, the blog of the digital teams at The Economist. Republished with permission.

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