PR Training

Do You Want Big Data Or Smart Data For Your Communications Programs?

Editor’s Note: The following guest post is part of a series of posts by PRSA 2013 International Conference session presenters previewing some of the professional development sessions in Philadelphia, October 26 – 29. Learn more about the sessions and register by visiting the Conference website.

Today, the words “big data” are everywhere, from the Mashable and TechCrunch articles to the new conferences and events popping up worldwide.  How will public relations professionals take big data and use it as smart data in their communications programs?  On Monday, October 28th at the PRSA International Conference in Philadelphia, I will join Shonali Burke, President and CEO, Shonali Burke Consulting, Adam Singer, Product Marketing Manager, Google and Heather Whaling, President, Geben Communication to dispel the myths of big data and to educate communications professionals on how to use data wisely to make smarter business decisions.

We’ll be discussing several of the steps for PR professionals to take when they want to put their data to bigger and better use:

  1. Understand that big data is useless without proper filtering and the right analysis to turn your information into actionable insights.  You can pull all of the data you want, but if it is not accurate (free from “spammy” or “noisy” information) and if it is not examined critically, then you will have an over abundance of useless data.
  2. Do your homework by researching and selecting the tools that give you the flexibility you need when capturing data. For example, do you require a tool that collects data across a large community or across several communities?  Do you need a resource that gives you sentiment analysis to determine if the conversations you are collecting are positive, negative or neutral? Or, do you want tools that are free vs. paid due to budgetary constraints? These are all important items to evaluate when you are embarking on big data and using the information gleaned to make a decision.
  3. Determine what you are trying to achieve by capturing data. Are you using the data to better understand the market landscape and your competition or to learn more about your customers?  Perhaps, the data will help you to optimize your marketing programs? Or, maybe listening closely to your audiences will reveal new product ideas and enhancements or ways to innovate together.  There are many strategic uses of the data, but knowing why and how you want to use your data will produce better results.
  4. Set up an organized measurement and reporting system, and share the data with others in your organization.  The information that you obtain will be useful not only for your own programs, but also for other areas of your company. Outside of the PR department, the marketing, digital, sales, and brand teams may find the data valuable and be very interested in the opportunity to review your data findings.
  5. Get creative with the data and let it guide your communications. We know that there are some serious business decisions to be made from the data retrieved. For example, the Weather Channel sells custom analytics to help companies determine inventories and better shipping routes, as a result of severe weather patterns. In this instance, data is affecting the operations of the business. At the same time you can be capturing billions of tweets to figure out your next big contest or marketing campaign.  An example of a creative use of big data is how Kingsford Charcoal sought to identify “The Nicest Person in Social Media.” Kingsford worked with Marketwired’s engineering team to develop a script that identified people who tweeted the words “please,” thank you” and “thanks” most frequently in 2012. They deemed Waukesha, Wisconsin resident, IT professional, and part-time wine blogger, Clifford Brown, as 2012’s “Nicest Person in Social Media.” Big data allowed Kingsford to create awareness during the holiday season, at time when people think of “coal” for a different purpose.
  6. Don’t try to tackle too much big data, it can be paralyzing.  An over abundance of data can lead to information overload and data paralysis. Instead, you can start bigger and then filter down to smaller sets of data. Ultimately, this process will lead to those smarter actionable insights for your business or your communications programs. In the end, you’ll find the smaller data sets give you the big direction you will need to move forward with confidence.

Is it any surprise to you that the discussion about big data will continue for many years to come? Data is the future of communications.  Whether we call it big data or smart data, it is here to stay. When communications professionals understand the value and roll up their sleeves to experience PR and big data firsthand, then they too will be using smart data for better communications.

Deirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications. A 25-year veteran in public relations and marketing, she teaches at NYU and speaks nationally and internationally on the topics of PR, marketing and social media. She is the author of five business books, with her most recent book, Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional, published by Financial Times Press in May of 2012.

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Deirdre Breakenridge

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