Annual Reporting: How To Tell Stories with Data (And Why You Should)

Learn how disability service agencies can use data-driven storytelling techniques to enhance their annual reports.

In 2015, music streaming service Spotify surprised its listeners with the “Wrapped” campaign, which leverages user data to create personalized stories about each individual’s music listening habits over the year. 


Using algorithms to analyze the user’s listening history, Spotify then compiles this data into a personalized summary that highlights the user’s most-streamed songs and artists, how their tastes changed over time, and even creates personalized playlists based on their preferences. 


The campaign has since become an annual tradition, with Spotify releasing Wrapped summaries for its users every December. Spotify users eagerly anticipate the release of their Wrapped summaries and take pride in sharing their top songs and other interesting insights with their friends on social media.  

Image source: Spotify

The Wrapped campaign is a perfect example of the effectiveness of data-driven storytelling. By turning data into personalized stories, Spotify not only provided users with a unique and entertaining experience, but also solidified its popularity among music enthusiasts.

So, what does that have to do with annual reporting?

A lot! Specifically, it means that if you’re not already, you should be using data to tell stories in your annual reports. Data storytelling is a powerful tool to create emotional connections with your stakeholders, build brand awareness and loyalty, and differentiate your service offering from competitors.  


So how can you draw inspiration from Spotify’s wrapped campaign and use data storytelling to create engaging annual reports? Here are five key takeaways:   

1. Find the story within the data

There’s a big difference between citing statistics and actually telling a story with data.  


Notice that Spotify doesn’t just spit out a list of each user’s top songs and artists. It takes things a step further by analyzing the user’s listening habits over time to identify patterns, trends, and changes in their music taste. Wrapped summaries underscore information like the total number of minutes listened, different genres explored, or emerging new music interests.  


Like Spotify, you’ll want to look closely at data such as demographics, service utilization, and client outcomes and think about what it means for your audience. What’s significant about this information? What’s new or different? This can help unearth meaningful insights about your activities, impact, and achievements over the year and help you tell a compelling story in your annual report.  

2. Make it personal

Everyone’s Spotify Wrapped looks different when they login. That’s because the music streaming service has made it a priority to personalize the experience to the user based on their listening behavior.  


There are two key takeaways for disability service agencies. First, tailor the content of your annual report to your specific audience. Start by identifying the key stakeholders who will be reviewing the report, such as donors, clients, staff, and community members, and craft the content to address their interests, concerns, and priorities. Highlight stories, examples, and data that directly relate to their experiences or demonstrate the impact of your work on their lives or the community. 


Second, incorporate qualitative data such as personal testimonials or quotes from individuals who have benefited from your services. These firsthand accounts add a human touch to the report and help stakeholders connect with the impact of your organization. Include success stories, anecdotes, or quotes that illustrate the positive outcomes and the impact your agency has made on people’s lives. 

3. Add visual appeal

Another reason Spotify’s Wrapped is so darn popular is because it’s visually appealing. Instead of just sharing a list of top songs and artists, Spotify presents the data in enticing formats such as graphics and animations, naturally encouraging users to engage.  


Disability service agencies can take a page from Spotify’s playbook and adopt visual storytelling techniques to make their annual reports more engaging. Look for opportunities to incorporate images, charts, and graphs to present data in a visually appealing way. Breaking up large chunks of text with visual content is an excellent way to enhance your storytelling efforts and entice readers to take a deeper dive into the rest of your report.  


If you want to take things a step further, consider leveraging videos or animations to bring your annual report to life. This could be something like an animated summary that unpacks key statistics from the annual report, or a video testimonial highlighting a client success story. Video in particular is especially effective at capturing attention and creating emotional connections.  


Related: 5 Free Design Tools To Build Your Annual Report 

4. Produce highly shareable content

Part of what made Spotify’s Wrapped campaign such a viral sensation is the ability for users to share their personalized summaries on social media. Spotify encourages this by providing users with personalized infographics and shareable social media cards.  

Spotify Wrapped share cards make it easy for users to share their top songs and artists on social media.

Shareability isn’t something most disability service agencies think about when they produce their annual reports, but it should be. Consider creating a bite-sized version of your annual report, such as an executive summary or infographic, that captures the key highlights, achievements, and impact of your agency’s work. Infographics, in particular, are highly shareable thanks to their ability to present complex information in an eye-catching and easily digestible format.  

5. Reflect on progress

Spotify’s Wrapped campaign is all about inviting users to reflect on their music journey. Likewise, disability service agencies can use their annual reports as an opportunity to reflect on their challenges, accomplishments, and progress made over the past year.  


This may involve comparing current performance with the previous years’ data, state or industry benchmarks, and best practices. Take this opportunity to highlight areas where improvements have been made, areas that need further investment, and demonstrate growth or positive trends over time.  

Your takeaway

The success of Spotify’s Wrapped campaign demonstrates the power of data-driven storytelling, and disability service agencies can learn valuable lessons from it when creating their annual reports. By incorporating the five strategies we’ve outlined above, you’ll be on your way to creating an annual report that engages stakeholders, communicates your impact effectively, and strengthens your relationship with the community you serve. 

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