“Big data,” in general, isn’t hard to define. It’s a large set of data points that have been shown to have volume, velocity, variety, veracity, and value.
All that alliteration doesn’t get to the heart of the matter for public relations pros: What is it, really? Is it worth messing with? And how can we use it?
Big data’s true definition
A recent survey by Ragan
showed that 54 percent of public relations professionals didn’t know what big data is. From an informational standpoint, big data is new information so large and complex that it’s difficult to visualize, share, analyze, and store. From a business standpoint, it involves “building new analytic applications based on new types of data, in order to better serve your customers and drive a better competitive advantage,” according to David McJannet
, vice president of marketing for Hortonworks.
Big data means different things in different industries. For an in-depth definition, we recommend reading “Be a Big Data Marketing Hero
,” an e-book focused on defining big data and making it accessible.
How to use big data
1. Know what you want.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re just acting out the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack idiom. Yes, it may be somewhat enlightening, and you might find something useful, but you’re wasting time unless you really enjoy looking at endless amounts of numbers. Some common goals in analyzing data are: determining social influencers
; further segmenting campaigns; performing A/B testing on campaigns; and evaluating channels. Determining what you’re after will help you decide what data to start tracking.
[RELATED: Learn all the data secrets at our PR Measurement.]
2. Find a tool to get to it.
You can’t grab a highlighter and expect to get everything you need to know from terabytes upon terabytes of data. You can’t dump it on an intern with basic Excel knowledge. Big data needs tools that are designed to process it. Integrated marketing management (IMM) systems are a popular choice for distilling data, because they’re often equipped with automation capabilities. If big data is a haystack and you’re looking for a needle, an IMM system is your metal detector. Most systems let you sort by different factors, so you can use one data set to solve multiple problems.
3. Implement results based on it.
This is where so many companies go wrong. It’s great that you spent the time (and resources) on finding answers, but if you don’t act on them, you’re just wasting time. Now that you’ve found your influencers, reach out to them and ask if they want to try your product or service. Segment campaigns by statistics more relevant than gender and state of residence. Switch from Twitter to Tumblr, if that’s where your audience is.
Why does it even matter?
Some people have been slow to warm up to the concept of using big data in marketing and PR. After all, detractors figure that those industries have been doing just fine for all these years without relying on numbers.
Of course, there’s something to be said for intuition, but big data is more than just cold numbers. It’s evidence you need to tell the people in the boardroom that the direction they’re going in is wrong, or to prove that your new project is on the right track. It’s a way to spot trends before
they end up in a New York Times
piece. It's a way to better understand your audience, and what's more useful than that?
Writing for PR Week
, marketing and PR professor Bruce Berger said that “data-driven decisions are better than intuition-based ones.” To make data-driven decisions, you must first jump into the big data haystack.
Ashley Halberstadt is the director of digital media relations for digitalrelevance, an online marketing agency in Indianapolis.