Taming PR’s latest trend: Big Data

While data-driven PR is the future, today’s PR professionals must manage the data explosion right now. Here’s a practical guide.


Editor’s note: A number of people are saying Big Data the future of public relations. As the conversation about this powerful trend grows ever louder, it is important to understand key concepts surrounding it. To that end, we’re republishing a PR Daily story originally posted in May that tackles the idea of Big Data.

Big Data is the practice of collecting the information scattered across the Web to better target consumers, and it has a promising future for the public relations industry—from predictive analytics to mining data from social media interactions.

But for the PR professional on the ground, harnessing the deluge of data is not so much about the future as it is about the current challenges that demand an answer to the question:

How do you deal every day with two huge data explosions: the expanding universe of digital influencers and the massive volume of social media conversations and real-time digital mentions that concern your brand, industry and competition?

The number of digital influencers has grown 30-fold in the past couple of years. The monthly traffic on Facebook alone runs in the billions of page views, and social channels account for more than 20 percent of brand impressions.

The sheer volume of your brand mentions may demand that you start by prioritizing: Find out who matters, determine what they’re saying, and how it sways others, and decide the best (and perhaps most immediate) way to engage with them.

Finding out who matters

Early attempts at scoring the influence of social network users have provided a one-dimensional view. By taking into account only an influencer’s activity within a few social platforms, three important factors are missing to determine their potential impact on your brand:

• Presence within news sites, blogs, print and broadcast media;
• Influence with respect to particular topics, industries, products and places;
• Participation in a “tribe” of other influencers who frequently share and comment on each other’s content in a particular topic space identified through a “network science” approach.

Piggybacking on early efforts, the nascent field of influencer discovery is sure to mature over the next two years. Metrics based on these and other more extensive criteria are already being introduced.

Determine what they’re saying

There’s a lot of noise in social media conversations. Even when you tap into a vein of relevant content, you can’t read every tweet, comment, or blog post. Here’s what that process looks like:

1. Tap a keyword or string of keywords to tune into the right online conversations, news sites, and blogs;
2. Aggregate that content in real time;
3. Make split-second decisions about whether (and how) to engage.

There are tools and listening platforms that help you monitor and analyze social media content, and they’re getting more sophisticated by the month. For years, PR pros have waited for tools like these to take the pain out of analyzing large volumes of content, and advanced text analytics solutions have finally materialized in the marketplace.

A variety of applications are capable of auto tagging your keyword search results to help you discover what else people talk about when they mention your brand. No longer simply detecting positive or negative sentiment, these tools now extract context, identifying an influencer’s intent to test or buy particular products or services in a moment of need. It’s powerful stuff when your goal is to build relationships with key tastemakers.

Decide the best way to engage

Influencer research also helps you understand how to engage appropriately. But this presents another Big Data challenge: where once there was a finite audience of journalists, analysts, and bloggers, there are now at least 30 million mass influencers and opinionated consumers.

The good news is, databases are getting bigger, faster, and easier to search by “mining” social content as well as by topic.

These solutions integrate information about digital influencers that help you better understand them—their favorite topics, deadlines, preferred ways of getting information, their pet peeves, and their most recent blog posts, tweets, and public Facebook updates.

The information comes from many sources: primary research compiled by teams of analysts, profiles that you can access from public social media sites (Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Google+, Facebook), and “self-managed” profiles from content collaboration sites.

There also are tools that can help aggregate this data and help identify trends, tag topics, and group influencers by category—making you more productive. These technologies and tools will grow more sophisticated, faster and easier to use in the months ahead. PR professionals who use them every day, and who combine them with a practical approach to segmentation, monitoring and research, will better manage the data explosion.

As Big Data begins to live up to its promise, it will turn from today’s headache into tomorrow’s competitive asset.

Vanessa Bugasch is senior vice president of global marketing and product marketing at Cision.

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