Statistics, Data, Analysis, Charts

It’s official: Big Data is now a mainstream business buzzword, not just tech insider terminology. Steve Lohr recently cited Big Data’s appearance as a  featured topic at the World Economic Forum, its prominence in the New York Times’ headlines and even as the butt of a joke in a Dilbert comic strip, all as evidence that the (sometimes vague) term is catching on in the popular mindset.

Big Data is a big deal and a must-have, in the way that cloud computing has been the last few years. But what is Big Data? Often, we throw around the term simply to describe large sets of data that organizations need to manage effectively. However, really Big Data is more about analytics, and turning raw data into actual value. Forrester defines it this way: “techniques and technologies that make capturing value from data at an extreme scale economical.” And there’s a lot to play around with. Every day, about 625 million DVDs’ worth of data is created, and the industry is playing catch-up to provide the tools we need to get the most out of this onslaught of information.

So what does Big Data mean for us public relations folk? Cision’s Vanessa Bugasch outlines the challenges of Big Data for PR. These include mapping the growing network of digital influencers, managing large quantities of social media activity, SEO results and developing engagement strategies without drowning in a sea of outlets and information. Everyone’s talking about social media analytics, and using various monitoring tools to monitor the volume, reach and sentiment of social media activity around a product, brand or trend. However, as anyone who has used these tools knows, there’s still a long way to go to refine this process so that we can remove the manual process of sifting through information, and have access to a totally automated system that accurately measures user activity.

Valuable customer data isn’t limited to social media activity – internal interactions are important as well. According to Daniel Ziv, vice president of customer interaction analytics at Verint, companies should also integrate emails, chat sessions, surveys, focus groups and any other customer interactions in order to gain a big-picture perspective on their brand. Empowered with this data, companies can detect warning signs, predict problems before they occur and develop actionable responses ahead of time. Think of it as the PR version of “precrime,” except without the ethical murkiness.

We’re all trying to wrap our heads around Big Data. However, even though Big Data is entering the “mainstream parlance,” one has to wonder if many an average Joe reads the phrase and thinks of a byte so physically large that it takes up a whole room. After all, a recent survey found that 29 percent of respondents thought that cloud computing involved actual clouds! It’s time to educate ourselves, because data will just keep on growing, and it’s going to get away from us if we can’t find a way to catch up.


This post was first published by Doug Flora on March Communications’ blog, PR Nonsense, and may be viewed here.