What can we learn from COVID-19 data reporting for our own business?

May 1, 2020

“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” Tim Hiller

Last week, the UK changed their COVID-19 data reporting overnight to include all deaths in the community, not just those in hospital. Overnight, the numbers doubled, and whilst it was looking like a positive moment in our nation overcoming the peak of the pandemic, that new number hit public morale hard. 

Similarly, when comparing across nations we now find ourselves looking at graphs and charts which reflect a number of countries and their horrifying death rates. What we are rarely told, however, is how these nations are reporting. Like the UK, are they including deaths across the whole community, or just in hospitals? Do they include only official positive COVID-19 tests, or those presenting with similar symptoms too? 

When it comes to statistics and data – in a pandemic, day to day in your business, or even simply your social media engagement – it is incredibly important to understand the numbers. While lots of decisions we make in life aren’t numbers based, lots of decisions we make in business are, and for those decisions, using some simple statistics can help us make the right decisions, or know if we need to even make a decision at all.

Anyone can look at numbers and say ‘oh, 100 is better than 65’. Correct. But what does it mean? We need to unpack and understand those figures to make better sense of their behaviour, the patterns and the decisions we make. 

For example – If you look at your website today and see that you only had sixty-five visitors but yesterday you had one hundred, do you need to start worrying? Let’s look at a few more days.  Let’s say that in the past 30 days, you average 75 visitors per day but the number of visitors is typically between 50 and 100.  Well, then a day with 65 visitors is nothing to worry about.  It’s perfectly normal for your website. 

Determining a time-span for your data set is very important, and can enable you to draw a rolling average or bell-curve graph of information so that you get an average of a period of time, rather than one particular snapshot. The UK has seen drastic variations in data at the weekends, creating alarming leaps in numbers midweek as the data catches up along the system. The addition of rolling average curves here is a welcome addition to the daily data reporting and reflects the steep peak followed by a gradual decline – which is much less dramatic and gives a more informed data set with much more understandable information. 

Interpretation of data can have a HUGE impact on your attitude towards your business, and it is essential to look subjectively at these numbers before jumping to any conclusion. When the UK death rate doubled this week, we could assume that our lockdown wasn’t working and feel very disheartened. In fact, the data set had just been expanded to include more factors and so we can consider ourselves more informed. This is neither positive nor negative – it’s just more data. And with more data, we can be more educated, confident and empowered. 

Another example is comparing our death rate currently with that of, for example, Italy’s. We could be horrified that our figures matched, then overtook, but in reality our population is over 2million people larger than theirs. Proportionally, we are still doing well compared to Italy.  Here, weighting the figures is a huge part of understanding the data. Typically weighting is used to match the population profile on more than 1 variable to get as representative a sample as possible (e.g. when there are more men than women in a population survey). 

Take your social media engagement rate. No matter how many followers you have, or how many people you follow, the maths is the same and so is a great way to compare information.  Engagement Rate is calculated using the total figure of interactions on a post, divided by the number of followers of the account (most social media influencers calculate their average engagement rate this way). So don’t get put off that a huge account gets hundreds of likes on a post, when they have  fifteen thousand followers. You could have 150 followers and get 10 likes and already your engagement rate will be higher than the 15k account! 

By investigating every single piece of data we look at, we can get a much much bigger picture of what’s going on around us. I encourage clients to go beyond the surface-level, “vanity” metrics—the likes and shares and retweets and instead, focus on the data that matters—the numbers that prove digital effort has had a positive, bottom-line impact on the business. We need click-throughs, conversions and click-pathways. 

The main lessons we should be learning from COVID-19 data? Ask why and investigate. Look at the bigger picture, and don’t forget to forward-project. Compare only when you can be sure the data is directly comparable, and with the appropriate formula or equations. 

Too often we get too focussed on one single number, and compare it to someone else’s. Just like the countries around the world, however, our businesses are not the same. Our (working) culture is not the same, our government recommendations are different (management), doctors (staff) work differently and even our audience and products are different. Be careful before you take a leap – investigate and get down with the data. 

I’ll end with the quote that I feel is appropriate for both business and COVID – “We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated with purpose.” Bob Goff

Stay safe x

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