In the future, you’ll expect us to write this post

We are surrounded by data. Everything we say or do is quantified in someway, somewhere, in someone’s database.

When we buy groceries at the store and use a loyalty card or pay with a credit card. When we use our Nike Fuelband or Fitbit or Misfit or Jawbone or Apple Watch to track how far we’ve jogged today. When we visit websites and accept their cookies and let 20, 30, 60 trackers on the site make note of our IP address.

We are bits and bytes and if you study enough of that historical data, you can figure out what we’re going to do next. Not every time, but much of the time. If you do it right, more often than not.

Write with data in mind

Thing is publications have years worth of data they can draw on to help determine what brings people to their sites.

Publishers would be well served to study the people who come to their sites and what brings and keeps them there.

This doesn’t mean writing to the click. This doesn’t mean clickbait journalism. This means looking at the massive amount of historical data and figuring out what brings people to your site, what keeps them coming back and what keeps them clicking through once there.

Mashable has, with a strong degree of reliability, been able to predict what among its content will go viral based on the data from its years’ worth of analytics. A product I spent a couple years working on (I am no longer affiliated) has been able to recommend, with a strong degree of reliability, what stories to cover based on years’ worth of any publication’s analytics.

This doesn’t just go for news organizations – while it’s a trickier thing to get the data for folks reading what content marketers are putting out (due to the fact that the analytics aren’t all in one spot), it’s not impossible. And often companies, brands and marketers have far deeper data about the people they’re targeting, because they’ve spent a pretty penny on data relating to them.

It’s no good to throw your hands up in the air and say, “I hate math! There’s too much data! I don’t even know where to start!” Someone else will figure it out.

Use predictive analytics to guide content production

Predictive analytics are being used to great effect in healthcare, trucking, law enforcement and hiring.

The ability of computers and human-trained algorithms to take huge amounts of data, process it, learn from it and predict what’s going to come next has taken enormous leaps in the last few years.

In the “old” days, we relied on our gut to tell us what people liked. Our gut and focus groups. But we know now – the data has told us – that much of what people they want to read about or consume as content is not really what they’ll spend most of their time consuming. As a journalist, I heard readers tell us time and again that what they wanted was “good” news or serious news about government and how their money was being spent. What they didn’t want, they told us, was the salacious news about crime. The data told a different story: We knew what sold newspapers, and it wasn’t the investigation into government spending.

In the early Internet days, we saw that what people read the most on our sites differed from what they shared the most from our sites – because what people say and what people do is always different. The goal isn’t – and should never be – to pander to the lowest common denominator. The goal is to figure out who your audience is, and figure out how to serve them better.

Data will get us there.

Meet Amy 

Amy Vernon is an independent consultant and a pioneer of social content strategy. She spent 20 years working for daily newspapers around the country and was a member of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning staff of the Miami Herald. An inaugural inductee of the New Jersey Social Media Hall of Fame, Amy was named the 15th-most influential woman in tech on Twitter by Business Insider and Peer Index.

She has consulted on social media and content for a variety of companies and organizations, including the American Museum of Natural History, Verizon and VentureBeat, and has driven millions of pageviews through her work. A graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., she lives with her family in New Jersey and owns a very photogenic Siberian husky named Lumi.

Hear Amy emcee MobCon 2015.

Photo courtesy of ScandinavianStock.