Every day, corporate communications and public relations departments face a growing array of external (and internal) stakeholders — all empowered by mobile devices and a variety of social platforms and digital channels. Across these many touch points lies a massive digital footprint that has the potential to define a company’s brand, create an unintended crisis and endanger brand reputation (see graphic below).

For example, if your company is the unfortunate recipient of a Tweet from President Trump, your CEO would first ask your team for data: What’s the public sentiment? What are the key topics associated with this firestorm? What is the competition saying? How does this crisis compare and calibrate with past controversies? How many media impressions is the Tweet generating? Who are the key influencers and critics fueling the flames? What’s the price of the stock?

Nowhere in the CEO’s initial laundry list is a request for a press release or statement to the media (don’t worry, the “ask” for the press release and statement will come later though).

This scenario plays out every day across corporate communications teams. As the protectors of brand reputation, communications teams must now face the reality that data aptitude is now on par with strong writing skills. When you are called into the C-suite and asked to deliver accurate, timely and actionable reports about your current crisis, you need to be ready. So, how should communications teams bolster their data skills?  Here is one of my top pieces of advice that will be discussed during our March 21st webcast with the former VP of Global Business Communication at Facebook.

Tip: Embrace the data visualizations

Instinctively, communications departments have tentatively approached the tsunami of social and media intelligence data produced by their brands. Here’s the good news: The data generated across the media spectrum should not be feared. In fact, data can become your new best friend.

Why? Media and social intelligence has the ability to provide a comprehensive view of brand perception. So, there is no need for communications teams to become hardcore data scientists. Advances in big data technology and software now does the majority of the heavy lifting and will transform the hundreds of millions of data points into compelling visualizations. As such, communications teams must become masters of interpreting these visualizations and knowing how to take the right action. If you make a visit to the ER, doctors use the same approach when interpreting an MRI or X-ray to make a diagnosis.

How this approach empowers communications and marketing teams across the enterprise

Communications and marketing teams that have embraced visual data-sets have seen tremendous benefits. This visual approach to communications planning provides greater clarity and removes the error-prone (and intuition-based) decision-making processes of the past. For example, analytical skills are needed to identify the influencers who support (or criticize) a company’s brand, identify which topics on social media could trigger a crisis, track brand perception and measure the success of campaigns.

Executive teams benefit too. The C-suite leverages media and social intelligence insights to inform strategy and crisis management decisions. As protectors of the brand, CCOs and their teams have been elevated — requiring lightening-fast speed to interpret any crisis situation and deliver the right recommendations to mitigate risk. Finally, this data helps brands understand changing consumer demands and identify new marketplace opportunities.

Like it or not, the world runs on data (and math). Words matter too. That said, before putting pen to paper, communications professionals must first think like data scientists to maximize their communications and marketing programs.

Want to learn more? Download Zignal Labs’ webcast on “why corporate communications teams should think more like data scientists.”