Nearly 70% of American adults get news and views on social media, and most organizations have data worth sharing via their social media presences. Whether it’s data showing the impact of a policy or the depth of a problem facing a community, deft use of social media can amplify important facts and figures about your organization’s mission and successes.
But posting statistics, charts, or infographics on social media is a lot trickier than posting cat videos. It can be challenging to craft something that stands out from the stream of content people encounter on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Even though these websites might feel like second-nature, it’s worth taking a step back and considering the unique way readers navigate and experience content on their social networks—and how you can help your data grab the attention it deserves.
1. Include a visual element.
The aphorism “a picture is worth a thousand words” is just as true on social media as anywhere else. Images are great at grabbing attention—which is why so many social posts are in the form of image “memes” instead of plaintext. Using visual elements greatly increases the likelihood of your post being "liked" or shared—and also helps readers remember what you're actually saying in the post.
Charts and maps can work well as visual elements (with caveats detailed in the rest of this post). But even if you just want to share a simple text-based statistic, consider superimposing the text onto a photograph or illustration. Compare the difference:
In 2015, Utah experienced 2.1% population growth—more than any other state.
2. Keep the concept simple.
Finding a soundbite-ready takeaway about your organization’s data to post on social media can be a challenge. But you don’t have to give a comprehensive overview of the data you’re sharing—doing so on Twitter’s 140 characters would be impossible anyway.
A single intriguing statistic, or an interesting pattern made visible in a simple chart, is more effective. The goal is to show a piece of data that someone scrolling through a feed—perhaps at the end of a hard day’s work, on a crowded bus—can comprehend instantly.
3. Direct readers to additional context.
Considering the limitations of how deep you can go on social media, think of your post as a newspaper headline. If you’re posting a snapshot of data that’s just the tip of the iceberg, post a broader discussion on your website and include a link to it.
4. Consider screen size.
People mostly view Facebook and Twitter on their phones. This fact greatly limits the type of visualizations you can use effectively. Large, complex charts or infographics will never look good on a small phone screen. Even a modest-sized chart, like the one here about population growth, will become illegible when shrunk for mobile screens.
If you do include an image with text, make sure the text is large enough that it will still be readable on small screens.
5. Use text economically.
Don’t restate your chart’s title in your post’s text field. It’s a waste of space—readers don’t need to see the same title twice. Instead, use the post’s text to say something new and distinct—highlight a pattern on the chart, or tie the data you’re showing to a current event (with a hashtag, if you’re on Twitter).
6. Consider time as well as space.
Although the website algorithms do collect older posts that readers may have missed, for the most part, you should expect your post to be encountered “live.” Studies differ on what is the best day and time period to post on social media—and your mileage will vary further based on your particular organization—but you certainly don’t want to be posting interesting data in the dead of night. Be aware of time zone differences as well.